Editor’s Note: TechRepublic contributor Mike Sisco is filling in for Bob Artner this week.

It’s time again to sit down and list all your new goals for the upcoming year; things like lose weight, exercise more, and be nice to your mother-in-law. It’s also important, however, to formulate a set of clear, attainable goals for your IT department.

I develop a set of New Year’s resolutions every year. For IT managers, it is well worth the time it takes to reflect on the past year and look ahead to 2002. You may have very specific initiatives that you want the IT team to accomplish next year. If you don’t have a goal, or resolution, defined, then you aren’t managing; you’re drifting.

Rather than float along and deal with whatever happens to come your way, a proactive IT manager should be helping to determine the fate of his or her organization. The same holds true for an IT manager’s individual goals. Regardless of your technical capabilities or position in your IT organization, your future depends more upon you and your initiative than anything else. Deciding what you want is the first step to success. The “floater” will end up somewhere, but that somewhere isn’t typically the destination he or she would have chosen.

The power of planning

When has setting goals helped you achieve success in your IT department? Let us know by posting a comment. Each week, the person who posts the best comment to an Artner’s Law column will win a nifty TechRepublic coffee mug.

Most IT managers don’t create a strategic plan unless they have been asked to because planning is difficult. Too many managers react to day-to-day situations rather than try to push the organization toward a specific target.

Guidelines for setting annual goals
Start taking charge today by deciding where you want your IT department to be a year from now. When determining goals for 2002, here are a few tips that I think are worthwhile:

  • Don’t go overboard. If setting goals is new to you, limit your list to five or six items.
  • Make your goals achievable. A long-term goal should be broken into several phases. The first phase should be achievable within a reasonable amount of time.
  • Be as specific as possible. For example, instead of just listing “improve staff relations,” you should write down exactly how you will do so. Perhaps your goal would be to have one-on-one meetings with each staff member every month.
  • Include items that are “softer skills.” For example, if you have an unpleasant client to work with, you might make it a goal to improve the business relationship with this client and list the things you think can make it happen.
  • As much as possible, include time frames.
  • Define a reward system to give yourself or your staff incentives to achieve your goals.
  • Write your goals down and keep them where you can review them often.
  • Be committed. Don’t record a goal if you aren’t serious about trying to achieve it.

Overcoming obstacles
Sure, obstacles occur that alter your plans, but having a written set of goals will help you stay the course. It also sets the stage for much of your decision making. For example, let’s say one of your primary goals is to grow the business by a certain percentage for the year. If something is preventing that key growth from happening, it’s easier for you to reach the conclusion to remove that obstacle because you’ve already decided that growth is the most imperative goal.

This point was illustrated to me when I was the new CIO of a company that had a tough decision to make. One of the divisions of the company was performing poorly. After conducting an IT assessment of the needs of the division, it was obvious to me that there were major challenges:

  • Significant capital investment was needed for business operations.
  • Major technology improvements were needed.
  • The operations management team needed a lot of help.
  • The business made up 6 percent of revenues and was outside of our core competency.

My recommendation was to sell the division in order to give our company the time and capital we needed to position ourselves for growth. The hardest part was reaching a firm decision on what to do. My persistence in the fact that we had to make a decision was ultimately followed. There was no doubt that we could have turned the division around, but it was also very apparent that to do so would take an inordinate amount of time from the senior management team and require too much of our already scarce capital resources.

Once the decision was made, everyone set about making the decisions that had been kept in limbo until we knew which direction we would take. In just over a year, the company was able to make a significant acquisition that doubled its size. I’m convinced that this accomplishment would not have taken place if we had not made the tough decision that allowed us to focus our management attention toward positioning the company for our true destiny.

Pick a target and go for it
When you have your target defined, start building a plan around what it would take to achieve your goal. Implementation is the tough part, but if you know where you want to be and can develop a reasonable plan, persistence and hard work will get you there.

In the late ’80s, while managing an applications support group, we were challenged to sell dedicated programming resources to our hospital clients where needed. We had already proven that a dedicated programming resource had a lot to do with stabilizing a client’s computer operations and led to stronger client relationships. Going into the new year, I set a goal to increase the number of dedicated programmers from one to six. I accomplished my target and so did other regions. The results of this and other initiatives turned an organization from losing $2 million a year to earning $2 million a year in just over three years with a dying legacy software product. The clients paid us more because of the stability and added value that was created.

After I set the goal for my organization, I kept reinforcing the goal with all of my team members, as well as the account managers, other managers, and myself. Every time we saw an opportunity to improve a situation by selling these services, we went for it. In about 12 months, clients were actually competing for these resources because of the positive results being achieved in other hospitals.

It’s been my experience that positive results do happen from setting goals. Putting the stake in the ground is the first step. More is accomplished when you decide what you want and develop plans to go after it.

Mike Sisco is president of MDE Enterprises, an IT management training and consulting company based in Atlanta. Check out MDE’s IT Manager Development Series for more of Mike’s advice for IT managers and CIOs.