Management Rules That are Made to be Broken

May 27, 2005

Katherine Spencer Lee

As anyone who has held a management position knows there are certain practices that almost every leader follows. For instance, have you heard a supervisor say lately that doesn't maintain an open-door policy?

There are management guidelines for the recruitment, retention and motivation of employees that are commonly understood, either because they're recommended in company training programs or shared through word of mouth. While these traditional or "common sense" strategies are useful, in certain situations some "rules" are meant to be broken.

What follows are a few key examples:

Do everything possible to retain staff. Virtually every IT department has a full slate of projects these days. Losing just one employee involved in those initiatives can easily create unwanted delays.

Yet before you pull out all the stops to make sure none of your staff members leaves, think carefully: Are you retaining the right people?

Sometimes, turnover can be beneficial. When people who are not your top performers leave the team, it gives you the chance to find replacements with stronger skill sets. You may even discover you want to hire someone in an entirely different role instead of simply filling the old position.

Focus your retention efforts on your best IT professionals. Make sure they know there is a career path within your organization and give them the resources to achieve their goals, such as reimbursing expenses associated with obtaining a certification or allowing them to leave early to attend a professional education class.

Conduct annual performance appraisals. Almost all companies have a policy of holding performance reviews once a year. What's wrong with that? Nothing, if they are supplemented with ongoing feedback.

Employees need to know what they are doing right and what they should improve throughout the year so they can modify their behavior accordingly.

If an employee is not meeting expectations, he or she may be caught off guard if you do not discuss the performance problems right away. Even if the news is good -- you're thrilled with a project team's ability to collaborate on a systems upgrade, for instance -- if you wait until formal appraisals to issue compliments, your staff may be disheartened by the delay.

Use the annual review to provide an individual with an overview of his or her performance and to address big-picture issues, such as long-term career goals and what is needed to achieve them.

If you have offered praise and criticism on a regular basis, nothing you say during this meeting should come as a surprise to your employees.

Employ a "cracked-door" policy. There's a fine line between being available to your staff when they need guidance and being too accessible. Maintaining an open-door policy all the time can get you into trouble. Instead of focusing on the strategic issues facing your IT department, you could find yourself constantly helping people with the finer details of their work or addressing their personal issues.

To stay on track, be very clear with staff members about the scope of their responsibilities: which tasks can they handle independently and which ones require your approval before proceeding? Also let them know if there are certain hours of the day when they should contact you about urgent matters only.

Hire at all costs. After years of tight budgets and limited staff, many CIOs are in the position to hire again. The pressure to fill vacancies as quickly as possible to gain ground sometimes leads managers to go too far to secure the best applicants.

For example, if you need help supporting Sarbanes-Oxley requirements, it can be tempting to offer a salary well beyond your firm's current pay levels to convince a coveted systems security professional to accept your offer.

However, you risk damaging morale among existing IT staff should they learn a new hire in the same role is earning significantly more than they are.

You need to carefully weigh the risks and benefits of making special accommodations for top contenders and be willing to end negotiations if the cost to your company is too high. Determining the pay range and benefits for a position before you begin recruiting can help ensure you stay within your guidelines.

The most effective management practices evolve over time. Periodically examine the strategies you rely on to supervise your team. Challenging tried-and-true techniques when necessary will make you a better leader as you adapt your approach to suit your group's unique needs.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at Robert Half Technology .


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