Emerging Tech

What to keep in mind if you're promoting from within

Do you have a rock-star techie who you're considering moving into a management role? If so, make sure you create conditions for success for that person by making sure he or she understands what changes will take place.

I was recently a guest on a Veeam-sponsored podcast hosted by none other than TechRepublic's own Rick Vanover. The topic of the podcast was how to make the move from IT staff to IT management and how to handle some of the challenges that come with that transition. It was a fantastic discussion that reminded me that it took a while for me to appropriately adjust to my new role in IT management, particularly after having spent eight years in pretty hard-core technical roles.

When it comes to moving into IT management, there are some changes that the techie needs to make and there are new skills to learn. Do you have a rock-star techie who you're considering moving into a management role? If so, make sure you create conditions for success for that person by making sure he or she understands what changes will take place. Here are a few items I recommend covering.

The fine art of delegation

This one is tough, and I still struggle with it. It's more than likely that you're considering promoting someone who has great technical skills to lead the rest of the group. One of the reasons that these kinds of people are selected is because they're willing to jump right in and solve pretty much any problem. This also means that they're very used to being hands-on people who hear about a problem and react quickly, decisively, and successfully.

It also makes them terrible managers if they don't adjust to their new roles.

Help your star techies become star managers by helping them learn how to step back from that immediate gut instinct to "fix it now" to a place where they can put that immediate need into the context of the department's to-do list and assign that task to a team member who is best suited to handle it.

Not delegating, on the other hand, carries the following consequences:

  • Operational failure. The manager can't do it all. At some point, things will begin to break down as this single point of failure becomes unable to meet basic needs.
  • Destroyed morale. A manager who refuses to delegate is telling the staff one thing and doing it very loudly: "I don't trust any of you, so I'm going to do it myself."

I said it before and I'll say it again: Delegation is tough for an in-the-trenches person. Over time, it does get easier, and once you have appropriate reporting structures in place, you can see the massive benefit to be had. As I also said, I'm not perfect in this way and am sometimes gently kicked by my (very trusting and open with me) staff as they respectfully say to me, "Back off, buddy!"

Cross-functional prioritization

Every manager of an IT organization has to be mindful of departmental and interdepartmental priorities in order to appropriately prioritize projects and requests. The CIO and other IT leaders need to make sure that their managers are regularly informed of or involved in conversations that span the entire company so that they have this high-level understanding.

For me, at Westminster, I've made the decision that my personal presence is not required on the multitude of committees on which I serve. Instead, I've asked committee conveners to change committee membership documents to read "CIO or designee" rather than simply assuming that I will attend. In my stead, different members of my staff now attend these meetings as my representative, and they are empowered to speak on behalf of the IT group as a whole and are expected to report back to me after each meeting with significant discussion points and decisions so that we, as a team, can meet the needs. In addition, all my staff members submit to me weekly reports that outline, among other items, meetings attended. My staff emails their weekly reports to the whole IT team so that all members of the team have a view into what's happening in everyone else's world.

For the IT staff that sit on action-oriented committees, they are empowered to coordinate IT activities for that committee. This works because they all know what's going on in each other's worlds and, so far, it's worked extremely well. Further, it helps them all grow as leaders and helps me in a number of ways:

  • I don't have to attend dozens of meetings a week.
  • My people get a better view of the organization, which helps me in goal setting.
  • They gain some ownership of tasks that might be a little outside their normal areas of expertise, and I get better-rounded staff.

Budgeting -- with accountability

I'll admit right up front that the managers in my organization have little budget authority. There are reasons for this, and they don't involve mistrust. Bear in mind that we're in a very small organization and there are sometimes political challenges found in some of the leadership development activities I'd like to undertake.  That said, I do share budget details with my whole staff from time to time.

It's imperative that, at some point, the people in charge of a particular area have full responsibility and accountability for that area, including the finances. By doing so, people may find creative ways to save money or undertake innovative projects that can help improve the operation of the entire organization.

