See also: CIO Lessons 1, how to manage change
Thanks to our panel:
Jonny Gifford, principal researcher, Roffey Park Institute
Ibukun Adebayo, CIO Turning Point
David Jack, CIO, The Trainline
Judith Elliot, Elconsulting
Did you know?
Compared to other professional managers, tech managers:
- Set direction with their teams less often
- Communicate less with their reports when it comes to gaining buy-in, canvassing opinion, encouraging ideas and suggestions, and listening to feedback
- Hold one-to-one meetings with their reports less often
— Roffey Park Institute
Technical leaders tend to come with a strong suit of competencies, and people management is not one of them. While this stereotype may be a little harsh, there are certainly some soft that skills tech experts find especially difficult.
Our panel offers guidance:
Forget the technology
"The IT trend is to train people to be technologists. I say to my managers, forget about the technology. You wouldn't have a job without customers or the people.
If you focus on technology alone, you can't support technology unless you take your customers along with you. It's not just that I keep this in my mind. I reinforce this with my team at every team meeting."
"If you don't lead your people, you're going to be a lone ranger. But you'll need a fundamental shift in mindset, because the very notion of leadership can be seen as antithetical to expertise.
The challenge is that tech experts are used to being deferred to or, if it's not their area of expertise, deferring to others. Leadership is about achieving through others, which is not the same as leaving them to their own devices."
Seek 360 degrees feedback
"I open myself to the business from the HR processes, but I open myself to the team as well. You have to learn to open yourself to constructive criticism and learn about your weaknesses.
It can be helpful to call these 'areas for development', because it makes people less defensive to examine what they are, how to improve and how they work together as a team.
I find that people beat themselves up over their weaknesses. But really, it just means that you are strong in other areas."
Open your door
"Absolutely every individual in the team knows they can come into my office at any time as long as it's not to complain about their manager.
They can discuss anything including personal matters. It's not a strategy that works for everyone. But it's the reason I know what is going on across the business.
If there's an issue outside work that can potential affect performance, I can act to mitigate it. I don't try and solve people's problems, but I may refer them to a source of help."
Divide and conquer
"It's not politically correct but it can work a treat in the high-octane word of IT where bright minds compete for the most interesting work.
I took two engineers out of the day operations and asked them to think about what a betting exchange might look like in the future.
There were some raised eyebrows, but it harnessed the finest minds to solving a hypothetical tech problem. It also had the 'cool' factor and introduced some career aspirations.
We ended up creating an advanced technology team."
Resource the ad hoc
"When all your IT staff is allocated against long-term multi-track development and thinking, you shouldn't be surprised if good ideas get lost along the way.
There's simply no opportunity for innovation in this kind of resourcing model. We retain the capacity to do the things we have only just thought about as well as the long term stuff and roadmaps.
We're not going quite as far as Google, which gives every programmer a day a week to do blue-sky thinking. But small exercises such as 'how do we integrate Google apps' keep staff motivated and fresh."
"Doling out expertise and advice may seem efficient, but is far less powerful than asking questions and helping people work things out themselves.
So recognise the value of non-directional ways of supporting learning and development, and work on your skills as a mentor or coach.
Similarly, limit your reliance on expertise and facts.
There is more to negotiation than being technically correct; there is also expedience, timeliness, being sensitive to other people's agendas."
"Employees are quick to pick up on formulaic management and react against it. Management by textbook can look insincere or unnatural, like painting by numbers, when it should be about genuine respectful relationships.
So for technical experts, this might mean not denying your scientific perspective, after all, this may be something that other people find really inspiring."
Focus on relationships
"Logical plans are not enough; you need to engage with how people feel. Leadership and people management both hinge on relationships, which are idiosyncratic and vary from one situation to the next.
Recognise the emotional side to being led and work on your emotional intelligence as a leader.
Use a wide frame
"The IT pro tends to be a detail person who prefers a narrow frame for his conversations. Problem with making conversations too specific, especially when it comes to giving feedback, is that it can put people in the defensive, as if the entire problem has been scoped beforehand.
Instead of: "You're doing too much coding. You're team leader and could be delegating this stuff more", try: "I hear on the grapevine that Joe would like to do more coding on project X. Do you have any thoughts on that?""