IT managers need grounding in business

Employees don’t leave their organzations, they leave their managers.

At least that’s what Andre Mamprin believes. He’s the director of customized leadership programs at the Banff Centre in Banff, Alta., and he knows how destructive bad management techniques can be for a company.

“If a high percentage of people leave an organization, they do so because they have managers that are sub optimal.”

But Mamprin also believes that anyone can become an effective manager with the right training, which can be acquired either through mentoring or by taking a program that teaches would-be managers the proper competencies.

Richard Irving, an associate professor of management science/MIS for the Schulich School of Business at York University in Toronto agrees that anyone can eventually become a manager, including techie-types lacking in interpersonal skills.

“Many IT managers have way too narrow a focus on the technology. Their personal styles seem to be rough around the edges,” he said.

But given the choice between someone who comes from a technical background but doesn’t have a lot of managing experience, or someone who has management experience but not a lot of technical knowledge, Irving said he would choose the former. He would run them through a good MBA program that educates them about IT in a business context.

“And those kinds of people tend to be very effective in business, because they can communicate to senior management and to other people in business what the information systems proposals will do for the company,” he said. Those types of managers will also be able to communicate with the technical people.

One pitfall an IT manager might fall into if they don’t have the proper management training is micromanagement.

Micromanagement happens when the person being promoted doesn’t understand management. As a result, they go back to what they do understand. So recently promoted programmers might start looking over their developers’ shoulders because they can’t help getting their hands dirty.

Work nowadays is very collaborative and networked, Mamprin said, and constantly looking over an employee’s shoulder is not very conducive to the modern working environment. Managers need to be able to communicate what they want clearly from workers and trust them to do that work.

Micromanagement tends to be very costly on a per-project basis, Irving said. However, he believes that a complete lack of direction – when CIOs leave IT to the tech staff – can be even more costly.

It’s something that Irving, who’s conducted studies of CIOs, sees again and again in IT, especially in Canada. This lack of management can lead to very serious mistakes in IT investments and can potentially cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Nick Crocodilos, the Lebanon, N.J.-based host of www.asktheheadhunter.com and author of a book by the same name, agrees that it’s essential that IT managers understand the business they are serving.

“You have folks who come through school with purely technical training who come in to run an IT operation, who know next to nothing about business. Those are the ones I worry about most.”