Ever try to get a toddler to follow directions? Not an easy task, but it might look like a walk in the park if you're trying to oversee a roomful of support techs or help desk operators. Both situations require enormous amounts of diplomacy and patience.
If you've done the new parenting thing—or ever spoken with anyone who has—you know that basically everything you thought you knew is suddenly irrelevant. All bets are off, emotions are high, and a situation can go from perfectly normal to completely chaotic in seconds. You may find yourself in a similar boat if you're new to managing a tech team. But even though you can't put your techs in time-out (as much as you might want to), you can rely on a number of effective tactics for getting them to do what you ask—and to be happy to do it.
Confused about what to delegate?
If you're having trouble deciding which projects to pass on to your staff, read columnist Bob Artner's proposed strategy for deciding which projects to delegate and to whom.
Thorough communication is key
TDB Technical Consulting and Development Group's educational Web site recommends using journalists' tried-and-true method for ensuring that you've covered all the facts when delegating to your staff: Who? What? When? Where? Why? How? To provide employees with all the data they need, the site suggests addressing points like these:
- Who you want to work on the project
- What it is you want done
- When you expect the work to be completed
- Where it will be used and its final objective
- Why the task is being performed
- How the task can be accomplished (offer some suggestions)
Remember that the people who work for you can't read your mind, so be very specific when giving instructions. Also, you'll want to explain why you want things done a certain way, if you think it will help them do the job right.
For example, you can tell your techs that logging call details properly is crucial because without that information, the R&D guys don't know where the issues are and they can't correct them. To add context for your staff, you might explain that if the product or service isn't meeting expectations, you'll lose market share.
Show your staff how their work contributes to the company's financial success, and they'll be much more likely to listen. Really, how much cooperation can you expect if your only explanation is "Because I said so, and I'm the boss"?
Find the right way to ask
Another factor affecting the success of delegating projects is the way in which you ask for help and positively reinforce your employees' actions. Management coach Lisa Taylor Huff said that if you become known as the kind of manager who verbally acknowledges people for their efforts, "people will be more receptive to your management style and will be less resistant to taking on the tasks you assign." She recommends using phrases such as these:
- "Hi, Mary, I have a project I need your help with."
- "I would really appreciate it if you would please...."
- "Hey, Jim, I have something important I need you to do for me."
- "George, I wanted to say thank you for making an extra effort to meet our deadline the other day."
Scott Testa agrees. Testa, who oversees 40 support technicians as director of support at Mindbridge, an intranet software company, said that the way you ask can make a big difference in how your staff responds. "I find that if I tell people, 'I really need your help,' they're more willing to work with me. By nature, most people like to help others, so when you put them in a position to help you, they really respond well."
Huff also noted that it isn't just the words you choose that allow effective delegation; your delivery will also make a difference in how requests are received. "Your tone of voice and attitude can create a positive or negative mindset for the person who will be doing the task or project. Be direct and upbeat whenever possible, and don't forget to say 'thank you' often, with a smile," she advised.
Delegating to employees outside your group
TechRepublic member Dave Gray said that in his former position as a network manager for the Texas Department of Criminal Justice Facilities Division, he often needed to delegate work to the 15 people who did not report directly to him. "If you treat people with respect, you get a lot further," he said. "Approach them as equals—in their minds, their jobs are just as important as yours."
Huff also recommends communicating with other managers when you're making requests from people who aren't your direct reports. "It's common courtesy and good corporate politics," she said. "Remember that you all work for the same company and, therefore, you're really all part of the same team. It's not about competing; it's about getting the job done in the best way possible with the available resources."
Never let them see you sweat
Creating an environment in which your team members are willing to do what you ask hinges, in part, on whether they respect your leadership skills overall. Earning their cooperation isn't just a matter of delegating tasks in the right manner—you must also show them that you can be calm and evenhanded when things go awry. So no matter what happens with a project you've delegated—no matter how big the blunder—don't lose your cool. Even if the situation has reached crisis proportions, weigh your words and actions carefully. Put out the fire as fast as possible, but save the discipline for later. Never chastise an employee in front of others. Long after you've apologized, your reputation will still bear scars.
"Just because you are under pressure does not give you the right to treat other people poorly," Huff said. People will respect you all the more if you can stay calm even while the flames rage. And you'll reap other rewards as well: If the employee at fault is expecting to be chewed out on the spot, and you wait until you can speak privately, he or she will work that much harder to impress you in the future.
What's the best way for a new IT manager to develop good delegation skills? Provide your advice in the discussion below.