Home > Articles > The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 19: The Move to Management

The IT Career Builder's Toolkit, Chapter 19: The Move to Management

  • Sample Chapter is provided courtesy of Cisco Press.
  • Date: Feb 1, 2008.

Critical Skills You Need Now

A key to making the move to management is the adoption of skills before you have a formal title or responsibility. Fortunately, if you have read this book sequentially, you likely have started to identify and work on some of the skills.

The sections that follow cover several key skills in relation to their role in a management career.

Presentation and Meeting Skills

The ability to hold an audience and accurately convey your message is critical. This is true whether it is a large corporate gathering or a small departmental meeting. Project ideas are typically presented by management. The ability to be concise and engaging during a presentation is a must, as is the ability to be persuasive.

You don't have to be Tony Robbins or Zig Ziglar. However, you must understand how to best structure a presentation for your audience. You need to understand those things that are important to them. You also need to be able to clearly explain how your team can successfully address your audience's concerns.

If you can add a little flair or humor, that's even better.

When you're creating presentations to management, remember the following:

  • Management has little time Get to your point quickly, and let managers know what you want from them. I have taken part in many presentations in which managers have been convinced of the importance of a project, only to have the presenter fail to explain his desire to undertake it.
  • Keep the culture and personalities in mind I have a tendency to be theatrical at times. I have a lot of fun giving presentations. However, I am also aware of the particular personalities of my primary audience.If I am meeting with a new executive, I often ask his coworkers and peers about his style. If the executive is stoic and conservative, I rein myself in a bit. If he is demonstrative and dynamic, I up the energy and edginess.
  • Maintain a strict agenda Meetings often flounder because of lack of direction. The meeting facilitator (most often a manager) lets tangential issues take over the agenda.

    Once, while working with a client whose meetings often went longer than planned and seldom stayed on the agenda topics, I helped draft a meeting primer. It helped reduce the time of meeting and helped keep the client on agenda.

    Here are some of the key ideas my meeting template included:

    • Most meetings should be less than an hour.
    • Place high-priority items at the beginning of the meeting.
    • Place as few items on the agenda as possible. You have to recognize what type of items require a face-to-face meeting and what requires only some e-mail communications. Don't place the latter into a meeting agenda.

      If, during the course of the meeting, you come across an item that cannot be answered quickly, don't spend too much time on it. Assign it to one or two attendees with the charge of getting the necessary information and briefing those in attendance via memo. If another meeting is needed, you can schedule it then.

      If the two attendees are able to make a decision based on the knowledge they discover, give them that authority during the meeting. This reduces unnecessary communication down the road.

    • Based on meeting information, assign roles of projects to appropriate individuals.
    • When your meeting ends, summarize the findings, the tasks that need to be completed (action items in management-speak), and the feedback you expect. When people leave, they should feel that items were either removed from the agenda or have become a task for someone to complete.

Team-Building Skills

The ability to coalesce a team of individuals into a common purpose can be one of the greatest skills a manager can possess. Doing so requires an ability to see and diffuse potential personality conflicts and the ability to create and communicate a vision that multiple people share.

This is no small task. Office politics are often petty and yet stubborn and pronounced. Individuals who otherwise share skills and interests might, for any number of reasons, have a problem with one another.

In addition, people are selfish by nature. Although working with a team is ultimately a superior career strategy, you will find some who work against the team concept in hopes of bolstering their own career.

You must learn how to recognize and deal with all these situations while remaining distant enough not to get caught up in them.

In both analyzing management styles and anecdotally looking at areas where I've done well and areas where I've struggled, I've created a short list of simple methods or techniques to foster team building, as discussed in the sections that follow.

Give Credit Where Credit Is Due

I often hear people complain about their manager taking credit for their work. Although I have rarely seen this in practice, I know it exists. A good manager gives more credit to his staff than he takes himself. He understands that his ability to create high producers is what he is held accountable for.

Promote Your Team and Its Members

Career development necessarily includes some self-promotion. In a management role, however, promoting your team is of far greater value. Doing so accomplishes several objectives:

  • Your team is held in higher esteem As a manager, your success is largely gauged on your group as a whole. If you promote your team—their strengths and their accomplishments—your team will be viewed as stronger. A stronger team is looked to for better projects. This can end up being self-perpetuating. As you solve more problems, you get the better problems to solve.
  • Your team members develop loyalty My son had a teacher who was emotional and, at times, bitter. Eventually we moved him to the only other available teacher. The teacher we moved him to was known as the strictest teacher in the school. Later, knowing how strict she was, I asked my son if he was happier in his class.

    "Yes," he replied.

    "But isn't she strict?"

    "Dad," he replied, "she's strict, but she's fair."

    A hard/demanding boss, one who pushes his staff but is fair and promotes his team's successes, is typically okay to work for. You know that you are required to work and to achieve, but you also know that your manager will go to the mat for you and recognize your contribution. This creates loyalty.

Foster an Environment That Allows for (Even Celebrates) Failure

To create the type of environment in which innovation and creativity flourish and where people take initiative, you must allow for and even celebrate failure. The fear of failure is the single greatest hindrance to initiative and innovation.

When staff members are afraid to take calculated risk because of fear of repercussions, they are unlikely to push for new and innovative solutions. Creating innovation is necessarily risky. If you are to have a department and team that are viewed as innovative, you and your staff must be able to fail with some degree of safety.

Of course, this does not mean or require you to allow for foolish and blatantly risky projects. Putting a company's data or operations at risk is irresponsible.

In creating a culture that allows for failure, you must emphasize the need for logical controls and strong backup and recovery options. In addition, creating segregated lab environments is a wise course of action.

Although you are ultimately responsible for the actions and success of the team, your employees must have the authority, tools, and responsibility to correct their own mistakes. The idea is to give them the ownership of the full project—they own the success, and they own the failure. If a project or task goes awry, your staff must have the mentality that immediately creates a corrective action plan and puts it into place.

Create a Project/Contract Mentality with Those You Report to and Those Who Report to You

I've mentioned Bruce Tulgan's book titled Winning the Talent Wars. In it, Tulgan creates the case that corporate America is no longer interested in hiring employees. Instead, companies want to bring on talent when needed. They are interested in project skills for project success.

To have a team that is successful and that is viewed as a valuable addition to the corporate team, you must foster a project-based mindset.

You must be able to assign the projects to your staff—along with the responsibility of that project's success. When doing so, the staff member becomes the de-facto project manager, and every other member of the team becomes a resource for his use. It is then the staff member's responsibility to manage the scheduling of those other resources.

Of course, with newer employees and those who struggle with this type of project ownership, your allocation of responsibility should be according to their ability.

It is a recipe for failure to assign too much project ownership to someone whose abilities do not match the responsibility. Your success as a manager rest with your ability to assess, develop, and manage that ability in your staff.

5. Conclusion | Next Section Previous Section

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