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How to get the most out of your IT talent

Ann Bednarz | Dec. 2, 2014
For CIOs and IT leaders, the management challenge is how to help IT employees break the tactical habit and use their strategic skills more effectively.

As the spotlight on cost reduction has dimmed, IT has picked up plenty of new directives: to deliver business agility, drive innovation, and increase its value to the business, to name a few. Yet at the same time, IT remains responsible for all the tactical and operational activities it has always performed, such as keeping systems running, delivering new capabilities, and securing intellectual property and corporate data.

For CIOs and IT leaders, the management challenge is how to help IT employees break the tactical habit and use their strategic skills more effectively. We asked for advice from three tech professionals with different perspectives on IT talent. Their expertise can help IT leaders who want their teams to work smarter and be more engaged. Some of the tactics can be adopted without a lot of investment, while others require outside help or more significant cultural overhauls.

Before/after coffee tasks

Time management is a logical place to start. A capable leader can help his team make time for higher-level tasks that will increase the value of IT to the business. But good IT leaders require cultivation.

"Most IT professionals are what I call accidental managers," says Eric Bloom, a former CIO and current president of Manager Mechanics, which specializes in helping companies develop IT leadership talent. Many IT managers were promoted because they were good at their former jobs even though their new jobs might have little to do with their past experience.

Eric Bloom, a former CIO and current president of Manager Mechanics

"Hey, you're the best techie, congratulations," Bloom says. "You didn't go to school to learn what we're going to ask you to do. All of the things you did that made you such a star employee and made us want to promote you — none of that is applicable to what we're going to ask you to do. And, the job opened because we promoted someone into the job last year, with a skill set somewhat like yours, but they failed miserably and we had to fire them. Welcome to management."

New IT managers have to adjust to a role of delegating vs. building. "Your creativity comes in maximizing the efficiency of those working for you," Bloom says.

One delegation technique Bloom has devised is what he calls zone-based staff prioritization. It's built around the idea of being in the zone when people know what needs to be done, aren't distracted, and are motivated to complete a task, they can be more productive, more innovative, and do a better job. "Sometimes people are at their best. Sometimes they're alert but not creative. Sometimes they can do things but they're not really open to challenge. And sometimes, there are things they can do as long as they're not asleep or semi-comatose," Bloom says.

 

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