10 tips for managing the Human Side of IT

The success of an IT department does not solely depend on having the best hardware and latest software. In fact, these alone do not guarantee efficiency if the people working in IT Support are not managed appropriately. It is not a simple task: each Support engineer has their own personality, strengths and weaknesses, ambitions and drive. So here are a few tips to get the best out of your IT Support team in order to deliver an efficient and reliable service to the business.

1 – Understand role ‘shelf life’
Most people want to progress in their career, and in IT this process can be found to be somehow accelerated, leading to significant staff turnover. In order to be prepared to deal with this, it is important to understand someone’s longevity in a certain role, as they will only be effective whilst they are engaged. Different roles have varying shelf life - for example, a typical Service Desk role would last around 18 months-2 years while more skilled software development positions can last longer.

2 – Skills set relevance
Understanding skills sets and ensuring they are relevant to the tasks being performed ensures employees feel valued for what they know rather than being undervalued for what they don't. This keeps staff happier and also allows them to identify areas within their skills set to develop and improve if they want to progress.

3 – Encourage personal development
To retain staff and keep them motivated, a good manager should recognise development opportunities within the scope of their roles and encourage them to improve their skills. Shadowing other roles, when possible, is also a good way for staff to experience other realities and understand where they want to go with their career.

4 – Feedback and reward
Having regular feedback sessions is imperative for all managers. This should include positive as well as negative feedback, but the most important thing is that, overall, it is constructive. Good results must be recognised, praised and rewarded when possible (it doesn’t have to be financially). This can generate healthy competition internally to naturally get the best out of people.

5 – Expectations management
Just like in any other business agreement, don't make promises that can't be achieved. Managing expectations is a vital part of a manager’s role and this has to be done for both sides – the business and IT staff.

6 - Equality and consistency
A good manager has to ensure the same techniques and processes are used for all staff and that they all feel that they are being treated equally. Make sure the team knows where they stand and enforce the same discipline and principles across the whole group.

7 – Differences
When there are both in-house and outsourced staff within the IT service desk, it is important that everyone understands the difference between the two. Staff employed directly and staff provided by Managed Service Providers might have different benefits, varying working hours and so on. Make sure it’s recognised and appreciated and that all expectations are managed.

8 – Relationship building
Listen. Staff like to engage with their management team on a personal front. Offer time to listen but understand boundaries and keep it professional.  Just show an interest and don't make it "all about work".

9 – Tailor management style
Adapt your management style so that it is fit for the environment in which you're working. Different approaches work in different environments. Also ensure the environment is appropriate for an individual’s specific requirements.

10 – Empathy
Take time to understand the roles that you are supervising. The best managers are the ones who can understand the pressures of the people they are managing and empathise with them.

Ben Whitehead,
Service Delivery Manager at Plan-Net

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Roman Jouravlev (25/08/2012)

Benjamin, thank you for the advice!
The points you've made are nice and practical, but why do you call it "managing human side of IT"? Do you see any specific features relevant to IT area - or even more specificaly, IT support - in this list?

Benjamin Whitehead (28/09/2012)

Hi Roman, thank you for your comment. I guess the points can be applied to most type of personnel, but I would say that they are especially relevant to the IT department as it is an ever-changing environment with a high staff turnover – understanding ‘role shelf life’, identifying skills set relevance and encouraging/offering personal development opportunities are essential for retaining staff in this area!
Also, the issue of in-house vs outsourced staff working side-by-side is more often found in an IT department rather than, say, an admin office or within a sales team.

Tatiana Orlova (02/11/2012)

Benjamin, thanks for your post. While reading I was recalling my IT management time, probably the best time in my life. That is exactly what I did when creating and managing my IT departments in different countries. I would also add some of my thoughts regarding this topic:
- include balanced leadership into your management styles you are using
- take into account the cultural differences in international departments
- demonstrate your constant learning and self development, lead by example.
Indeed, IT staff is quite specific: they should understand not only IT, but the business while business staff sometimes does not understand and respect this IT staff advantage. Sometimes they ARE the business now. And at the same time they sometimes work in a closed specific environment like data centre. So the comfort climate and the chance to see what is going on outside is very important.

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