IT departments need to cope with change more than any other department within the company. Not only do technological changes impact them directly, IT departments need to cope with the same non-technical issues that other departments deal with. Here's a look at how these changes are impacting IT departments.
IT departments are working hard to come up with strategies and sound implementations around cloud and virtualization technologies. The rise of everything-as-a-service fundamentally changes the responsibilities of an IT department from one of execution to one of oversight. Yet IT departments retain responsibility for the effectiveness of the implemented solution, both in terms of its delivering what the business needs and with respect to satisfying legal and compliance requirements.
Additionally, "as-a-service" means the IT department also needs to see itself as a service provider, and make customer satisfaction a higher priority in its work metrics. User satisfaction measures are being added to traditional metrics like the time to close tickets in order to evaluate the true productivity of the team.
The changes in technology mean IT departments need to hire different skill sets than previously. Along with everyone else, they're hiring a different generation of workers – the millennials. This generation is online all the time; plugged-in and connected, they want to work collaboratively. This means more than providing enterprise social platforms; it also means involving the IT team at earlier stages of discussions with the business so they can understand the ultimate goal of a project and focus their efforts productively.
The IT department is also required to work with the business closely to support the digital transformation efforts being pursued by many companies. Technology will be a key factor in the success of businesses going forward, and the business needs input from the IT team to envision the new, digital ways of conducting business and interacting with customers. As a result of this transformation, IT departments can begin to drive revenue, rather than being viewed merely as an expense. Technology teams with the skills to understand business will point the way towards future company success.
Managers are busy. It's tempting to communicate with your team via email blasts and team meetings, where you can talk to everyone at once. Fitting one-on-one meetings into your schedule is important, though, because email doesn't convey tone and people may say things in private they wouldn't say in a group. So once you've managed to squeeze a one-on-one meeting onto your calendar, be sure you make the most of the opportunity.
The best one-to-one meetings take place in person, in a quiet location where you won't be distracted. If you can't meet in person, like with remote staff, that doesn't mean you're limited to email; make use of the other communication methods the Internet supports, like Skype. As with in-person meetings, make sure you're in a quiet place. Before making any Internet calls, make sure you have all the software you need installed. Test it out before the first time. If you can't complete an Internet call because of technical glitches, it's frustrating for the other person; they may feel their time was wasted and you don't value their time.
Put aside your cellphone and stop checking emails for the duration of the meeting. Have a plan for the discussion; this time is too valuable for a rambling conversation. Because these meetings should be about what the employee needs, you may want to have your employee prepare an agenda of the points they'd like to discuss.
At the same time, don't be all business. One-on-ones give you a chance to connect on a personal level with the people on your team. Without stooping to gossip, make sure you're aware of their personal situation so you can interact with them as a person, not just as an employee.
Listen closely to what the employee tells you. Keep it confidential when appropriate, but also be sure to take action where needed. It's worse to have a meeting and ignore acting on an employee's requests than not to have the meeting at all.
These meetings should be regular, but you can also schedule a follow-up meeting to touch base on progress. And even though one-on-one conversations should be routine, don't let them become routine. Make them interesting and valuable for your employees, so they want to keep talking with, and working for, you.
One of the biggest headaches for any manager is replacing an employee who resigns. Not only does losing an employee mean you need to spend time and money recruiting their replacement, it also makes it difficult to get your department's work done. Other employees need to pick up the departing employee's work; they may resent it and start thinking about resigning themselves. The best way to solve this headache is to prevent it from developing in the first place, by reducing your turnover. Here are some things to look at to help you keep your top talent.
Offer financial rewards.
Periodically review your compensation bands and make sure you're paying market-level salaries. Beyond the paycheck, make sure your company offers other competitive financial benefits, including a well-structured 401(k) plan.
Understand your employees' perspective.
Don't wait until an end-of-year annual review process to find out how your employees feel about their jobs. Talk with them informally throughout the year. You can also conduct surveys to collect anonymous feedback that may include opinions no one would tell you to your face.
Tailor work assignments to employees' preferences.
It's probably not possible to ensure that your employees will enjoy all of their work responsibilities every day, but you can make sure they're assigned to projects and roles that are in line with their interests and abilities. Make sure employee reviews include discussions of what they'd like to work on. When new projects come up, don't simply assign people based on what they're currently doing; assign them based on what they would like to do.
