Putting the zip back into a team that is low in morale can be a challenge for any manager, but it is especially critical for an IT manager to be able to motivate a team that faces shifting deadlines, changing technology and budget cutbacks.
Successful IT projects depend on successful people. How do the best IT managers inspire the loyalty and excitement that generate success?
The first rule is to know your staff members.
"Understand what people's needs and interests are, what motivates people," says David Chilcott, president of Outformations. People may be motivated by recognition, salary or learning.
For your staff members who are motivated by a desire to learn, for example, make sure training is available. Rapidly changing technology, although it causes many headaches for IT managers, offers an opportunity to gain the loyalty of staff members who want to update their skills.
"What makes technology management unique is that the training demands are much greater than the training of other industries," says Jo Haraf, chief technology officer at Morrison & Foerster. "I insist that my people get a minimum of 40 hours training per year. My goal is to provide the resources, money, or staff; set the vision; and get the heck out of the way."
Knowing your staff well can also help you coach more effectively.
"Know the strengths and weaknesses of your team members," says Barbara McShane, director of Global Network and Telecommunications. McShane says because she knows her employees, she is able to "highlight their stronger skills and recognise them for it and work on the weaker pieces in the background."
Recognising staff members for a job well done is another important aspect of managing well. But make sure that the praise is honest.
"Point [praises] to the person who actually did the work," says David Fairbanks, director of worldwide manufacturing IS for Silicon Graphics. "Avoid lip service; speak from the heart; be honest."
Keeping employees in the loop is a good way to gain their confidence.
"People perform best when they know most," Haraf says.
Protect your young
Rachelle Summers, a systems administrator at the Mathematical Sciences Research Institute, says she appreciates her manager's negotiation skills. Strong negotiation and conflict-resolution skills can help a manager shield their employees from company politics and other distractions.
"It takes good blocking and tackling on the employees' behalf," McShane says.
Having established a good relationship with your employees is important when difficult situations arise, such as an employee leaving in the middle of a project. To handle these situations with integrity, begin a project with clear expectations, guidelines and procedures, and make sure everyone is held to the same standard.
"When I leave a firm I expect to get the same rules applied," Haraf says.
Although working well with people is a more natural skill for some than for others, anyone who is sincerely interested in managing people can learn the skills necessary to succeed.
One way to do this is to find a mentor or a role model.
"Watch managers," McShane says. "What is it that makes this person a good or poor manager?"
Another way is to learn how to listen. It takes practice, but it's worth it.
Finally, look for literature and seminars that offer training in different management styles.
Ultimately, the spirit of the team contributes to the success of the project.
"Managers who take care of their employees get loyalty and commitment," Summers says.