If you are an IT manager, do you manage each of your staff in the same manner, or do you manage them differently depending on the individual personality?  Or, if you are someone in a non-managerial role, do you notice being managed differently than some of your peers?  The reason I ask is that I notice many IT managers who treat their employees drastically different from one person to the next, and I see the effects not only on the individual, but also on the group.  In all cases it has had a negative impact on the team as a whole.

Staff communication in general is important.  Everyone knows that.  But how you communicate with your group of IT pros is especially important.  IT pros are a different breed than your average office worker.  They are typically more introverted than extroverted (not always, but usually).  Add ego to introversion and you have an especially odd combination that must sometimes be managed with kid gloves.  Techies usually develop a social pecking order within their group; solving complex technical problems or geeking out about the latest technology with peers can bolster their standing.  But more importantly, how they hear or see you, as their manager, communicate to each of them drastically alters the team dynamics.

Let’s say you manage in a cubicle-filled office where conversations are easily overheard.  There are a few employees where most interaction between you and them is tense and your tone is strong.  On the other hand, there are also employees who you stop to chat with in the morning or before leaving for the day.  Your tone with them is casual and laid back and not necessarily even about work.  And finally, there is a small group of staff where communication from you to them is rarely verbal, but instead relayed through email; nothing terse, but direct and to the point.

Don’t be naïve to the fact that your employees take note of how you communicate to each of them.  They notice which ones you speak positively to and which ones seem to routinely draw your ire.  And while there are occasions to be stern, you must be careful not to single out select people.  Being stern and direct is okay if that is your personality or management style, but be that way with everyone.  Staff observing you being harsh to a peer undeservedly is tucked away for later discussion over the next lunch or smoke break.  Repeated incidents can cause others to rally around the offended and turn against the manager, especially if the perceived victim is well liked.

A bad relationship with your staff is like a virus.  It commonly develops behind the scenes and unknown to the manager, but it is there, spreading and wreaking havoc with your good intentions.  When you finally realize what has happened, it is usually too late to repair the damage.  Many times there are casualties, beginning with staff that feels singled out; some because they feel that they don’t have to take the abuse so leave on their own, and others who get forced out.  But often it ends with a vacant management position and a self-inflicted wound on the resume.  The team implodes and must be built back up by someone else.

It’s easy to get into a pattern of discretionary communication.  You are human, after all, and personal favorites will naturally evolve.  Some employees have better listening skills, and truly appear to absorb what you’re saying, making speaking to them actually seem worth your while.  Some employees may have similar outside interests as you, which can be dangerous if you spend too much time chatting with them but barking orders to everyone else.  Other personalities you just may not click with, especially if they are too much like your own. 

The best advice is to be aware of how you communicate to each individual on your team.  Jot down their names and think about the last few conversations you had with them.  If you can’t remember the last time you spoke to someone on your team outside of a formal meeting, that’s a problem.  I’m not advising to be overbearing or to micromanage your staff, but occasionally stopping by someone’s desk to give feedback or to see how they’re doing can do more for a successful IT team than three consecutive days of morning doughnuts.  Consistently manage.  Consistently communicate.