Offer emotional rewards.
Saying "thank you" costs nothing but goes a long way in making employees feel like their work has meaning and is valued. Praising someone's work in public is especially valuable. Make employees feel like they're part of a team, and that the team matters, by having occasional low-cost team celebrations. These acts boost morale and make employees less likely to give notice.
Don't wait until they give notice.
In most cases, if you're an involved manager, you should have a sense that someone on your team isn't happy. There will be even more signs when they progress to actively interviewing, such as moving away if you pass by when they're on the phone or showing up to work late wearing nicer clothes than usual. You probably don't want to flat-out ask them if they're looking for another job, but you can and should make the effort to ask how things are going. If you find something you can change for them before they give notice, you may never have to deal with their resignation at all.
Hiring someone to work in a virtual job requires a lot of trust. You won't see the person every day and won't be able to supervise their work as closely as you could if they came into the office. You need to hire workers who will thrive in that kind of situation. Make sure you ask interview questions that will help you judge whether the candidate is a good fit for that kind of work.
Does the candidate have any experience in virtual work?
If they were previously successful in a virtual job, that's a positive sign that they'll be effective as a virtual worker for you. Ask what challenges they faced in their previous virtual role and how they overcame them. Also find out about their home work environment to make sure they have the tools needed to get the job done.
Does the candidate have the motivation to work on their own?
A virtual worker needs to be able to take the seed of an idea and run with it to completion. Ask about what motivates them to get a job done and for examples of projects they completed remotely. Find out how they expect to communicate with their manager and co-workers and what kind of recognition they want for a job well done.
Does the candidate have the discipline to work on their own?
Along with being able to motivate themselves, virtual workers need to discipline themselves to do the work. They need to track projects and deadlines. Ask them what they do to stay on top of schedules. Find out how they deal with issues that make meeting schedules challenging, such as technical problems—do they tackle solving them for themselves, or does their work stop until someone else resolves the problem?
Does the candidate have the ability to solve problems on their own?
How will the candidate solve problems without input from colleagues? When they need input from someone else, how do they get it?
Does the candidate have the technical skills for the job?
Last but definitely not least, don't forget about the technical skills needed to do the job. Because the worker won't be able to pick the technical brain of a colleague one cubicle over, it's even more important they are highly qualified in the technology.
When candidates send in a resume and answer questions at interviews, they do their best to present themselves in a good light. Answers are rehearsed, and even questions like "What is your greatest weakness" have canned answers that subtly put a positive shine on the candidate.
Cutting through the spin means finding out things the candidates won't tell you directly. One way to do that is through speaking to references. The problem with references, though, is that they're pre-selected by the candidate and you can be pretty sure they'll also paint a positive picture. Even if a reference wanted to present a complete picture of the candidate, faults and all, corporate policies often prevent them from doing anything more than confirming dates of employment.
So you have to do a little digging to find out more about the candidate. Background checks have their place, but they tend to focus on big issues like criminal records or lies about earned degrees. Sometimes it's the smaller things in how a candidate conducts themselves in their normal lives that will impact your organization.
Fortunately, these days it's easy to observe a candidate's behavior outside the interview room. Candidates put their uncensored selves online in social media like Facebook and Twitter. More than half of employers looked at candidates' profiles. Should you? Here are the kinds of things you might find out.
The candidate brags about drug or alcohol use.
If your company has a serious drug-free policy, anecdotes about illegal substance use should throw up a red flag.
The candidate expresses intolerant opinions.
Everyone's entitled to their opinion, but you need to maintain a non-hostile workplace. A candidate who puts racist or sexist opinions on their profile may bring them to the workplace, placing you at legal risk.
The candidate bad-mouths their current employer.
If you hire this person, your company becomes their current employer. Do you want them publicly posting negative opinions about your business?
Not everything you learn from a social media profile should factor into a hiring decision. Social pages often reveal things like marital status or religious affiliation, neither of which should be used as part of the candidate review. But hopefully you'll identify some positive characteristics of the candidate from their profile that didn't come up during an interview, such as their active participation in a charity.
Don't forget to review the candidates' profiles on professionally oriented social media sites like LinkedIn as well. Profiles there should appear professional and support the candidates' qualifications. If you can't find a profile for the candidate, that's a significant sign as well.
