When small businesses reach a certain size, relying on a low-level technical support staffer to handle all their information technology (IT) needs becomes impractical. Planning and technology integration at the strategic level become important; if done poorly, it can be an expensive liability. Jimmy, the kid who knows his way around MS Office, does not necessarily have the skills required to plan a multi-step exchange system migration.
At this point, small businesses need to hire or outsource an IT manager. A professional, seasoned expert who can combine technical knowledge and skills with an appreciation of business aspects of technology purchasing and implementation is a valuable, game-changing addition for many small businesses.
Someone in that organization will be the IT manager’s boss — it may well be Jimmy’s boss. But managing the IT manager is going to be different from asking Jimmy to change the printer toner. It is not always easy for the boss to take that step, but doing so is key to unlocking the greater capabilities a professional IT manager can offer to the small business.
1. Don’t go it alone. One mistake many bosses make is attempting to funnel all projects and decisions for the IT team through themselves before sending them to the IT manager. Rarely does a boss have sufficient grasp on the breadth and detail of the business to make this approach successful while still performing all their other supervisory tasks.
The alternative is to form a steering committee to spread the load of tracking and managing the company’s various projects involving IT. The boss does not give up any of his or her personnel management tasks over the IT manager; reviews, raises and other managerial tasks still flow through that person. Instead, the committee coordinates and supervises technology operations and projects. This provides the IT manager with better oversight and feedback on aspects of the business with which the boss might otherwise not be fully involved.
2. Give the IT manager a seat at the table. There can be any number of reasons your business elected to hire an IT manager rather than a more-senior chief information officer (CIO). A CIO would naturally expect a seat at the executive meeting table and participate in business strategy and management.
It may not be appropriate to make your IT manager a full member of the executive suite, but considering the importance of technology to business operations today, it can be valuable to at least put them in the room with your leaders. Solicit the IT manager’s feedback on the technologies available to enable business initiatives. This absolves the higher-level boss of having to keep these details in mind during meetings. Otherwise, that person is responsible for bringing IT ideas and innovations to the table, which can be a challenge for non-technical managers.
3. Give the IT manager free range. Oversight is a necessity for IT departments; there are examples where lack of oversight has led to excess and projects that diverged from proper support of business interests. But that doesn’t mean your IT manager needs to be kept on a short leash either. Instead, empower them to go out into the business and assess and make recommendations for technology solutions in other departments.
When it becomes too centralized, IT managers becomes bored. In many cases, when IT mangers lose alignment with the rest of the business, it’s because they have not been given enough leeway to research and recommend solutions outside their own domain. Interaction with line of business staff and other managers is critical.
4. Insist on understanding. It’s too much to ask non-technical bosses to fully comprehend the technologies in day-to-day use at most modern businesses. The field is too specialized. This fact, however, does not excuse either management or the IT manager from devising ways to accurately communicate the functions, costs and benefits of those technologies. Whether by analogy or a translation to understandable business-oriented metrics, both the IT manager and the boss have a responsibility to ensure mutual comprehension of what is happening in the IT department.
Too often, the IT manager’s boss will throw up his or her hands when topics become too technical. This is a mistake. The IT manager may come from a technical background, but part of the function of the position is to be a conduit between technical staff and business staff. If this isn’t happening, more resources are needed to make sure it does. Technology problems can be deep and unintuitive. The fact that everything is operating properly today does not imply that it will continue to do so tomorrow. There is no excuse for senior management to not know what is happening in the IT department.
Sit down with your IT manager until you come to a common vocabulary, or hire a consultant to help translate. Don’t just assume your wishes are being understood and implemented.
Hiring an IT manager to manage more intelligent technology solutions is a big step in the right direction, but knowing how to manage your IT manager will help you fully utilize their expertise and eventually, function better as a business.Print this article