By Robert M. Morris
Information Technology managers must be able to effectively communicate with their bosses, peers, and subordinates; otherwise what is desired will not happen and the efficiency of the managed team (and indeed the manager) will decrease. One way to facilitate such communication is through the use of an open door policy. An open door policy means that literally every manager’s door is open to every employee. The purpose of an open door policy is to encourage open communication, feedback, and discussion about any matter of importance to an employee. This means that when a company has an open door policy, employees are free to speak with the manager at any time. Open door policies are adopted with the focus of developing employee trust and to make certain that important information and feedback reaches the management who can utilize such information.
Adopting and employing an open door policy will help the information technology manager establish good lines of communication with employees and will show the employees what they need to know; that the manager is there for them, not vice versa. Once this bond is established, free and open communication can happen, and that is an essential tool for a manager to have, because now he can accurately convey his concerns and instructions to the employee and they will get it done.
The importance of effective communication to leaders is demonstrated daily in all organizations. Indeed, since 1938 when Chester Barnard concluded that communication was the main task of managers and executives, emphasis has been placed on improving communication in organizations.(1) A study by Dan B. Curtis and others supports what previous studies by other researchers have found: Effective communication skills are tantamount to success for the business organization.(2) Results of this nationwide survey and later ones lead Curtis to conclude that chief executives and other senior leaders place the highest value on effective interpersonal communication because they know that productivity depends on effective communication.(2)
Executives, managers, and supervisors must keep their personnel informed, but not only is communication down the organizational chart important, subordinates need to keep each other and their superiors informed. In other words, to be effective, communication channels need to be open down, up, and throughout the organization. The primary responsibility for communication in any organization rests with those in leadership positions, since subordinates take cues on how to communicate from those above them.
A means of improving communication that ties into having an open door policy is the encouragement of feedback. Subordinates discover quickly what leaders want and supply that information to them. But subordinates are unlikely to provide negative feedback or give supervisors bad news since they fear that, much like ancient messengers delivering bad news, they will be punished. The familiar story of "The Emperor's New Clothes" illustrates unwillingness of subordinates to communicate honestly to superiors.
What then can the leader do to help accurate feedback reach them?
1. Let the subordinates know that feedback is needed and encouraged. Encourage them to give you both good and bad news. Welcome disagreement on issues. Also, ensure a pattern of feedback happens by using positive reinforcement regardless if the feedback was good or bad.
2. The leader must identify the areas in which they want feedback. Don't encourage indiscriminate feedback consisting of idle talk of personal gripes about others in the organization. The leadership must communicate the need and desire for feedback on issues and areas that can help the organization.
3. Use silence to promote feedback. Listen, and encourage feedback rather than taking issue with comments raised by subordinates.
4. Watch for nonverbal cues. Most persons do not control nonverbal responses as well as verbal ones. The person who says, "I am so happy to meet you" as he draws away from the other person, probably communicates more by actions than by words.
5. Consider scheduling feedback sessions. Since it is easier to prevent illness than to treat it; set aside time for feedback. A planned feedback session will usually get more response than an impulsive, "How are things going?"
6. Use statements to encourage feedback. Statements such as "Tell me more about it”, or "That's interesting”, or questions that cannot be answered yes or no will help the leader find out what is going on in the organization. Start questions with what, why, when, where, and how to encourage feedback. (3)
Be, Know, Do
Another essential ability for the information technology manager is the military’s concept of “Be, Know, Do” leadership. Essentially this method establishes that a manager must be proficient at the jobs he expects his subordinates to do, and he should lead by example. The US Army Field Manual (FM) 22-100 and US Army Field Manual (FM) 6-22 defines leadership as influencing people by providing purpose, direction, and motivation while operating to accomplish the mission and improving the organization. (4, 5) Note that this definition filled with powerful words, such as influencing, providing direction, motivating, operating and improving. The IT manager should be able to do all of these; some of the best leaders in recent history have been able to accomplish those tasks.
The FM 22-100 also defines several levels of leadership; direct leadership, organizational leadership, and strategic leadership. Direct leadership is the face-to-face, first line leadership. This type of leadership takes place in organizations where the subordinates see their immediate supervisors on a daily basis. Managers in this role need to have several specific skills. They must have interpersonal skills, which are used for communication, supervising and advising; they must have conceptual skills, which are used for critical thinking, creative reasoning, ethical reasoning, and reflective thinking. They should also have the technical skills that show that they know their craft, that they know the technologies employed and know how to guide subordinates in the operation of the technologies. Organizational leadership is when leaders influence several hundred to several thousand people. This would be the mid-level to executive-level management of business units within a large corporation. However, just because this is a higher level of management, it doesn’t mean that the leader should lose his/her technical capabilities or basic fundamentals of leadership. Being an effective manager at the organizational level encompasses all the tasks of the direct leader, while adding more. The organizational leader must posses more interpersonal skills such as understanding their subordinates, having good communication skills, and being an effective supervisor. They must also employ more conceptual skills, such as establishing intent, filtering information to gain maximum understanding, and to understand the systems in use. With regards to the technical skills, they must understand the 2nd and 3rd order effects of decisions, they must be effective at allocating resources and they must maintain their technical skills. They must also be able to orchestrate and synchronize all actions subordinate to them. Leadership at the strategic level is usually the executive-level to C-level management of a corporation. Leaders at this level are usually responsible for very large numbers of people and in today’s business climate, usually responsible for locations worldwide. Effective leaders at this level must have the capabilities of leaders at the direct and organizational levels while employing the necessary skills useful at the strategic level. The leader at this level needs to be effective at interpersonal skills, such as communicating, using dialogue, negotiating, achieving consensus, and building staffs. They must excel in the conceptual skills as well, which include developing frames of reference, envisioning, and dealing with uncertainty and ambiguity. They must also have the technical skills of the lower managers while employing the technical skills of the leader at the strategic level, which include translating political or marketing agendas to tangible objectives, using appropriate leveraging of technology to stay relevant in business, and using strategy to become as competitive as possible with the goal of being the leader in field. (4, 5)
Basic principles such as these have been employed on battlefields and military bases since the Second World War, and military leaders have typically become very adept at adapting to any situation and overcoming it. One of the adverting points of the military officer corps is that one can take the lessons learned as a military officer and, once applied, become successful in the corporate world. (6) The reason being is that the military method of leadership teaches people how to be effective leaders, not just leaders, and it’s these skills that will make an IT manager very effective.
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