Hiring decisions should be based on a well-rounded picture of the candidate. Today's social media sites can help paint a large piece of that picture. Combining a review of a candidate's social media activity with their credentials and formal qualifications can help you understand what the candidate will bring to the office and help you make the best possible hiring decision.
Code is an artifact. Despite what you may think, the job of an IT employee isn't to write code. The job of an IT employee is to come up with the ideas behind the code. The brainwork is the most valuable part of their job; actually typing the code is mostly mechanical.
Encourage Productivity and Improve Morale
Developers need a quiet environment to write the best code; these days, it's unlikely you'll be able to give them real offices with doors, but at least give them partitions high enough to block out a lot of noise.
It's not just about noise, though. For developers to do their best work, they need minimal distractions so they can focus and concentrate. That means reduce unnecessary interruptions. Reduce the number of meetings, and make sure they have a purpose. Don't send emails to the entire distribution list if only one person needs to respond. Encourage your team to get out of the habit of checking emails constantly. Give workers flexibility to adapt their jobs to their lives by allowing them to work from home occasionally. Don't micromanage. Basically, just leave your employees alone to get the job done.
The benefits of leaving IT employees with time to think go beyond getting code done faster and with higher quality. IT employees are intellectual workers who enjoy thinking and solving problems. Leaving them alone gives them time to focus on these mental tasks they enjoy, meaning they're happier at work. It gives them autonomy and demonstrates your trust in them, which feels good. Making your IT team happy and improving morale means they're likelier to stay with your company; considering how difficult it can be to replace a highly skilled technical employee, that's a big value to you.
New Thoughts, New Ideas, New Products
Plus, giving employees time to think means giving them time for new ideas. New ideas can mean new, better ways of performing business processes or translate into new products and new profits for your business. The information technology industry depends on innovation, and most innovations come from the employees, not the managers. Which isn't to say that managers don't come up with useful ideas, also. If you reduce unnecessary meetings with your team and reduce your involvement in issues your staff can handle, you free up your own time for thinking as well. What value will you create for your company with that extra time?
Technology has a diversity problem. The shortage of women and minorities in STEM fields including computer science and engineering is well known. As a result, it's difficult to have a diverse workforce. That doesn't mean it's not possible; it just means diversity won't happen on its own—you need to work at it. Make sure diversity is addressed by every step of your hiring pipeline.
Look for Candidates in the Right Places
If you look for candidates in just one place, you're likely to find just one kind of candidate. Widen your net to find a bigger, more diverse pool of potential employees. For example, don't limit yourself to elite universities; graduates of second tier schools aren't second rate. And while there are definite advantages to hiring based on employee referrals, those candidates are likely to be similar to the employee who referred them.
Write Job Descriptions That Appeal to a Wide Community
No one writes job descriptions today that say they're looking for a man, but the language you use can unintentionally turn off women. So avoid describing the job by making analogies to the military or sports teams; even terms like rockstar developer can drive away diverse applicants. Think carefully about word choices; to build a team, lead a team, or manage a team can all attract a different applicant pool. Even the way the job description is formatted can have an impact, with high or low numbers of bullet points driving away male or female applicants.
Make Sure Technical Screenings Focus on Technical Skills
While you want to evaluate all candidates' interpersonal, communication, and leadership skills, don't mingle that evaluation with the technical interview. Conduct a separate assessment that focuses solely on technical ability to avoid any impact from unconscious biases. For coding tasks, ask the candidate to solve them on the computer. This ensures they can solve the problem in a situation close to the real work environment; some candidates are uncomfortable working at a whiteboard, which isn't a requirement when building technical solutions once hired.
There's no question technology requires specialized skills, and you definitely wouldn't hire someone whose resume lacks the core technology required for the job. Although much of a technical worker's time is spent staring at a screen, man-machine interaction is only part of the job. Person-to-person interaction is also part of the job, so look for employees with emotional intelligence as well as technical capabilities.
Having emotional intelligence means having skills like self-awareness, empathy, and social skills. Employees with these skills work well with others, which is important in team-oriented technical projects. They focus on finding solutions to problems rather than dwelling on the problem, which makes them effective leaders. Find new hires with emotional intelligence these ways:
• Use behavioral interviews.
Emotional intelligence isn't like book intelligence, where you know the right answer; it's about responding effectively challenges. Use behavioral interview questions to find out about the candidate's work in the past and how they envision responding to hypothetical situations. If the hypothetical situations you ask about actually happened in your work environment, you'll get insight into whether their approach to problem solving is appropriate in your company.
