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The truth about managing geeks, part 2

The truth about managing geeks, part 2

Business delivery by Jeff Ello

In my previous column, I looked at some of the issues with managing IT pros, along with what’s behind some of the stereotypes. This time, I look at how these stereotypes have come into being, as well as what you can do to foster a better IT group.

HOW WE ELICIT THE STEREOTYPES

What executives often fail to recognise is that every decision made that impacts IT is a technical decision. With IT, you cannot separate the technical aspects from the business aspects. Each is constrained by the other and both are constrained by creativity. Creativity is the most valuable asset of an IT group, and failing to promote it can cost an organisation literally millions of dollars.

The primary task of any IT group is to teach people how to work. That may sound authoritarian, but it’s not. IT’s job at the most fundamental level is to build, maintain and improve frameworks within which to accomplish tasks. You may not view a Web server as a framework to accomplish tasks, but it does automate the processes of advertising, sales, informing and entertaining, all of which would otherwise be done in other ways.

Once their work is impeded by a problem, IT pros will adopt strategies and behaviours that help circumvent the issue. That is not a sustainable state, but how long it takes to deteriorate can be days, months or even years.

HOW TO FIX IT

So, if you want to have a really happy, healthy and valuable IT group, I recommend one thing: Take an interest. IT pros work their butts off for people they respect, so you need to give them every reason to afford you some. You can start with the hiring process. When hiring an IT pro, imagine you’re recruiting a doctor. And if you’re hiring a CIO, think of employing a chief of medicine. The chief of medicine should have many qualifications, but first and foremost, he should be a practicing doctor. Who decides if a doctor is a doctor? Other doctors! So, if your IT group isn’t at the table for the hiring process of their bosses and peers, this already does a disservice to the process.

Favour technical competence and leadership skills. Standard managerial processes are nearly useless in an IT group. As I mentioned, if you’ve managed to hire well in the lower ranks of your IT group, the staff already know how to manage things. Unlike in many industries, the fi ght in most IT groups is in how to get things done, not how to avoid work.

What IT pros want in a manager is a technical sounding board and a source of general direction. Leadership and technical competence are qualities to look for in every member of the team.

More comprehensive assessments are vital. When it comes to performance checks, yearly reviews are worthless without a 360-degree assessment. And make sure all your managers are practicing and learning. It is very easy to slip behind the curve in those positions, but just as with doctors, the only way to be relevant is to practice and maintain an expertise. In IT, six months to a year is all that stands between respect and irrelevance.

Finally, executives should have multiple in-points to the IT team. If the IT team is singing out of tune, it is worth investigating the reasons. But you’ll never even know if that’s the case if the only information you receive is from the CIO.

As I said at the very beginning, it’s all about respect. If you can identify and cultivate those individuals and processes that earn genuine respect from IT pros, you’ll have a great IT team. Taking an honest interest in helping your IT group help you is probably the smartest business move an organisation can make. It also makes for happy, completely non-geek-like geeks.


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