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Follow this strategy when promoting staff

Publiashed on April 8, 2002
on TechRepublic.Com

Promoting a techie up the ranks to management presents a certain amount of risk for tech executives. Choose the wrong person, and you could alienate the staff, damage your professional reputation, and likely miss important project deadlines due to the new manager's ineptitude.

But, if done correctly, staff promotions can boost productivity, team collaboration, and a tech executive's standing in the business organization. To conduct promotions correctly, CIOs must have a strategy that includes the following: a precise list of soft and hard skills required in managers, a solid employee performance evaluation process, a specific communication plan for announcing promotions, and a well-conceived training plan aimed at enhancing a new manager's potential.

Most tech leaders promote from within

Internal staff promotions are a favored management approach, according to a recent study from RHI Consulting. CIOs polled report that more than half (53 percent) of in-house leadership positions are filled by candidates already on staff. About one-third (32 percent) of respondents said that nearly all IT managers at their company were promoted from within.

"Businesses that promote from within demonstrate to employees that their contributions are rewarded, which can be a tremendous tool for motivating and retaining top talent," said Katherine Spencer Lee, RHI's executive director. Spencer Lee said elevating existing employees to more senior roles can also reduce the learning curve for a position, which ultimately decreases training costs.

Start by determining managerial attributes

The first part of an internal promotion strategy is developing a "managerial success profile," explained Ron Morgan, associate professor of Human Resource Development at George Washington University and director of the Weekend Masters Program. Morgan coauthored the book, Staffing the New Workplace: Selecting and Promoting for Quality Improvement (ASQ Quality Press, 1996, $40).

Most CIOs will find that there are a great number of management competencies that could be included in the profile. For that reason, Morgan cautioned executives to avoid basing their managerial profile on someone else's competencies list. It must be based on the needs of the IT staff, the corporate culture, and a CIO's expectations of the role.

For example, a primary IT management requirement at a major San Francisco-based financial institution is effectively advocating for change, said one TechRepublic member.

Yet, at another enterprise, the key profile skill is communicating in nontechnical terms to businesspeople outside of the IT unit.

"They don't want to hear that the DHCP server is down because the Cisco router cannot handshake across the T1 to the BDC," said TechRepublic member timgray. "They want to hear: 'We have pinpointed the problem and a solution is being formulated. We expect the unexpected downtime to be resolved within the next hour.'"

TechRepublic members and experts said that IT managers should be able to perform the following tasks:

  • Plan
  • Delegate responsibility and authority
  • Coach and motivate staff, and when problems arise, be willing to listen to gripes, diagnose problematic issues, and facilitate resolutions
  • Influence others and build productive cross-departmental relationships
  • Serve as a model of integrity, conscientiousness, and customer orientation
How to evaluate management candidates

Once a CIO or CTO has identified required and desirable qualities and mapped those out in a managerial profile, the candidate selection should then be based on evaluating how well each potential staff member meets the criteria.

The first step in the evaluation process is measuring current job performance, explained Leighton Carroll, senior manager at a national wireless carrier in Greensboro, NC. The second step is comparing the candidate's skills and competencies to the preestablished list of managerial attributes.

At Carroll's job, supervisors have set a performance bar when it comes to promotions. If an employee is working at 80 percent of a manager's competencies and clearly has the potential to learn and hit the 100 percent mark, a promotion is considered.

Some enterprises conduct trial or probationary management programs. A technology manager at a national funeral-services provider in Bristol, PA, recalled how one former employer provided tech staffers with an opportunity to manage the tech support services group if they felt they warranted a promotion. In this situation, the potential manager got a real-life taste of management experience, and the supervisor was able to evaluate the candidate in a real scenario.

"It opened [the candidate's] eyes to the day-to-day problems management had to handle, and many determined it was not a direction they wanted to pursue," related the tech professional.

The resulting turnoff to management is unfortunate, said Mike Laddin, president of LeaderPoint, a management training firm in Mission, KS.

No one is born a manager or a leader, he pointed out, as management skills are learned while serving in the role.

The formal and on-the-job training most tech professionals receive doesn't prepare them for management, Laddin explained. In the majority of cases, technologists have focused on their craft— solving technical problems— and haven't been schooled in management practices, he said, adding that it's rare to find a techie who can budget, manage, and develop a staff, build teams, and easily communicate technical problems to corporate business leaders.

Communicating promotion decisions

When an employee meets managerial profile requirements and is ready and eager to step into a managerial role, a common mistake CIOs make is not properly announcing the promotion.

If the promotion isn't relayed to employees in a specific professional manner, workplace issues, such as rivalry and jealousy, can often come into play and thwart the new manager's goals.

A good way to avert any potential problem is to first thoroughly brief the soon-to-be- promoted employee's current supervisor, said Carroll. This provides current managers with the tools they'll need to handle any questions or concerns from the IT staff.

Continue training the new manager

Another common mistake many IT leaders make is putting a new manager in place without focusing on how best to hone and improve the new leader's skills. Once a new manager is in place, use that managerial success profile as the guide for training the new manager, and set up a process by which the new leader receives continual and consistent feedback. Experts say it's all part of making sure the promotion effort pays off for everyone involved— the employee, the staff, and the company.

"Help them think through problems and opportunities in the department," said Laddin. "Don't provide answers and take the work away— you have to create opportunities for them to provide the answers." This, explained Laddin, will help the manager grow successfully into the position and help the CIO build a reputation for choosing solid managers.

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david southgate
writing for living.