How to Make Yourself a Better Manager

building better it management skills people workers
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It seems the old adage is true, "People don't leave companies, they leave managers". Bad managers undoubtedly cost businesses billions. Recent Gallup research shows that managers are accountable for a 70 percent variance in employee engagement scores across the different business units. As a result, only 30 percent of U.S. employees are actively engaged. That number sinks to 13 percent internationally.

Let's face it, an ineffective manager can ruin a productive team, log jam a project or just make getting through the day difficult. Just because you've been a great developer or IT architect doesn't mean you have the skills to be a great manager of people. In fact, Gallup reports that only one in 10 people possess the necessary traits to be effective managers.

We spoke with CIOs from larger and small businesses as well as professional development experts to see what works for them when it comes to building management skills.

Build Relationships

In order to understand what motivates someone you need to know him or her. That won't happen by itself. You've got to work to get to know them and what their problems are inside and outside of work when possible. "Leaders should take the time to get to know their staff, what makes them tick, how they communicate and what they value, in order to build a personal management style for that individual that will help drive their overall success, " says Pamela Rucker, chairwoman of the CIO Executive Council's Executive Women in Business. (The CIO Executive Council is owned IDG Communications, CIO.com's parent company.)

Set Clear Expectations

"It's critical that everyone has clarity around where the bar is set, and how your team will meet and exceed expectations. When goals become a moving target, it's unfair to your team and you risk frustrating good people. As a manager, your job is just to set the expectations and the guardrails, and help your team avoid a big miss. More often than not, your team will get it right," says Charles Galda, CIO of Global IT Tech Centers and Services at GE Capital.

Become a Great Delegator

If you've worked somewhere long enough, chances are you've seen someone promoted who was an invaluable individual contributor but those skills didn't translate well into the world of IT management. This happens in all industries. People want to advance and make more money, but what many tech pros don't realize is that the skills that made them invaluable individual contributors are different than the ones necessary to be a great manager or leader.

As a manager you've got to rely on other people to get the job done and that means becoming a proficient delegator. According to Galda, as tech managers become more senior, it's increasingly difficult for them to keep up and be the expert. "To be successful, you have to trust that you have capable employees who share your ambitions to do big things; they just need the latitude to get the job done," he says.

Colborne offers this advice to those who are new to delegating: "When learning how to delegate, the following items are important: realizing how much time is available to complete a project, whether the person being delegated to needs training and how important the results of the task are. Putting these three things together can help a manager decide whether it is worth delegating the task or handling it on his/her own."

According to Bill Scudder, CIO of Sonus Network, you should start small and build trust, "I coach my own managers to delegate by initially giving over simple, less risky responsibilities and then gradually assigning more complex and risky responsibilities, always coaching and monitoring along the way."

Get Better at Offering Feedback and Accepting It

According to our experts, feedback is an essential tool for self-improvement. Managers should be providing it and also receiving from their bosses, coworkers and direct reports. When it comes to receiving feedback, "No matter what, " says Scudder, "always thank the person providing the feedback. Realize that the person may have felt that they were taking a personal risk in providing the feedback."

Be Consistent

Consistency, trust and transparency go a long way to building relationships. If the people on your team know what to expect from you it will help them make better decisions and be more self-sufficient. "Maintaining a consistent behavior creates a calmness and confidence. To be approachable, they need to know what to expect from you. Your approach to performance appraisals and career feedback should be the same. Although I may adapt my style based on the person, I also try to ensure that I treat my staff equitably and fairly across the board," says Scudder.

Rucker echoed these sentiments: "The minute your team members think people are treated differently for reasons other than performance, they'll start to lose productivity, your success as a team will fade and your effectiveness in the company will diminish."

Don't Be a Micro-Manager

"As a manager, you should focus on the outcome rather than the specific steps that your team took to get there," says Galda. The experts interviewed agree that a coaching and collaborative style of management usually works best.

Rucker says that organizations need a different kind of manager depending upon their current situation. Someone managing a turnaround will need a different approach than those leading in crisis mode. When things are on a normal keel, however, she says she has seen the best results using a collaborative approach with her internal managers. "In a normal business environment, my go-to style is a participative approach, where all my leaders have a voice and are respected equally at the table."

Grow Your Managerial Skills

You may go to boot camps to stay up to date with new programming languages or work at conferences and with vendors to stay current on technology, but what do you do to better hone your people management and leadership skills?

Just as you refresh and upgrade your technical skills, so should you work on your managerial skills. Find a way to expand your perspective. This could mean taking internal leadership courses or volunteering to lead a difficult project. Like with any skill the more you use it the stronger it gets.

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