Companies may fantasize about employees who devote their lives to the business, but the reality is that every worker has a life outside of the office. Creating a flexible workplace that balances the needs of the business with the needs of employees can be challenging. Here are five tips to help make it work.
1. Define the boundaries of the flexible work policy.
Flexible work can cover a range of alternatives. Are you permitting telecommuting, flexible hours, or both? If you permit flexible hours, are you allowing the flexibility to work four 10-hour days, or just shifting start and end times five days per week?
2. Define how communication and collaboration will be managed.
Because workers are no longer all working the same hours from the same location, coordinating work activity becomes more challenging. Managers need to make clear how work issues will be raised and resolved when face-to-face meetings can't be called at a moment's notice. Consider using video conferences and other technology to get non-verbal feedback not expressed in email and phone calls.
3. Define how performance will be measured.
When employees aren't on site, managers may have a tougher time assessing performance. Before agreeing to any flexible work arrangement, both the manager and the employee should understand the metrics that will be used to judge performance.
4. Provide the technology needed to work at home.
While most employees probably have adequate Internet and phone service at home, companies should confirm all necessary resources are available. When necessary, companies should consider providing additional hardware and paying for higher network speeds to support at-home productivity. Companies should also make sure at-home computing is conducted securely and protects company resources through the use of VPN and other security tools.
5. Measure the effectiveness of your policy.
As the workforce in general changes, and as your employees change, your flexible work policy may need to change as well. New parents and soon-to-retire individuals may appreciate flexibility but have different needs. Periodically survey your employees to find out what kind of work flexibility, they want. Make sure your flexible work policy is itself flexible, and change it when needed to make sure it provides the flexibility your employees need.
There are many business applications still running on Cobol, but new developers would never base their career solely around learning Cobol. Even for developers who are working with more modern languages and methodologies, specializing in a single technology isn't the best basis for a career.
Besides the fact that technology changes rapidly (Cobol aside!), developers with a skill set across the technology stack are more valuable to their organization. These developers can step up and pitch in wherever help is needed, and their understanding of the challenges of different technologies provides a foundation for working in architecture, project lead, or managerial roles in addition to a varied programming career.
Software ultimately runs on physical facilities, so understanding the limitations of hardware and networks helps engineers make appropriate design decisions. Projects can either take advantage of, or be limited by, the specific operating system they are running on, so understanding this is key. Network configurations raise performance issues and security concerns, especially with growing use of the cloud. Mobile devices offer unique challenges as well. Applications won't succeed unless developers understand these issues and handle them appropriately.
There are fads and trends in programming, so while knowing a specific language is helpful for a while, having a solid foundation in good software engineering practices is more important. Developers need to fully grasp the concepts of object-oriented design in order to write reusable code that speeds projects. Debugging skills are often overlooked, but crucial. So is the ability to reverse engineer and work with existing code, so developers should practice reading and analyzing code they didn't write.
Ultimately, most applications require manipulating data, so developers should be comfortable with a variety of databases. Developers should be able to write SQL queries and work with stored procedures. Although many data-dependent projects will have DBAs to fine-tune the database, developers should be comfortable with the basics of database design and performance tuning. Because "big data" is increasing in importance, developers should learn how to work with very large datasets.
Understand Front Ends
Applications aren't useful until someone uses them, so developers need to understand what makes an effective front end. A designer may polish the look and feel, but developers should understand what works well on different platforms – thick clients still exist, and web applications and mobile apps present different challenges.
Tech employees enjoy the challenge of new technology, but that isn't enough to make them love their jobs. Managers often think a paycheck and bonus expresses the company's appreciation for employees' work, but that isn't enough, either. At the end of the day, even technical employees spend their day interacting with people, and it takes a personal touch to make them feel valued. Here are seven tips you can put into practice to make your IT team feel valued:
1. Celebrate team successes
When your team succeeds, make sure you take the time to celebrate with them. Because projects can take years to complete, don't wait 'til the end. Acknowledge the successes along the way, like when they hit a milestone.
