Working with IT Managers on a regular basis allows me to see some great management styles and some equally poor ones. There are ten major mistakes that I see IT Managers make on a regular basis. Some of these errors have even cost some managers their jobs. While there are certainly more than ten, if you want to prevent the most widely made mistakes, please read and endorse the following top ten.
Number 1 – Focusing On the Technology and Not the Business
Focusing on the technology and not on the business is an entire subject in and of itself. There are so many IT Managers focusing on the wrong things, technology included. The typical IT Manager comes from a technical background in either infrastructure or development. Based on their technical roots, they tend to focus their efforts in their expertise when in fact they should be looking for ways to support, enable and improve the business. In order to be successful, it is imperative that IT Managers become business leaders and turn their focus and expertise on business issues and problems first and foremost.
Number 2 – Thinking “Out of Sight is Out of Mind”
IT Managers are busy people and have so many priorities coming at them all the time. The problem with not having a scorecard or checklist is that IT Managers tend to keep going, going, going without ever looking at their progress. The most powerful task an IT Manager could ever do is an assessment. There are several ways to do this. First, you can do a SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities, and Threats) analysis. You could do a full blown formal IT Assessment and or you could use a scorecard system to track where you are as a department. Not continually taking a check where you are at leads to significant trouble. This is no different than continually checking your dashboard gauges in your car. No news is not good news in IT. The IT Manager mantra should be “if it isn’t broke, fix it anyway.”
Number 3 – Thinking That Your Team Has It Covered
This concept is straight out of the lessons learned from the popular hit show with Donald Trump “The Apprentice.” So many teams ended up in the boardroom because the leader delegated a job, but didn’t follow up to make sure it was done right. IT Managers are not exempt from this mistake. The major reason this happens is because “I” is not in team, but is in “IT”. Most IT employees are solo players. They work well alone. This is due to the fact that they are generally introverts. There are some exceptions, but this is the majority. This has an adverse affect on various management, leadership and ultimately social skills needed to delegate effectively. The biggest skill in delegation is the follow-up or checkup. No, this is not micromanagement. It is your job as a leader to insure that the task gets done correctly. To avoid this mistake, you must follow up.
Number 4 – Not Inspecting What You Expect
This mistake has its roots in mistake number 3, but can be carried forward into other aspects of IT. For instance, you could possibly expect great performance out of your servers, but may not have a system to make sure they are running at peak capacity. This ultimately leads to poor planning, budgeting, staffing etc. If you want to avoid this common pitfall, make a comprehensive list of your expectations for your entire department which could include critical projects, network and server performance, client satisfaction and many more. Double-check the list to make sure you are inspecting all expectations on a regular basis. Keep a checklist or develop a daily disciplines worksheet to follow everything that needs daily inspection. As Joe DiMaggio used to say, “It is the punch that you didn’t see coming that knocks you out.”
Number 5 – Not Creating a Partnership with Business Management
There is a difference between number 1 and number 5. The difference is people and politics. I find a great deal of IT Managers reporting to operations and finance personnel instead of presidents and CEOs. This is a major mistake and should be a fighting point on your agenda if this is you. The only way IT can be an effective and a strategic element to a business is through partnership with the business executives. A 360 degree leadership focus must be in place for the IT Manager. You must lead and influence your reports, peers and leaders to have a maximum impact on the organization. The quicker you can get on the leadership team, the quicker you will have the ability to execute on number 1.
Number 6 – Burning Yourself Out
I can’t tell you how many IT Managers I coach that have not had vacations in a year or longer and routinely work over 70 hours per week. This is not only a mistake, but is a formula for disaster. Sometimes the thinking is that your business cannot live without you. I hate to burst your bubble if this is your thinking. You are absolutely incorrect. Your business cannot live with you burning yourself out. This only leads to less productivity and eventually you quitting, giving up or getting disgruntled. Do yourself, business, employees and family a favor and take some time off. Recharging your batteries is extremely important for peak performance. Always remember to stop and smell the roses. If you don’t, a train wreck is around the corner. It will not be a matter of “if”, but “when.”
Number 7 – Not Testing Your Backup Solution
I always tell my new IT Managers that one of the most important aspects of their jobs is insuring a reliable backup. Breakdowns in technology hardware are inevitable. The next best thing is fault tolerance, but I have even seen that fail. Under this circumstance, you can either be the hero or a person in the unemployment line. Don’t think for a minute that if you have tapes and if everything looks ok in your system that everything is ok. Make sure you test backups regularly. Do test disasters and make sure you can recover. I call this IT Manager calisthenics. Athletes train continually before they compete. You need to do this as well with backups. If you haven’t tested your backup solution lately, do it immediately.
Number 8 – Not Asking For Help
All too often have I seen costly mistakes made by managers and technicians alike trying to solve an issue solo without informing anyone or even reading the manual! This is a costly mistake in terms of time, expense as well as potential disasters. If you get in over your head, do the right thing and seek help. The key to successful IT Management is not knowing the right answers, but being able to find them and executing a solution as quickly and cost effectively as possible. Don’t hesitate to bring in the experts where necessary. This will not make you look bad. There is nothing wrong admitting you don’t know how to fix a problem. Rather than wasting you or your company’s time, bring in an expert and make it a learning experience. The key here is knowledge transfer. By including training in every outside engagement, you build you and your team’s depth and expertise. Last comment; there is nothing wrong with reading the manual.
Number 9 – Not Devoting Time to Personal Development
There is no excuse in mistake number 9. Personal development is not your company’s responsibility. Plain and simple, it is yours. Only you determine your success, attitude and altitude. I can always tell a person’s success potential by the last 5 books they have read and by the seminars they attend. Every IT Manager should be devoting at least 30 minutes a day in personal development. The truly successful and top ten percent in their field devote even more and in some cases in upwards of two hours or more per day. The most common excuse I usually hear is that they don’t have the time or money. There are two things I know for sure. Number one, money is never the problem and number two, neither is time. Both excuses are within the manager’s control. The underlying key is in the successful management of money and time. The most valuable investment in any career is that of personal development. It is an investment that multiplies rapidly and pays over and over again for life.
Number 10 – Not Finding a Mentor or Coach
The quickest route to success is to find someone who has been there and emulate them. The quickest road to pain, hardship and failure is to go the journey alone and is therefore the biggest mistake an IT Manager can make. Whether you are in management or not, you should always have a mentor or coach and you should always be mentoring or coaching someone else. A coach will simply help you achieve more than you could by yourself by imparting wisdom, accountability and crucial advice where necessary. By coaching or mentoring someone else, you are doing the same, but you are also solidifying your own concepts by teaching them to others. If you do not have a coach, acquire one as soon as possible. There is no such thing as an Olympic Gold Medalist without a coach. If you want extraordinary results, you have to go beyond ordinary. To win the IT Gold, you must have a coach or mentor.