Tag Archives: is manager

Super Bowl preparations

Today is the 45th Super Bowl and the preparation is completed. Now, it’s time to execute. The team that has prepared best and goes out and executes the best will be the winner, , , maybe.

Another factor is going to be which team can react to the other team’s game plan the best and what happens during the game. Often, the team that gets the fastest start is not the ultimate winner, , , it happened last year when the New Orleans Saints came from behind to beat the Indianapolis Colts.

You can draw a parallel between your IT organization and a Super Bowl football team. You prepare your team and you execute well, , , but are you adjusting in a timely manner when game changing events occur in your company?

An IT organization has to be somewhat flexible. Business needs change, and at times they can change quite often due to real issues that come up and affect the company. Some of these issues may be negative impacts, , , others can be unforeseen opportunities.

In either case, your company may need to react to surprise situations, , , and when they do, IT support is often needed.

It’s important for you to develop an IT strategy to support your business. I emphasize this in many of my works. At the same time, be careful not to put a strategy in stone where you can’t adjust to new things that come up and impact your business.

Openly discuss these things with your senior management team. Ask them how rigid or how flexible you need to be when developing your IT strategy. Building your strategy in partnership with your senior management team is much more beneficial for everyone than developing it alone.

Senior management probably doesn’t want to be involved in the details, but they will normally be more than willing to provide guidance and advice about how flexible the plan needs to be.

Once the strategy is agreed upon and you are executing the plan, , , be observant and watch for things that occur in the business that may need you to adjust your focus. When you do, be sure you pull some things off the list so you are still working within your organization’s capabilities and capacity.

Today’s game should be a good one, , , at least on paper. I like both teams so it doesn’t really matter to me who wins, but I need to make a choice so I’ll go with the Green Bay Packers over the Pittsburgh Steelers  —  27 – 20.

Make others the hero

Wow, this is a tough one, , , or at least it was for me for many, many years. It’s also one of the more important lessons you can learn.

As a high achiever, you are mentally “programmed” to strive for success and to be the “hero”. We like to succeed, and there is certainly nothing wrong with this. In fact, you should be proud of being a high achiever and always want to accomplish great things.

That’s certainly the type of people we want on our team – right?

A challenge many of us have when we transition from technical expert to manager is that we tend to want to continue being the hero.

Key point of the article
If you don’t pick up anything from this article but the following point, it will be worthwhile. The key point is, “The manager is the hero when and only when your employees are successful and they are heroes.” As a manager, it becomes more important for you to help others become the hero.

Let’s take some examples:

A.  Make your employees the hero
In late 1999, I joined a small company as their new CIO and quickly identified a few key needs for the business. One of the projects was implementing e-mail services across the company if you can believe it. I made these projects a priority, got them approved and funded, and made it happen. In a national manager’s meeting the next year, I received a standing ovation when I announced the delivery of these key projects, , , something the former CIO had promised but never delivered.

Instead of taking credit for this effort myself, I gave credit to two of my IT employees and asked the managers (about 100 of them) to tell my employees how much they appreciated their effort, , , or maybe even send them an email message.

The point, , , yes, I made it happen by going after the money and placing a priority on the work, , , but the real work was done by my employees. They are the ones who really deserved the credit.

“the real work was done by my employees

Do you think these two employees appreciated me passing the credit to them? ABSOLUTELY,  and they worked even harder for me in the months to follow.

B.  Make your customer the hero
In another company, I identified some tangible cost savings that could be achieved by simply making a management decision.

Our postage cost was significantly higher than it should be because we were sending FEDEX packages to every office every day of the week. By making a management decision to limit overnight deliveries to twice a week and for emergencies, we cut out $15,000 a month in postage cost in a company that was challenged by poor cash flow.

As a young manager, I would have gone to my boss, the CEO, and become a hero in identifying this easy cost savings opportunity. We’re talking about some very low hanging fruit here, , , literally no effort to get the savings, , , in fact, it also reduced significant effort in our Mail Room.

The problem with this is that if you go to the CEO and become the hero, you alienate the CFO. He should be all over this issue but he wasn’t because he wasn’t doing his job. Now talk about something hard to do, , , help someone be a hero who isn’t doing his job.

I can tell you it is extremely hard to do this, but you need to make yourself approach a situation like this by giving the CFO the information and let him be the hero with the CEO, our boss.

The reason is because you need the CFO on your side and will need his help often in future situations. It is better to build these alliances than to try and be the hero and end up making enemies. You need to evaluate the cause and effect of how you handle things, and make a situation like this a win-win because it truly is.

C.  Make your vendor the hero
Give your vendor credit as much as you can. When your Vendor knows you are supporting him, he will work harder to support your efforts.

