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6 tips for ensuring IT manager success

Are your department managers reaching their full potential? Here’s how to gain relevant insights into their performance — and to ensure necessary adjustments are made.

By John Edwards

CIO | AUG 9, 2021

6 tips for ensuring IT manager success
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A CIO’s success (and long-term employment prospects) largely hinges on how well individual department managers do their jobs. Since performance can’t be accurately measured by gut feelings or managers’ assurances, it’s important to use metrics and related indicators to quantify department leaders’ short- and long-term effectiveness.

Is your management team doing all it can to deliver the performance levels you anticipated when you appointed them? The following six tools and approaches will help you find out.[

1. Take a 360-degree view

Managers supervising departments play several roles, observes Tim Skelly, senior manager of the IT advisory practices at consulting firm EY. Among other tasks, department heads, he notes, set their teams’ day-to-day direction, help their staff understand how their assignments are helping the enterprise reach its business goals, and act as mentors. “Keeping these different roles in mind, CIOs should look to various factors when measuring the success, or failure, of IT department managers,” Skelly advises.

Skelly notes that it can be challenging for a CIO to find a specific metric that will reveal how well a particular IT manager is performing. “For instance, they could be very effective at delivering work on time and on budget, yet team morale isn’t good,” he explains.

Given the challenge of the task, Skelly suggests that surveys that allow some level of anonymity, combined with 360-degree reviews, can serve as excellent tools for identifying areas where managers are successful, where they may need improvement, and even where direct intervention may be required. Whereas many organizations require annual reviews, Skelly believes more frequent evaluations are more effective, preferably on a quarterly basis.

If an evaluation reveals that a department is experiencing a negative issue, it’s important to confront the situation quickly and decisively. Skelly suggests that targeted training might be assigned to the struggling manager to help them get back on track. Alternatively, the CIO could discuss the situation with the manager to address and, if necessary, fine-tune goals, provide guidance, and get the department back on course.

2. Track goal achievement indicators

Consistent goal achievement is the best indicator of an IT manager’s success, claims Jon Check, senior director of cyber protection solutions at Raytheon Intelligence and Space. “Goals come in many forms including people-centric, financial, and delivery-oriented,” he notes

Goal setting is a critical part of defining what success looks like. “Managers who are conscious of employee time and promote a strong work-life balance typically find ways to be efficient in their own work, while also inspiring their teams to do the same — all while continuing to produce strong results,” Check explains.

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Check notes that conducting periodic employee surveys that allow both quantitative and qualitative feedback is a smart way to capture feedback and gauge the success and efficacy of a manager.

3. Assess staff satisfaction

A successful IT team starts with skilled and satisfied employees. McAfee CIO Scott Howitt says he routinely examines each department’s employee satisfaction scores to measure its staff engagement level. “I’ve found over the years that a high employee satisfaction score usually correlates to a high performing department,” he says.

Given the fact that technology continues to evolve rapidly, department leaders should be evaluated as frequently as possible and be given feedback to ensure they’re supporting key business objectives. Subpar performance should be addressed immediately, Howitt says. “Far too often, I see a [CIO] waiting to have a difficult conversation, which isn’t fair to the leader or the department they supervise,” he notes. “In many cases, the [department] leader may not be aware that their performance is subpar, or they may have never received constructive feedback.” Coaching a leader and following up on their performance is critical, Howitt observes.

Rajesh Jethwa, CTO of data software engineering firm Digiterre, believes that metrics related to a manager’s ability to accelerate team career advancement are particularly important to track. “For example, you could measure the number of team members a manager positions or supports for promotion, or the knowledge-sharing, coaching, or mentoring opportunities they create,” he explains.

4. Evaluate internal customer satisfaction

Many managers, particulalry those who lead applications development, infrastructure, or operations teams, are responsible for internal customer support. Alan Zuckerfounder and principal of project management training and advisory firm Project Management Essentials, feels that the best way to measure such managers’ success is to talk with their customers and gauge their satisfaction with routine interactions.

Zucker recalls that several years ago while heading an IT project management organization, he made it a habit to meet with his project managers on a regular basis. “My project managers were matrixes into the development teams,” he notes. There was a problem, however. While the managers were generally happy, many customers weren’t.

Working collaboratively with the development teams and its customers, a 10-question, 360-performance survey was created, resulting in a poll conducted every six months. “Project teams assessed the project manager; the project manager assessed the teams’ performance, as did their functional manager,” Zucker says. The results were compiled and shared. Within a year, Zucker notes that team performance improved and the perception gap between project managers and customers narrowed.

Zucker also advises CIOs to establish an expectation that managers, team leaders, and other relevant parties meet regularly with their respective customers at least biweekly or monthly. “These meetings are critical to develop trusting relationships and collect feedback on their teams’ performance,” he notes.

Ola Chowning, a partner with technology research and advisory firm ISG, suggests moving beyond relatively generic customer satisfaction surveys to take advantage of the more precise Net Promoter Score (NPS), an index ranging from -100 to +100 that measures the willingness of customers to recommend a product or services to colleagues.

5. Establish systemized tracking and benchmarking

Amanda Alwy, vice president of North America information technology for workforce solutions specialist ManpowerGroup, believes in obtaining both top-down and ground-up views of current goals and objectives. She notes that taking a systematized approach to measuring the success of individual department heads will help ensure that both project development plans and delivery goals are clearly defined, with benchmarks and checkpoints recorded on both quarterly and week-by-week timelines. “This allows for an ongoing dialogue throughout the year,” Alwy says.

Alwy stresses that it’s particularly important to give managers the opportunity to gain clarity into everything that is being asked of them. “This is why feedback and development coaching should be happening all the time,” she says. Alwy also recommends creating a timeline that tracks behavioral changes and agreeing with each manager in advance on achieving specific improvement goals. If a manager appears to be falling behind the curve in any specific area, quickly investigate the possible cause, she advises. “Perhaps there’s a skills gap that needs addressing.”

Perhaps the most important consideration when assessing a department manager’s performance is their ability to prioritize and delegate. Alwy suggests using an integrated human resources information system (HRIS) that can tie performance and development goals into a tracking system.

6. Schedule regular feedback sessions

Regardless of their current performance or workload, managers should be required to hold feedback sessions with the CIO at least monthly, advises Allison Straker, an analyst at research and advisory firm Info-Tech Research Group. “The informal feedback sessions should provide an opportunity for the manager to consider new ways of handling issues as well as access to tools and resources to better support … what comes across their desk,” she says.

A session’s overall depth and regularity is far more important than its frequency, Jethwa notes. “You can have a number of check-ins and evaluations with a manager over a period of time, but the rhythmic sequence or flow of these [sessions] is crucial,” he says. Regular monthly or quarterly check-ins help ensure interaction consistency, transparency, and sustainability.

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