2. Say “thank you” often
It costs nothing to say "thank you," but this is one of the most basic and most overlooked ways of making people feel valued. Don't just casually throw out a "thanks;" say what specifically you're thanking them for, and what the value of their contribution was.
3. Let people know that others recognize their contributions
Don't claim credit for your team members' ideas. When they have good ideas that you pass along to higher-ups, tell the supervisors where the idea came from, and make sure you let your team know there was a positive reaction.
4. Encourage contributions
Have an open-door policy, and seek out input from employees who may be too shy to initiate conversation. As much as possible, involve team members in project planning and other decisions that affect when and how they do their work. Be sure to act on their input; otherwise, they'll recognize it's a waste of time to make suggestions.
5. Talk to people as individuals
Make sure you talk with everyone, not just team leaders or employees who report directly to you. Not everyone will want to share details of their personal lives, but if you can get to know employees as people, they'll feel less like corporate widgets. Be aware that issues in employees' personal lives can affect their performance at work, and offer appropriate assistance when necessary.
6. Offer challenges
Give your team members challenges and opportunities for new experiences. Help them find mentors who can help them grow. When they've outgrown their current role, help them find a new position within your company that will offer them the growth you no longer can.
7. Be honest
Respect your team enough to tell them the bad news, as well as the good news. While everyone would rather receive compliments, honest, well-intentioned feedback shows you care enough to offer constructive criticism, rather than taking the easy route of ducking a difficult conversation.
Information technology teams are often eager to work with the latest technology, but they aren't always that eager to work with new processes, which are seen as management fads with little benefit to the technical workers. If the team doesn't support the new process, it may fail, reinforcing that opinion. Managers should take steps to get the team to buy into the new process, so they are invested in its success. Here are some steps that will help your team buy into a new process and help it succeed:
Explain the process and stand behind it
When you talk about the new process with your team, your belief in it has to be evident. If you aren't able to convincingly explain what the new process will achieve, the team won't be motivated to make it work. If you can show the team how the new process will benefit them – not just you or the business - that's even better. Even the most dedicated employee has a little bit of "what's in it for me?" inside them.
Don't be a dictator
Even if you're the one mandating the new process, if you take input from the team, they'll feel ownership of the process and want it to succeed. When someone offers a good suggestion, integrate it into the process. Also, realize that developing a good process requires iteration. Be willing to modify the process, once you see how it works in reality.
Don't mandate a new process and then wait for a final report. It may take time to fully roll out the process, and you need to be aware of how the team is responding each step of the way. Have regular feedback meetings, and let the team know that getting feedback is a priority. If you're not hearing any complaints, don't assume everything is going fine. Schedule one-on-one discussions with different team members to get their opinions; you may get feedback they weren't comfortable offering in a public forum.
A team is also more likely to believe in the value of a new process if they hear about benefits from a peer, not just management. If the new process is rolled out over time, rather than implemented across the entire company simultaneously, non-management employees who found the change to be positive can become evangelists for the change. Let them spread the good news to your team and share their excitement. They can get your team excited about the change, too, which goes far beyond simply accepting the change, and is much more likely to make the change succeed.
No matter what type of work you’re interviewing for, there are a key set of traits that would be best suited for the position. As the hiring manager, it’s your job to pinpoint what those traits are and establish an objective way of evaluating the character of each of your candidates. Whether you give them a personality test or ask targeted questions during the course of your interview, you can establish a unique behavioral profile for each interviewee.
The first step is to create your list of ideal behavioral attributes. When making your checklist of ideal character traits, it’s important that you consider these three categories of professional personalities.