It’s all about building good teamwork around you. You never have too many allies and partners. When you build a culture where people are looking for ways to give others credit where credit is due, it’s a very positive and healthy work environment.

As I mentioned before, some parts of this are NOT easy. Giving someone opportunity to be a hero when they aren’t doing their job is difficult, , , truly difficult. The key thing to remember is that your gift can come back many times over and if you create a “giving” environment, you will have many people in the company trying to make you the hero over time.

Always try to be aware of the support you need within your company and make conscious efforts to develop and reinforce them.

Are you a good boss or a great one?

I just read an excellent article in the Harvard Business Review titled, Are You a Good Boss – or a Great One?

The research behind this article suggests most organizations have a group of managers of different levels of competency:

  • a few great managers
  • some capable managers
  • most are mediocre
  • poor managers
  • some awful managers

It’s a classic bell curve as you might expect.

Authors Linda A. Hill and Kent Lineback suggest that the primary reason the vast majority of managers becomes “stuck” at levels below GREAT is because they stop working on themselves.

I have to agree with their conclusions because I have seen the same thing in my career in working with thousands of managers. But, I think there is more to the issue:

  • In an IT manager’s case, we often do not know how to develop our management skills
  • In addition, most companies do not have anyone in the company who knows how to develop an IT manager’s management skills
  • If you look for training for an IT manager, good luck in finding something practical that works in a true operational management situation

Let me comment on this final point. In every IT Manager Institute program I deliver, I continue to hear managers say they have been looking for help but could not find anything until they stumbled upon my information.

It’s a big reason I devoted my life to developing practical tools and training to help IT managers achieve more success ten years ago.

How can a manager become “Good” or “Great”?

First of all, your objective should be to become a GREAT manager. The authors of the HBR article suggest you need to ask yourself, “How good am I?” or “Do I need to be better?”

Take a look at the bell curve above. Where would you place yourself? Most would rate themselves a bit better than their actual performance would indicate.

A better question, “Where would your clients (senior managers and Department managers of your company) rate your performance as a manager?”

The good news is that there is a path to becoming a GREAT IT manager. It’s available to you if you choose to invest in yourself, , , and investing in yourself and your career is something we should all be doing for our entire career. For example, I try to invest in at least two training programs a year that will help me become a better small business owner.

CLICK HERE to read the rest of the HBR article, , , it is well worth your time.

Be careful when cutting IT expenses you don’t cut “muscle”

The big movement in companies for well over a year now has been to cut expenses and reduce the cost of operations. The IT department has not been immune to this push from the top of companies nor should it be.

When revenues decline, stockholders still expect the companies they invest in to operate profitably and to keep the stock price up. What this means is that we have to find cost savings.

I’m a strong proponent of managing company expenses in line with revenues. I’m also a supporter of understanding the IT expense as a percent of company revenue and using it as a measurement guideline.

The problem comes into play when cost cutting initiatives cut into “muscle” as opposed to eliminating “fat”.  There are critical resource requirements to provide basic levels of technology support. In normal cases, a few areas need to have some amount of backup or depth in case a key member of the team leaves for some reason.

When you begin any cost cutting initiative, you should take a very close look at the support needs of the company and how you are organized to provide that support. Identify critical support requirements that must be in place to support core competencies of the company, i.e. the IT “muscle” that’s required.

You want to try to eliminate these key resources and expenses related to the support they provide from your list of potential cost cuts. By identifying the true “muscle” of your IT organization, you help ensure that the primary business support need will be taken care of. Be objective with this exercise and validate with senior management.

If you have “star” staff members in areas that are being looked at to be eliminated, consider shifting them to your core competency support areas, , , but when you do, you may still have to cut staff somewhere in the organization. The point is that the team you want to end up with should be the very best of the staff you have today and when you have to eliminate staff, you owe it to your team and the company to lose the weakest of the bunch.

You must stay objective when doing this – it is a tough assignment.

Always try to find business opportunities that allow you to make IT investments that will save the company much more than what will be saved by cutting IT expense. Most companies have these opportunities but if you wait until the “cost cutting” message comes down, it is too late.

One of your best assets is a track record of success and one that shows you constantly focus on things that provide business value to your company. The more you work in IT the more you will discover that the biggest cost saving opportunities are things you can do to help other departments in the company, , , not usually what you can save in IT. Don’t rule out technology cost savings, , , just be aware there may be bigger fish elsewhere in your company.

Management requires special skills

Moving into management is tempting to many IT pros. But before jumping into a position you’re not ready for, there are a few issues you need to examine. Review these five steps and decide if you’re prepared to move successfully into management nirvana.

I’ve been fortunate to have managed thousands of employees in my 20-plus years of managing IT resources. One of the interesting things I’ve consistently noticed during that time is how many employees want to become managers.

