Inadequate Attention to Management Training For It—why Everyone Should Care.

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After thirty years in the high tech, rubbing elbows all day long with IT people, both internal and external, I’ve come to believe that generally speaking, great IT people are a different breed of cat. In Myers/Briggs speak, IT people are more often, well . . . .”I-T” (introverted/thinking) while on the sales side we were more “E-N” (extroverted/intuitive) and there were times we needed a translator!

As a heavy consumer of IT services, applications and technology of all sorts throughout my career, I was always immensely grateful to have these “IT’s” on my side as they were typically smart, committed, often creative and terrific problem solvers —very focused on the technical facts and details. My line of business gained much when they were good listeners, communicators and “people-people”. Unfortunately, this was less frequent than I would have liked. Also, I often noticed that in making the transition from individual contributor to manager, these very technical folks had more difficulty than almost any other professional group.

I shouldn’t have been surprised as we faced a similar hurtle in the sales organization. Even though there was often pressure to promote the best sales people into leadership positions, by their very nature, the switch in emphasis from “I do” to “they do” was challenging. It is a move into a whole new dimension, a whole new process . . . basically a whole new profession. It only went smoothly when consistent support, coaching and mentoring was provided, either personally or by providing training in this new profession.

I would argue that IT is no different. The seeming logic of promoting the best IT individual contributors into leadership positions and the challenges inherent in making that transition become clear when we recognize the hurtle that must be crossed. Individual contributors in IT lead and become the “go to” people by exhibiting technical excellence. They are managing systems, networks, applications; identifying code problems, hardware and software communication. This requires attention to detail, a focus and specialization in a chosen number of science-based topics. This is why in IT there tends to be a training focus on technologies and inadequate attention is often paid to management training, bench development and succession planning.

When an IT individual contributor is promoted, we are asking that a transition be made to the art of management and leadership . . .a new IT profession and to a new and very different career direction. Not only is management a separate profession from sales rep, financial analyst, or, yes, IT technologist, it also involves focus on a new and rather complicated target—people. Where do we get the idea that this is a seamless, simple change?

So, let’s get practical. . . if you are an IT executive, consider

  • Developing a retention strategy and succession plan, even if it is only for personal planning purposes
  • Share your view of promising individuals with them and confirm they have a desire to move into management–
  • Give these staff management “practice”—to develop their skills in managing and communicating with many different people.
  • Debrief regularly with leadership-bound IT technologists listening to their experiences and discussing strengths and weaknesses
  • Commit to their skills development by getting them management and leadership training specifically aimed at the unique challenges of managing the “I-T” people they will find in IT
  • Recognize that the best technical talent you have is likely poorly equipped to become a superior IT manager.

If you are not in IT, why should you care about this issue? Here’s why–because with the continually growing business dependence on IT, your own department can win or lose very big when faced with poor IT management. This is because a failure in the area of IT management brings along with it poor communication, poor collaboration, lack of responsiveness, weak productivity and minimal understanding of the business issues you face in achieving your business strategies and building marketplace competitive advantage. Lack of commitment and unplanned attrition in IT can kill YOUR initiatives!

If you think “the cloud” will change this, think again. With this cost savings and productivity transition happening everywhere at this time, even better people management and communication skills will be required by the IT staff of your company—managing arms-length relationships. If you are a consumer of IT services in the organization (who pray tell isn’t!) remember this: excellence in IT collaboration with the consumers of IT equals better service. . .for you!

If you are not in IT what can/should you do?

  • Meet with IT leaders in your company and let them know that you understand the value of good management and leadership training for their staffs—and for you
  • If IT leadership is focused on technical training, ask what they are planning for management training for their staff
  • In the inevitable competition for overall training dollars give careful consideration to what training for IT individual contributors and manager can do for YOUR business sector or department.
  • Be vocal in supporting IT executives in their desire to provide training to their teams . . .it’s the “selfish move“ for you!
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