If you're unsure about your new manager's budgeting skills, send her to a managerial accounting course and stay involved in the budget details until you're sure that he or she has a grasp on how all the budget variables interrelate with organizational operations. However, if you're actively training your newly promoted person and, after a year or two, that person is still struggling with it, you need to do one of the following:

  • Provide additional training. Would just a little more training help?
  • Do it yourself. If the person is an awesome manager and this is his or her only weakness, you might consider just doing this task yourself or moving it to another person in the organization.
  • Replace the person. Perhaps the person is simply a wrong fit for the job.

To prepare people for the task of managing finances, ask them to take point on creating budgetary estimates for project plans, at the very least. Require them to include the following in their estimates:

  • Capital costs
  • Operating costs
  • Return on investment

At the very least, this level of detail will help your people understand how the budget operates and how their projects impact the bottom line.

Holding back resentment

You might have the good fortune to have a dozen very talented people on your team, but you can promote only one. Your newly minted manager is likely to face resentment from the rest of the group. Help your new hire with the transition by making it clear that passive aggressive behavior from others won't be tolerated and then get out of the way. Let your new person take charge of the new team. Don't sit it on staff meetings and interject over your new manager; don't go directly to your new manager's direct reports to have tasks completed. Work through your new manager and make it clear that he or she is in charge. When that manager comes to you with concerns about other people resenting his or her appointment, listen and, if absolutely necessary, intervene if it's bad enough. However, the more of these kinds of situations that your new hire handles, the more quickly he or she will become comfortable in the new role.

If someone resents the decision enough to quit, that's OK.

Summary

Moving into IT management is a tough thing to do, but if you have the right support systems in place, it can be a successful and rewarding career move.

About

Since 1994, Scott Lowe has been providing technology solutions to a variety of organizations. After spending 10 years in multiple CIO roles, Scott is now an independent consultant, blogger, author, owner of The 1610 Group, and a Senior IT Executive w...

17 comments
Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 4 Like

What a waste, give them more money keep them where they are, take one of your less gifted techs and make them the manager. Keeping a good tech happy is one thing, having them do a job their gifts don't align with is moronic. If they insist brevet them up for a bit, a couple of weeks of wall to wall meeting, learning corporate speak, and getiing their arse chewed out for stuff they can't do anything about because they were having a meeting will soon square them up.

bboyd
bboyd

In its more general form, anything that works will be used in progressively more challenging applications until it fails. Lots of well studied solutions to the problem. Of course if the upper management doing the selection is part of the Dilbert Principle then all bets are off. PS: The Dilbert Principle attempts to explain how a person who has never been competent at anything at any point in time can still be promoted into management.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It only applies on the same career track. The real problem is and always will be tech to manager is a career switch, until that issue is recognised and dealt with all else is bollocks. I can explain the Dilbert principle easily, Hairy Harry the fitters mate clued me on that one decades ago. I asked how a particular idiot had got a supervisor's role, they all persuaded him to go for it because he kept screwing the job up on the shop floor....

Lazarus439
Lazarus439

The very, very, very first thing you should do is make sure the person wants the "promotion". If not, nothing else is going to matter very much at least beyond damage control. As several people have stated already, "management" is not necessarily a reward. This person might be FAR happier being left in place and a good manger will respect that and bring all the reward and recognition possible for his/her superior skills and abilities. (A smart company will support doing so - that may be the hardest part!).

Old Timer 8080
Old Timer 8080

For a long time, I DOWNPLAYED my " reward " I got from John Rollwagen at Cray Research. He thought that EVERY person on our design team wanted this " reward ". When I previously worked at AMD, I was given a choice of tech or management paths; I was able to make it very clear that I wanted to stay with " hands on " even though I actually ran TEST III, V and VIII on the weekend shifts when their " manager " was indisposed ( a long, interesting story involving drugs ).... After our work on the Y-MP, we were NOT given a similar choice; management or " you were not a team player " was the verdict handed down from JR... Some people saw the writing on the wall and they bailed. When the JR budget cuts started, first Seymour, then Dr. Chen bailed...that is the untold story behind the splits. " Management duties " were supposed to pave the way for people to understand why JR was going to take an axe to our usual method of building supercomputers. My advice: be very wary of the motives behind your " promotion ".... My management training turned out to be more of a liability then an asset when placed on my resume..Yeah, you got more money, but your job stress level was much higher. Yes, I'm good at doing all the above ( delegation, hiring & firing, herding a bunch of cats and " playing the numbers game " ) but NO, I DON'T WANT TO DO IT! P.S. I was expected to LIE to clients as a project manager...I never had that problem as an engineer....