Teamwork skills will make it easier for you and your staff to work with the new hire. Candidates who lack many of these skills can be difficult to manage, overbearing, or ineffective as employees. Depending on the type of position, teamwork skills may be less important than their ability to self-direct, for example. Remote workers or those who will be largely isolated during the course of their workday may not need exceptional teamwork skills. Examples of these traits may include:
• Conflict Manager
• Active Listener
No matter what the position entails, many hiring managers will rank work ethic very highly on their list. A good work ethic, however, is often a learned behavior that results from a very particular set of personality traits. Even if you’re interviewing someone with very little experience, if they possess traits that are conducive to hard work, they can develop a very strong work ethic during the course of their employment. A candidate with a good work ethic may have some of these personality traits:
Professionalism is a highly sought-after behavior, particularly since many workplaces are moving away from traditionalism and into a more laid-back environment. This behavior is learned and not inherent, so if you’re hiring a candidate who comes from a more casual background, they may not have the experience to demonstrate the professionalism you’re looking for. However, if they possess the right personality traits, they can often pick up business cues and learn as they go.
Again, this may vary in importance depending on your unique company. These personality traits may often manifest themselves in other ways than traditional professionalism, so they may be valuable in other context as well. A highly professional person will be:
Create Your Checklist
Once you’ve chosen your ideal character traits, rank them on a scale of importance and use this scale to weight the final score of each candidate. Bring your list of traits with you to the interview, and rank each character based on how they stack up against your expectations. This will not only help you get a good picture of their personality, but you will also remain consistent and objective during the course of each interview.
In the IT job market, your technical abilities can often be the be-all and end-all. The idea often seems to be that if you don’t meet the long list of necessary skills, you simply aren’t the right person for the position. However, this isn’t always the case. For many hiring managers, certain aspects of your personality may actually be more important than skills you’ve picked up along the way.
Below are a few examples of soft skills that may land you that IT dream job, and why hiring managers may choose them over more technical capabilities.
Willingness (and Ability) to Learn
A thirst for knowledge is a highly sought-after character trait in any industry, but it can go a long way in tech. You may not have mastered PHP or networking just yet, but if you have a voracious appetite for new information, you may find that hiring managers are willing to teach you the necessary skills. Quick learners are often a worthwhile investment, as they tend to stay on top of their skills and constantly refresh and update their knowledge base.
Passion and motivation can be invaluable for IT companies, particularly startups and those who specialize in innovative technology. Hiring someone who’s emotionally invested in their finished product will improve both the quality of their work and their drive to complete it. An infectiously enthusiastic personality can also impact the morale of co-workers, creating a more effective (and happy) workforce overall.
In tech, it’s often expected that you be capable of a certain degree of autonomy. No matter how advanced your skills are, it simply isn’t worth the investment if your manager has to hold your hand through every project. A candidate who possesses self-drive, on the other hand, will not only be able to complete tasks on their own, but will be able to occupy themselves with meaningful work when they aren’t given explicit direction.
A desire to succeed in your industry can be very appealing to hiring managers. This soft skill often translates into intuitive insight into what’s best for the company, granting you the opportunity to impress your managers with the added benefit of improving your place of work. Ambitious candidates are also fiercely competitive, and this competitiveness can inspire your team to work harder, particularly when you’re incentivized by upper management.
These are just a few examples of personality traits that hiring managers may prioritize over technical capabilities. Don’t let the fact that your skill sets don’t perfectly align with the position’s requirements discourage you from applying. You may find yourself pleasantly surprised by how valuable your soft skills really are.
Remaining objective in an interview can be difficult. We’re often inclined to base our impressions of others on emotions and first impressions rather than fact. This can not only harm the interviewee, but it can also result in the loss of talented candidates. By maintaining objectivity and consistency in each of your interviews, you can ensure that the process is as thorough and accurate as possible.
These five key elements of an objective interview will keep you on the right track during your candidate search.
Create a Checklist
Before you begin reviewing resumes, create a checklist that you will follow for each interview. Steps can include “review the job description” or “review interview questions.” Closely following this protocol for each interview will help you maintain consistency throughout the hiring process.
Outline Your Expectations
It’s important to have a solid understanding of what you’re looking for in a candidate. Create a list of desired attributes, and rank them on a scale of importance from one to five. If computer skills are more important for this position than professionalism, for instance, then you will give that trait a higher rating. By outlining your expectations for the ideal candidate, you’ll be more able to objectively compare each individual interviewee to your set of desired characteristics.