• Assess the candidate's attitude during an interview.
Listen to the candidate's responses, not only for content but also for manner. Listen for passion about their work. Make sure the candidate is listening to you and responding to the questions you ask, not just presenting the information they want you to know. Pay attention to nonverbal cues, also.
• Measure the candidate's fit against your culture.
Ask why they want to work for you and what their ideal work environment is. You'll get an idea of the environment they need to thrive and whether your environment matches.
• Find out what they do outside work.
You can learn whether someone is a "people" person by what they choose to do in their spare time. If someone has a leadership role in a volunteer organization, they're leading people who don't have to follow (unlike at work).
• Rely on referrals.
Your employees understand the reality of working within your company and know what kind of attitude will succeed. They won't recommend job candidates they don't think will fit in and be able to do the job.
You've probably offered your staff suggestions to help them improve at work. But are you taking the time to improve your own leadership abilities? Do these three things on a daily basis to become a better leader and help your team work more effectively.
1. Express your expectations clearly.
You probably didn't assess your staff's mind-reading skills when you hired them, so it's unfair to expect them to read your mind on the job. Instead, work on expressing your expectations clearly, both verbally and in written documents. By being precise, you'll eliminate the need for your staff to guess what you want them to do, and reduce the number of times when they inevitably guess wrong. By clarifying expectations, you also increase accountability for other members of the team, which makes handling problems that arise easier.
2. Spend time with your team.
It isn't possible to lead once in a while; you need to lead your team every day. This means that, no matter how many demands your managers are placing on you, you need to spend time with your team on a frequent basis. You need to be involved to critique and give direction in the moment, as issues arise; fail to do that, and you'll have the unpleasant task of giving surprise negative feedback months later at an annual review. Spending time with your team also lets you get to know them better and understand the best way to leverage their talents to the benefit of the business.
3. Focus on others, not yourself.
Leadership is about drawing the best out of other people. This means letting go of your concerns about yourself. It also means encouraging action, not standing in the way, so work on creating an environment that encourages innovation and creative thinking rather than discouraging them. Apply this focus to serving the needs of others at external organizations, too. Volunteer with a community service or social organization that's meaningful to you. You'll learn how to lead people who don't have to follow; bring those more subtle leadership tactics back to the office where they'll help you become more effective at leading your direct reports.
When budgets are tight, you can't get more work done by getting more people to do the work. Instead, you have to figure out how to get the people you already have to get more work done. Fortunately, boosting productivity doesn't mean you have to become a slave driver, or that your employees need to give up their personal lives. Use these five tips to increase their productivity, instead.
Reduce wasted time.
This doesn't mean eliminating coffee breaks and water cooler chitchat. Instead, eliminate non-productive work activities like routine departmental weekly meetings where nothing is ever decided. Meet with smaller subsets of your team in more-focused meetings that address specific issues. Also, stop CC-ing everyone on emails that aren't relevant to them. Not only is the time they spend reading those missives wasted, the "you've got mail" sound interrupts concentration and distracts employees from the work they were trying to do.
Keep the noise down.
Cubicle farms may be unavoidable these days, but the lack of privacy and lack of quiet make it hard to think. Encourage your team to find places where they can concentrate free of distraction, in order to solve the tough problems. If company policy allows BYOD or work-from-home, untether your staff from their cubicles.
Eliminate procedural overhead.
Filling out forms in triplicate and collecting multiple managerial signatures may be great for documentation and compliance purposes, but admin procedures often get in the way of getting work done. You may need other departments’ to buy-in to making changes in processes, but eliminating unnecessary steps can free up significant time your team could spend doing something other than paperwork.
Assign work to the right people.
Work gets done much more quickly when the person doing the task is both qualified and motivated to get it done. Nobody is going to like every assignment they have to do, but if you can give work to people who like that kind of work, and have the skills and connections to get it done, you'll find it gets done faster.
Take advantage of technology.
Save time spent traveling to off-site meetings by using videoconferencing and collaboration software to eliminate the travel time. Take advantage of other software, too; there are plenty of free, open-source products that can let your team automate many routine software development tasks. Spending a little time building scripts and scheduling jobs can free up a lot of time for other important tasks.