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

It's a rule. It's not that we aren't client facing, it's not that we don't know how to lie, we just temporarily forget where we are and speak to them honestly though without the insults and profanity. :D All we should really be there for is to convince the client that someone on the books can speak technobabble. In business the perception of success is much more important than the reality.

noraziah_ag
noraziah_ag like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

Love your last sentence, Old Timer. The managers are the sweet talker and the one who sees the big picture, while engineers are the doers; the one who makes it happen. No doubt they need each other in an organisation. For an IT fresh, which way you want to go, depends on whether you are the people person or the technical person. If you are a people person then corporates and organisations are the place for you to stay. You have a nice highway going to the top. For the technical person, the choice is yours. Look for organisation that do really values technical expertise in the sense of reward. Which, I would say rare to find. A better option is to be a freelancer. But you have to be prominent in your expertise and have a little of people skills...more self-drive and initiative. As long as you enjoy it, why not. Go for it.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

Good engineers can keep entire systems in their heads, in IT those are systems that include people. The problem is the picture a manager is working from is a different one, quite often one we are not allowed to see. Or we get it heavily censored. The most constant failure between a tech head and business head is we use the same terms for different things. Quality for instance... Engineers deal with reality, management with perception, that's the difference. The real killer is is that people who are good at one or the other in general tend to be pretty poor at the other, that's why career switch to management is a dumb idea, only a poor manager would suggest it. All being a freelancer does is force you to to look at the management perception picture instead. You have to be perceived as a success, to sell yourself...

jaxent
jaxent

In some IT departments the only growth path is to management. But in many and in most technology companies, there is a pure technical path to follow. I have worked at companies that had levels like "Distinguished Engineer" or "Principal Engineer" that were at the same level as directors and VPs. And they carried more prestige. When the DE speaks, everyone listens. They only notice the VP when they shut up (my title is VP btw). If it is your goal to stay technical, you need to be at a company that supports that with a career path. If you want to be on the management track (I like that one, but move across the line a lot) you need to prepare for it. You need to take business classes as well as technical ones. You have to learn to see the big picture. You have to care about revenue! You need to understand the other parts of the organization better to serve them. And you have to understand that you will not be a technical star anymore, period. You will have to give up that role to take on the new one. If you are not prepared to go to meetings and get lost on the technical details, and stay lost on them sometimes, you are ready for that transition. It is now your job to guide your team through to meet goals. And you will be part of multiple teams, the team you manage and the team of your peer managers at the least. You have satisfy them both, not always easy. If you like technology better than people, don't even think about the management track. You will not only be unhappy with it, but you will ineffective. A great engineer does not always make a great manager. There are some that are both, I was lucky to have one in the past (he knew how and when to draw the line between the tasks). But in most cases a team is stronger with a good manager and a good lead engineer, especially in larger departments or companies. A good manager should be able to manage at least 10 direct reports. But that is a full time job, you can not do that and have deliverables too.

golden.kenneth
golden.kenneth

Scott, I like to listen to that podcast but was unable to locate it on the Veeam site. If you could provide a link or the podcast itself I'd truly appreciate it. I'm always expanding my reach and knowledge in other areas and management essentials is one of them. I have found most often working in smaller organizations it is very difficult to get promoted within and typically you have to transition to another org in order to increase, skills, salary, titles but never responsibility. An org never minds giving you more work but my experience is they rarely cough up the $ or title to promote you for those additional duties even if you are a star for them.