Categorize Your Questions
As you’re writing your list of interview questions, try to categorize them by the list of traits determined above. If you need a candidate with project management skills, ask about occasions when they’ve influenced the outcome of a project by taking a leadership position. Other categories may be detail orientation, communication, and the ability to be a team player.
Use a Scoring System
Create a score sheet that will help you evaluate each candidate during the interview. Using your outlined traits, rate them on a scale of one to five. You should complete the score sheet as soon as possible after the end of the interview, while your impression is still objective. The same score sheet should be used for each interview.
Rank Each Candidate
Once you’ve rated your candidates, it’s time to compare their rating to the importance of each trait. Multiply the interviewee’s score in each category by its importance. This is their weighted score. Once you’ve weighted each category, add their total score and compare with other interviewees to choose the candidate best suited for the position.
These five elements of an objective interview process will aid you in choosing qualified candidates without clouding your judgment with emotions or “gut feelings.” This process is fair and consistent for the interviewees and delivers the best results for your company. By remaining consistent and impartial, you increase the effectiveness of your interview process and choose the best candidate each time.
Hiring managers must work within their budgets to hire the staff their companies need in order to remain productive and competitive. Once you’ve determined a need for acquiring talent, the next important question is often whether you should hire a permanent employee, or a contractor.
Each choice comes with advantages and disadvantages. When making this decision, it’s important to understand the needs and core requirements of the position you’re hiring for, and know which type of employment arrangement will be a better fit for both your organization, and the candidate.
What full-time employees can offer
Depending on the type and responsibilities of the position you’re filling, hiring a new permanent employee can allow you to strengthen your organization and improve overall productivity and performance. Some of the advantages of full-time employees include:
- Collaboration: Employees typically work from a central location, enabling your company to foster collaboration and connectivity among staff
- Communication: Most full-time employees share similar work hours, which improves organizational communication
- Long-term productivity: With a full-time employee, the company receives continuous output by dictating all or most of the employee’s assignments and work projects
When should you consider a contractor?
Independent contractors can benefit your organization in a variety of situations. Hiring a contractor is typically a better choice when:
- You’re hiring for a project with a set start and end date
- Your company’s current employees can’t handle the entire project workload
- The current project has tight deadlines for deliverables
- You need temporary, specialized skills or expertise on a project basis, but not for day-to-day company operation
Hiring considerations for independent contractors
Before you begin searching for a contractor, confirm that you have the proper approval for hiring more staff. With project work that requires a contractor, determine your budget ahead of time, and include the target bill rate for the contractor in your calculations. Depending on the type of contractor you need, you may have to adjust your budget and the expectations of management prior to looking for talent.
Armada provides real-time, accurate snapshots of your local market conditions that will help you gauge supply and demand for specific IT employees, both permanent and contract. Accurate data on direct hire salaries and hourly rates can help you create an effective budget for your staffing needs. Contact us today to learn more.
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Weekly meetings can be a great way to track company metrics and keep everyone accountable, solve problems by drawing from the collective intelligence of the team, and review customer feedback and issues that can help your organization improve performance. But they can also be a boring, non-informative, mandatory gathering that everyone in your office dreads.
Of course, you want your weekly meetings to be more like the former, and less like the latter. These tips will help you conduct more effective and engaging meetings that keep your team informed, productive, and looking forward to the next session.
1. Start with the executive team
In mid-sized or large companies, there may not be a need for every department to have a weekly meeting — but regular sessions with the executive team are a must. Smaller companies can condense weekly meetings into a single, company-wide event, while those with more staff can cascade up or down as needed from the executive meeting.
2. Know your priorities
One of the most important keys to effective weekly meetings is to know what you’ll be discussing ahead of time. For best results, determine your top three to five company priorities at the start of each quarter, and for each priority:
- Assign accountability for various goals and results
- Establish metrics and success criteria
You can then structure your meetings around these priorities, and leave each week with measurable results and detailed action plans.