I absolutely love managing IT organisations and the people within them, but it’s not all glory and accolades. There is also hard work, frustration, and tremendous challenges required to do the job right. So before you start applying for that open management role, you should take a closer look at the job.

Answering the “why?”
When interviewing or counseling employees, I’m often confronted with someone’s desire to become a manager, and the first question I ask is, “Why?”

The response can provide a useful perspective. Here are a few examples that I’ve gotten over the years:

  • “I want to be the boss.”
  • “I want the authority and prestige of the position.”
  • “I want to direct others on what they should do.”
  • “I don’t know; it just seems like the natural course for my career.”
  • “I want to attend management meetings and learn what the company is planning.”
  • I want to build a big organization

At the time, the staffers who provided these responses didn’t have a clue what an IT manager’s job involved. In fact, most IT professionals don’t, and too many get thrown into management positions with little or no real preparation to do the job effectively.

The answer to “Why do you want to be a manager?” reveals a great deal about what you want from a job and how you view the role of IT in the company. Many technicians see the role as one that defines the technology direction of the company and determines what tools to use. For them, the allure of a management position is the ability to make these decisions. To some extent, that’s true, but many don’t get the fact that what really drives those decisions is the company’s needs and not necessarily the technical knowledge that the manager may possess.

Current competency isn’t all that’s needed
Being good at what you do does not necessarily prepare you for a management position. Let me repeat that: Just because a person is an outstanding consultant or support pro doesn’t mean that the person will be a good, or even an average, manager.

The growth of technology in the last 20 years has created a large demand for more IT managers, and many have found themselves in the role without anything more to help them than what they knew in their former positions.

Certainly, knowing how to program can benefit you in a programming manager role, but it can also be a limiting factor. When you take the best programmers and make them managers, the company and CIO often lose their best productive resources, and a very green person is now placed in a management role that directly influences many others.

For far too many years, it was thought that the best resource in a technical area could effectively manage the rest of the team. That’s not only a false idea; it can also be a dangerous one for the company, the IT organisation, and employees touched by such a move.

The fact is that effectively managing employees and technology resources has very little to do with how technical you are and more to do with your ability to facilitate, persuade, plan, organize, motivate, and communicate. You don’t hear anything very technical in those terms.

Suddenly, what becomes more important is not what you can do yourself, but what you can get accomplished through others.

Management is like any other skill. You can learn it, but the key issue is that it’s a different skill set from what you have used as a technician. Of course, the fact that you have been successful as a technical resource does give you a head start, because it helps you relate to others who have technical roles.

When you become a manager, you have to let others do the technical part so you can focus your time and energy on doing the management part. With technology changing as rapidly as it is, you simply cannot continue to be the technical expert and expect to be an excellent manager.

If you take nothing else away from this article, take the message that when you decide to become an IT manager, you have to focus your time and full energy on issues that help you succeed as a manager. If you like solving problems, learning new technologies, and implementing new tools and technology, you may want to stay in your technical role. Managers don’t have time to become experts in the new technologies and do their management jobs well.

Positioning yourself for management
I’m not suggesting that you can’t become a manager if you truly want to. Take my insight as a message to prepare and understand what the job is really all about before taking the leap. It’s not about giving orders and telling others what to do as much as you might think. If that were the case, it would be a simple deal.

Here are five steps to take in your current role to prepare for a management position:

  • Learn how to manage projects and establish a successful track record of managing projects that are delivered on time and within budget. Developing sound project management skills is the best preparatory step, as the role requires many of the skills needed in a management position.
  • Observe successful managers managing and motivating employees. When you see something that’s effective, add it to your skills “toolkit.”
  • Find a mentor who has a successful management track record and is willing to help you develop management skills and offer you insight. Mentors are invaluable and can help you save time, avoid wasted effort, and reduce frustration because they know the shortcuts that are effective as a manager, just as you know the shortcuts in your technical role.
  • Tell your current supervisor that you’re looking to move into a management position and would like help preparing for the new challenge.
  • Ask for more responsibility so you can develop new management skills. Be sure you preface the request so that it’s clear that you want it to help you develop skills that will prepare you for a management role.

There’s no quick shortcut
Depending upon your background and experience, you may have a long road ahead in your preparation efforts. Don’t expect to be offered a management position the week after you ask for it. You need to realize that management roles require new skills, so you should be prepared to make the investment to develop those skills.

Over the years, I’ve turned down many management/promotion requests from staffers who were not ready to become managers. But for those who showed a genuine desire to become managers, I made an investment in that goal, and many turned out to be exceptional technology managers. If I had moved them into management roles, unprepared in both perspective and skill set, I would have been negligent as a manager myself and could have damaged their careers.

In every case, the first question I ask is, “Why do you want to be a manager?” In most cases, the initial answer is not the same answer given a year later when they better understand the role.