jaxent
jaxent

As much as Washington talks about helping small business, it doesn't do any thing to really help. You get to do a lot of things which fun for a tech, but not get rewarded which is no fun for anyone. Unless you get really lucky and the company hits a boom. But then you go to a large company and get better pay but pigeon holed in a job. I have ended up back at the small company side, for me, I am happier at it. For others, not so much.

ellendilmw
ellendilmw like.author.displayName like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 3 Like

This is a topic that has bugged me for a long time. So many people that that "aspiring to management" is a laudable goal and - even though I was once one of "those people", I still can't quite understand it. The mindset required by a manager is VERY different to one required by any sort of technical specialist (designer, engineer, helpdesk, etc.) and one who is a "rock star" is almost certainly the WORST candidate for promotion to management; not only does it often remove their skills from the active pool of talent but it also drops them into a role that they are likely not suited to and will probably fail at. I'm not saying that a good techie can't become a good manager; I'm saying that very often a good techie SHOULDN'T become a manager as the roles generally require very different skillsets. I think that historically, the two main reasons why people aspired to become managers were money and authority. There was a glass ceiling as to how much money you could make as a "tech" and you wanted to be the boss. The former has - at least over here in Australia - been largely done away with in my experience. It's just as common for a manager of senior resources to earn the least of the team; he may have neither their skill nor their experience but that's because he was hired for his skill as a MANAGER which can be perceived as less value than say a senior MCSE or a CCIE. The second driver - authority - is still a problem and most newly minted managers who come up the "tech" stream tend to quickly run into authority's twin brother, responsibility. When that happens, one of three things can happen: 1 - they realise that being a manager isn't as fun as being a tech and step down (if they can) or step out 2 - they knuckle down and persist and end up becoming at best a mediocre (and usually very unhappy) manager 3 (and least likely) - they successfully make the transition and their career takes on a new path I doubt I've seen happen in more than 1 in 20 people that has made the transition and - in virtually every successful case - the transition to managment he's been accompanied by some serious courses and study (such as an MBA). The best paid, most respect doctor in the hospital is not the hospital administrator. That job is done by the doctor that also happens to have the right skills to manage a fleet of other doctors (or has proven they can successfully herd cats). It's the same in most other fields that are made up of skilled technicians; why should IT be different? I think this article makes some excellent points. I just hope that many aspiring "managers" choose to read it!

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

especially from thos who descibe making manager from tech asa promotion. It's not it's a career switch. Leap straight to CIO if I improve my golf skills, I could live with, midle management thankless task, if they aren't geting kicked in the arse by those above they are getting a smack in the neck off people like us. They can keep it, loads of responsibility, and f'all authority, might as well stay a tech, I enjoy that....

info
info

It's still unbroken in a lot of places I've been at. As a 'tech' you're seen as 'hired help', and subject to a salary cap. You can only go 'beyond' in a fiscal sense as a manager. It's even so bad that if you have 3 people in a given position, say, accounting. 2 are CGA/CMAs and do X amount of work each. The third doesn't have a designation but does the work so well they've been given 2X or 3X the work the others are doing, with the added responsibility as well... When it comes time for salary reviews, it's always "You don't have a designation or degree, so you're limited to a lower salary..."

jaxent
jaxent like.author.displayName 1 Like

If there is a ceiling where you are, there are a lot of other places to go. Right now the job market may be slow a lot of places. But for IT it is better than most careers, And when things open up, and they will, our opportunities can first. Start documenting your successes now, that is what really counts. Degrees and designations are all well and good. But our industry includes a lot of prominent drop outs.

Dknopp
Dknopp

I have always thought the same. But as far as money is concerned you will definitely have to be management of some sort to get the higher pay in the U.S. Unless you are very rare talent - say a movie star.

maj37
maj37 like.author.displayName like.author.displayName 2 Like

I can understand why with all of the political correctness around today you didn't say "making sure he understands what changes will take place." but using she is just as bad. If you really want to avoid offending anyone then you should use the gender neutral pronoun "they". maj

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