Making the Connection

Jan 27, 2006

Katherine Spencer Lee

The best CIOs strive to maintain meaningful connections with everyone under their supervision, not just those at the highest levels. In doing so, they help eliminate the us vs. them mentality that often exists between employees and management.

When IT workers feel connected to and respected by their leader, they’re likely to generate creative ideas and take the initiative to resolve problems. In addition, staff become more invested in their work and are more inclined to stay with the company, which is particularly important as competition grows for top IT professionals.

Developing a strong working relationship with your employees begins with visibility. Leaving the confines of your office to interact with workers, greeting staff by name when you see them in the hallway and talking to your team members about topics other than the upcoming financial systems conversion project are all simple steps to show your genuine concern for employees and, ultimately, improve morale.

In addition to increasing your visibility, it’s also critical to make yourself available to staff.

Rarely a day goes by when you don’t interact with senior managers from other departments or your direct reports. However, when was the last time you sat down and talked to a first-level help desk professional? Or the programmer who ensures regular updates are made to your firm’s website?

Nearly every CIO has an “open-door policy” these days. But how many employees actually step foot inside your office? If employees must jump through a complex series of hoops to see you, your door may be all but closed to them.

Overcome this by letting employees know the easiest way to reach you. For example, you may encourage them to call your direct extension, ask that they schedule short meetings with your assistant or set up an e-mail box dedicated to staff questions and suggestions.

Although you may not have enough time to address everyone’s request, set aside time on a regular basis to do what you can. Take 15 minutes before leaving the office each night, for instance, to respond to employee e-mails, even if your message is limited to a simple “Thanks.”

If employees feel comfortable contacting you, they will likely be willing to offer candid comments about the business and provide you with valuable inside information you would not otherwise have access to.

When a major project is approaching, involve employees by soliciting their thoughts on the best course of action. If appropriate, include a broad spectrum of employees in brainstorming sessions to generate a wide range of ideas and opinions.

Schedule meetings in a neutral setting, such as a conference room. While your office might seem like a comfortable spot for small gatherings, some staff members may find it intimidating. Keep in mind that impromptu discussions in the hallway or break room sometimes can be as useful as formal meetings in gathering input from employees and showing that you value their knowledge.

Finally, make a proactive effort to talk to everyone in your group. Skip-level meetings in which people talk to you instead of their direct supervisors are a useful method for gathering insight from IT staff at all levels. You may want to meet individually or with small teams (networking professionals, for instance), if you have a large department.

Employees can be more candid at these discussions than when talking to their direct managers, which can make you aware of certain challenges or issues not readily apparent. For instance, you may learn that a database under consideration at the company is unpopular with those who will be responsible for maintaining it.

Skip-level meetings also send the message that you value and respect all members of your IT team, regardless of their seniority or position in the department.

Taking small steps to build relationships with every member of your department can have huge rewards. Not only will your IT staff feel more connected to you and the company’s goals, but they are more likely to give their all with their work. And your genuine efforts will help you retain valuable employees, which is critical in any economic environment.

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 the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at


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