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!"
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.
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.
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 with CampusWorks, Inc. Scott is available for consulting, writing, and speaking engagements and can be reached at email@example.com.