Managing Your Managers
To encourage top performance from your direct reports, you should treat the relationship as a collaboration. While you can convey authority and certainly should make the final call on important decisions, it is also critical to allow your managers to play an active role in determining the direction of key IT initiatives.
Share the vision. You may be in charge of the department, but your managers are the ones making sure everything is implemented effectively on a daily basis. So, be sure they understand your company's current technology strategy. It's also critical you get their buy-in on new projects from the beginning rather than just informing them of upcoming plans once they've been enacted.
Let them know what you hope to accomplish in the short- and long-term and solicit their input. Your managers may be aware of situations, such as staffing shortages, that could prevent tasks from being completed successfully. In many cases, their knowledge of daily challenges and issues can help ensure the success of your department's projects.
The more involved your direct reports are in new initiatives, the more supportive they are likely to be overall. They will feel connected to the cause and their enthusiasm will help them motivate their own employees.
Don't micromanage. It is particularly important to delegate authority to your managers. If you don't allow senior-level IT professionals to make their own decisions and instead monitor their progress constantly, they're likely to resent your heavy-handedness. They may believe you lack appreciation for their talent and authority, which can quickly deplete morale and lead to turnover.
Instead, explain the desired end result and how you will be evaluating their work. Be clear about your expectations: Do you want to be informed of delays or notified when everything is completed? What are the top priorities with key initiatives? How critical are timelines for implementation?
Make yourself available should managers have any questions or concerns, but let them take charge once you have delegated responsibility. If you have made smart hiring decisions and promotions, your direct reports should be capable of leading their IT staff with minimal supervision.
Tell them how they're doing. Formal performance appraisals and ongoing feedback are just as valuable for managers as they are for less experienced employees. Open communication about successes as well as challenges can keep people on track with their objectives and renew motivation. In addition to focusing on technical competency, also give input on such areas as supervisory and interpersonal skills and adherence to ethics.
Listen. Get to know your managers by spending time with them in regular meetings. Strive to create a work environment in which they can give you candid feedback without fear of negative career repercussions.
Sometimes the best business solutions are generated when people take a risk and recommend an idea that goes against the mainstream. Perhaps there's a more cost-effective but lesser known technology to consider for an upcoming project? Or maybe there's a better way to handle technical support calls?
Encouraging those who report to you to "tell it like it is" and following through with appropriate action will not only help you stay on top of developments but also will show managers their input is genuinely valued.
Treating your management staff with respect, soliciting their input on projects and offering them autonomy can go a long way in keeping them motivated and satisfied in their positions. You'll help to create a reliable team to support your IT initiatives, which can have a positive effect on your entire department.
Katherine Spencer Lee is the 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 has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe, and offers online job search services at www.rht.com.