3. Keep a log
Have some way to record the meeting or take notes, so you can refer back and review to look for issues or problem areas that will help to streamline future meetings. Make sure the meeting log includes who said they would do what, and when, to help continually track accountability and stay on point throughout the week.
4. Structure meetings intelligently
For best results, weekly meetings should be relatively short and follow a preset schedule. By planning ahead of time, you can hold effective weekly meetings in 30 to 60 minutes, depending on the size of the group.
Business coaching firm Positioning Systems suggests a strategic and highly effective weekly agenda that includes:
- Good news: (5 minutes) Open the meeting by having everyone share two positive stories — one business, and one personal.
- Numbers: (5 to 10 minutes) Review individual or team weekly productivity metrics, without conversation or comment.
- Customer/employee data: (10 minutes) Discuss recurring issues or problems facing either teams or their customers, and assign at least one issue to a person or group to investigate in the coming week.
- Review accountability: (10 minutes) Review the accountability notes from the previous meeting, reschedule or reassign tasks as needed, and discuss commitments for accountability for the next meeting.
- Collective intelligence: (10 to 30 minutes) Choose a top priority and ask for everyone’s input on the matter. You can also use this section of the meeting for a presentation on one of the company priorities, led by the person who’s accountable for it.
5. End on an informative note
At the close of the meeting, ask everyone in the group to offer a word or phrase that describes how they felt about the meeting. This gives you the opportunity to gather feedback that can be used to adjust future meetings, and ensure that things go smoothly for everyone. Try to end with positive encouragement, so everyone looks forward to next week.
In order to make sure your IT project is completed on time and in budget, you need a great project manager. But how can you spot one? Unfortunately, holding the title of project manager doesn’t always mean that a person can effectively manage projects.
Here are the skills a good IT project manager should have to complete projects successfully, without wasting your time or money.
Organization and multi-tasking
A project manager’s organizational skills can make or break a project. A strong project manager will be able to juggle multiple tasks, or even multiple projects, and track project issues on a daily basis — so they’re spending less time looking for information, and more time managing the project productively.
It goes without saying that project managers should be good leaders, but it’s important to realize that there’s more to manage than the IT team. A great IT project manager is able to take charge of the team, and also lead vendors and stakeholders in order to reach a collaborative consensus.
Good project managers inspire their team to realize the project vision, and maintain strong relationships with key stakeholders that ensure alignment with project goals.
Key personnel in any project will include both technical and non-tech professionals. Good project managers are excellent communicators — able to clearly explain even complex concepts to key stakeholders, and ensure that communication is maintained among all stakeholders as well as between stakeholders and the project team.
Effective communication encompasses more than the ability to translate tech speak. Great project managers will be able to relay both good news and bad news to all staff levels, in a timely and tactful manner. They’ll also understand who needs to know what, when, and how — and ensure that the appropriate information is delivered to the right people, at the right times.
A good project manager will know both how and when to negotiate. With most projects, the IT project manager is working with people whose interests may not align with their own, or who don’t seem to be interested in understanding the goals of the project — or why they should help accomplish them.
Successful project managers develop relationships with stakeholders and determine their interests, which enables them to negotiate cooperation by appealing to the stakeholders’ needs — while still remaining within the objective parameters of the projects.
An eye for detail
When it comes to IT project management, details count. A great project manager will take a meticulous approach to handling project details big and small, and understanding the impact every detail will have on the overall success of the project. Failure to pay attention to details can mean failure of the entire project.
In every project, issues and obstacles will arise — and some will require an immediate solution. A good IT project manager must be able to make critical decisions quickly, arriving at the best possible solution in the shortest amount of time to avoid delaying or derailing the project.
Relevant technical skills
While project managers don’t need high-level IT skills to be effective — after all, the skills brought to the table by the IT project team are crucial to success — an effective project manager must have a firm understanding of the programs, software, and platforms that are involved in the project, or that the company works with regularly.
Great project managers will have enough technical skill to be able to take on some of the project tasks themselves. By completing project tasks personally, project managers can earn the respect of the team, which enables them to work more effectively as leaders.