Monday, February 23, 2009

The Ideal Manager

In this post, I thought I would discuss some of the characteristics of what I believe make up an ideal manager. In other words, how I like to be managed. I realize this blog post might be off-topic, but I believe we all should take advantage of opportunities to convey thoughts that could potentially make a positive difference in people’s lives, both personally and professionally.

As a former manager who has spent the better part of last five years overseeing the entire operations of an IT department for a company consisting of over 700 employees, I have spent an equal amount of time studying and applying the philosophies of many respected leaders throughout the industry. Much of my learning can be credited to Ramon Padilla, a well-known author on the popular TechRepublic website. Ramon’s experience includes 16+ years in IT management, with 10+ of those years being in senior IT management. His articles target managers on all levels, so I highly recommend Ramon’s advice whether you are a newly appointed front-line manager or a seasoned veteran in a CIO or CTO position.

So, without further ado, and in no particular order, my ideal manager is someone who:

  • Believes in developing their people. I believe that lifelong learning and continuous improvement through training and education is what prevents a department from going stagnant or mediocre. The IT field is constantly changing, and many IT professionals actually enjoy learning about new and improving technologies. The ideal manager knows how to budget for training and development, and encourages staff to attend industry events whenever possible.
  • Gets to know and understand their people’s work style, and aligns people according to their strengths. Every person is different, from their skill set to the way they prefer to work on activities. The “across the board” management approach simply does not cut it today’s workforce. The ideal manager gets to know the strengths and weaknesses of each person on the team, and works to leverage and build upon those strengths while minimizing efforts to improve each person’s weaknesses. In most cases, a person’s weaknesses are chosen by them, either because they are not interested in learning a particular skill or technology, or they simply do not believe it benefits their long-term career goals.
  • Knows how to delegate appropriately. I believe one of the common mistakes managers make is trying to perform most of the technical duties of a department by themselves. Staff members need to know that they can be trusted with certain tasks, and managers should recognize that delegation is important to the overall health of the department. The ideal manager knows how and what to delegate as well as how to demonstrate the patience needed to see each delegated task through its completion.
  • Focuses on overall productivity, not the time clock. The ideal manager sets clear goals and objectives that generally take staff 40 hours per week (or longer) to accomplish, then lets the staff manage their own time. As long as each employee is in attendance for important meetings and is available during the team’s general working hours, he or she should be empowered to work at whatever pace they believe they can be more productive. Again, employees need to know they are trusted and held accountable for their assignments.
  • Knows the business and how each person on the team affects it. The ideal manager understands the business segments he or she supports and ensures that each team member also understands how their work affects the overall goals of those business segments. Furthermore, the ideal manager believes every project is essentially a business project with an IT component.
  • Understands communication is a two-way responsibility. Communication should flow freely and easily between managers and staff. Every member of the team should be given the opportunity to discuss their ideas, and managers should spend as much time listening and asking questions as they do giving overall direction.
  • Encourages teamwork. There is no individual more important than the team. The ideal manager establishes a collaborative and team-oriented environment that leads to a diverse, cross-functional staff. Generally, one team member knows the answer to something that another team member has wasted valuable hours trying to resolve. Teamwork also inherently improves communication within the department.
  • Provides continual feedback while being direct and to the point. The ideal manager ensures that each team member knows what they are doing well and what they are doing not so well. Through methods that include casual conversations, formal performance reviews, and employee recognition events, managers should be clear and direct when assigning tasks and providing feedback for a finished assignment or project.
  • Believes work should be fun. Should work be considered fun? Absolutely. Employees spend far too much time at the workplace not to find a way to enjoy it. Besides, who wants to work for a leader that is down all the time? The ideal manager has a passion for what he or she does, and uses that passion to permeate their entire department with inspiration. I personally approach each and every day on the job as an opportunity to make a difference in the organization. By solving business problems and improving business processes using SharePoint technologies, I live out my passion. If I’m living out my passion, I’m having fun.
  • Knows how to hire well. As the old saying goes, “One bad apple can spoil the bunch”. The ideal manager understands that both technical and organizational skills should be evaluated when hiring a new member to the team. Some managers take it a step further and get the team involved in the hiring process.
  • Believes in some form of the seven Ps, in regards to planning. Not really, but he or she should take planning seriously. For me, it’s “Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance”.
  • Believes responsible, professional people can be as productive working from home as they are in the office. The idea of staff working from home continues to rub some managers the wrong way, and the topic of telecommuting is very touchy in some organizations. I personally believe it’s primarily due to the lack of structure, policies, and just plain old fashion management styles in some organizations. My experiences with telecommuting have all been very positive. In fact, I actually seen an increase in overall productivity after establishing a “work at home” initiative at my former workplace.
  • Cherishes honesty. This is a biggie for me. In my opinion, the quickest way to lose respect of staff is to lie to them. Honesty enhances trust, and if employees know you tell the truth, they will trust your words and actions more. Obviously, there are going to be some things that are deemed confidential that only managers are allowed to know, but there are other ways of communicating such things to the team without flat-out lying to them.
  • Establishes a level of expectation. In other words, no surprises. One of the first things I like to do when taking a new job is sit down with my new manager and discuss our expectations for each other. Common questions I ask the manager include “What can I expect for good performance?”, “What about bad performance?”, and “What is your management style?” Furthermore, whenever possible, managers should always keep staff in the loop of any upcoming change and provide the reasoning for it. They will appreciate you keeping them informed.
It’s important to recognize that not all industries are well suited to implement such a management style, and perhaps it is a bit na├»ve to think that any manager can be truly effective in each and every area. Therefore, for anyone currently working for a manager that fits all or most of the description above, consider yourself to be very fortunate.

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