An effective boss: 6 secrets of a successful IT manager
In the last decade, the role of the head of IT department has evolved significantly. Technology specialists holding directorial positions were replaced by managers with a perfect understanding of how the company works, who directly support its business and economic goals. As a result, the competencies of a good IT director of today go far beyond the knowledge on technological advancements and include human resources management, effective persuasive skills as well as managing the relations both inside and outside of the company.
The scale and effects of the evolution are reflected in the opinions IT directors have on their role in the company. In a recently published global study (Deloitte, CIO 2014. New Technologies - at Crossroads), IT directors indicated reacting to the changing business needs, implementing new technologies and modifying the IT operational model as their current priorities. Delivering business results through IT services is the most important element in the project portfolio of IT leaders. Using data stored within the organization to the benefit of the company is just behind it.
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The ever-expanding range of responsibilities and competencies require CIOs to continuously develop their skills and to maximize the efficiency of their actions. Below are 6 tips on how to be more effective in managing an IT department.
1. Never stop learning
Equal functioning among other business departments requires skills and competencies in the field of management, finance, law and many others. Knowing and understanding the nature of your company's business and its internal processes are key items on every CIO's agenda. MBA studies are the best formal source of such knowledge, enabling you to learn about all the basic areas of a modern company's operation in a nutshell. The knowledge can be useful both for IT manager positions and on the top level of the organizational structure. One of the managers of network administration department in a large state-owned company discovered it in practice, when after a few years of studies, he became head of IT at one of the virtual operators, and now is working as a vice president of a financial market institution.
Managers who, for various reasons, are unable to cope with quite a busy schedule of the studies can acquire the knowledge in practice through regular participation in projects implemented by the business departments of the company. That is how IT managers at P&G, a global company, develop their careers1 . After a few years of working on an IT-related position, they are encouraged to join other business departments of the company, where they can learn how the company works. As a last resort, inspiration and knowledge can be found at conferences, congresses or symposiums, meetings or reference visits organized by business partners.
2. Communicate with the external environment
Good communication is priceless. Sharing detailed and comprehensible information on IT activities always works to the advantage of IT manager and his/her subordinates. The fact that these competencies are below expectations has been confirmed by the results of the above-mentioned research (Deloitte, CIO 2014. New technologies - at Crossroads). Even though nearly seven out of ten respondents rated the effectiveness of IT department as a strategic business partner highly, more than 20% considered the department's relations with company CEOs to be weak.
IT and business have been speaking two different languages and using different terminologies for years.However, communication problems are caused not only by terminology, but also by a different way of thinking linked to the specific nature of a given department and its individual goals. Overcoming these barriers mostly depends on the IT director's good will. In practice, it means that IT director needs to speak the language of his/her colleagues from other business departments. Company's finance management is the easiest area to unify the language and later on make it the basis of achieving further understanding. Costs, revenues, budget allocations, margins - these are terms understood in a similar way by any manager. And finance is just one step away from mutual settlements and other areas that require collaboration between IT and business.
3. Document the effects of your actions
The more hard data a manager can present, the easier it is to prove the value of IT department's activities, justify expenses and settle budgets. That is why the effects of every system deployment should be monitored, including measuring usage levels, costs and ROI. These arguments are indispensable to hold constructive discussions with the representatives of other departments while planning further actions. Ideally, a sample report, apart from typical IT data, such as time of availability for each application, should also include unambiguous information on costs as well as the progress on business goals set by the department.
4. Be a leader and manage your talents
Motivate, delegate, reward and integrate. No manager can be effective without an efficient, devoted and motivated team. Cater for your employees' development and manage their talents. Every IT manager should take a systematic approach towards managing his/her subordinates. That means, first and foremost, identifying those employees who show the most potential, planning their professional development path and encouraging them to develop their competencies by setting ambitious goals. A periodical IT services and functioning satisfaction survey is also worth thinking about. Having access to specific feedback and comments, you can work on improving or maintaining the good image of the company's IT, but also anticipate the employees' needs and company's business goals.
5. Create a vision for your department
Effective management of even the smallest team requires setting a clear, long-term objective. The objective should go beyond the adopted IT strategy, describing the role to be fulfilled by IT department in a few years' time. This role undoubtedly reaches far beyond maintaining and developing IT solutions in the company. What can such a vision look like? Peter Weill, Chairman of the Center for Information Systems Research (CISR) at Massachusetts Institute of Technology, the most outstanding researcher of IT management issues in companies, has been talking for years of digital transformation, the essence of which consists in a total remodeling of business due to technological and business innovation. Building an IT department that could inspire such development seems to be the most probable direction of company IT evolution. In order to face new challenges, you should estimate the potential of agile programming and managing methodologies, aligning your and your team's appropriate competencies accordingly.
6. Reach out to find inspiration
Working intensely with people of different competencies and temperaments is a short way to a burnout. That is why you should always look for new inspirations and motivations. Stepping out of your comfort zone, where you feel like an expert, and viewing IT from a different perspective, is a particularly refreshing experience. The different perspective may come from a large business partner, who usually knows how similar processes are performed in companies of a similar profile to those of the employers. However, the best way to refresh your perspective is taking up a hobby or starting your own business. Working actively in various professional associations is a great opportunity for networking and exchange of opinions.
Good IT department management is no longer limited to tracking and implementing technological advancements. Directors managing those units are more and more often held accountable for their company's financial results as well as for effective planning and implementation of its strategy.