Management For Smarties

You’ve no doubt heard of great college football coaches who couldn’t cut it in the NFL, or terrific salespeople who got promoted to sales manager only to find that they were much better at sales. It’s the same in IT.

“The IT field is littered with great technologists who are not suited to be managers or failed at some level of management,” says R. Gaines Baty, president of R. Gaines Baty Associates, a Dallas-based retained executive search firm specializing in CIO and IT management searches.

Being a good IT manager poses particular challenges to new and experienced managers alike as “there is probably nothing in the business world that changes more frequently and can obsolete itself faster than technology,” states Paul Benz, the CIO at Gevity HR, an organization that conducts research into the link between good management practices and business performance.

“Involvement” Versus “Tight Controls”

A recent survey on effective employee management strategies conducted by Cornell University and sponsored by Gevity Institute looked at two common management styles. One was described as management through involvement, or allowing reports to essentially manage themselves. The other was described as management through tight control. Companies with the former management style, whose managers used a consensus-building approach, showed significant growth in revenue and profit. Additionally, the companies that used self-management strategies had much lower employee turnover than those that didn’t.

What behaviors do bad managers exhibit? According to Baty, they are individuals who:

  • Can’t get things done
  • Have poor project management skills
  • Lack an understanding of the technologies they’re using
  • Lack motivational skills

“Micromanagers, yellers and screamers, people who take credit for what others have done, who sell their employees down the river, point fingers and have an obviously authoritarian style are not popular these days,” says Baty.

Improving Your Management Style

“Eighty percent of folks, I have found, will make the effort to be a better manager,” says Benz. Most will find it easy to do. Some will require some additional coaching and counseling and the rest will be resistant to change.

According to Baty, “The most successful people, whether CEO, CIO, or C-anything, are the ones that learn from their mistakes.” If you are a strategic thinker who can assess a situation and act accordingly, build a consensus and contribute to the bottom line, there’s a great opportunity to really grow, make a real difference in a corporation and build a great career.

What are the most common attributes of effective managers? According to Baty and Benz, the good ones:

  • Don’t play favorites. They understand the strengths and weaknesses of each employee, and that team dynamics will suffer if individuals receive preferential treatment.
  • Give credit where credit is due. They acknowledge good work and give kudos to those directly responsible.
  • Let their employees make mistakes — and help them to learn from them. They encourage their reports to take on new challenges, self-manage and provide helpful feedback.
  • Know how to manage up as well as down. They understand it is important to keep supervisors informed of their team’s progress, and make them aware of areas that are potentially problematic.
  • Recognize that their success as well as the organization’s success is inseparable from their team’s success. Good managers are strategic thinkers who seek to improve processes and procedures and build a consensus within their department to ensure that goals are met.

Until the mid-to-late 1990s, most organizations were not too technologically savvy. As a result, IT managers could often get by on their technical know-how alone. Today, however, with marketing, sales and finance people much savvier about computing, IT managers must not only be knowledgeable about existing and emerging technologies but about dealing and communicating with other departments, as well as senior management.

Clearly, the bar has been raised for IT managers. But for those who take the time to hone their management chops by developing their communication skills and reaching out across the organization to help define and achieve business-wide objectives, the field is wide open.