Gary W. Sprague, managing is really about relationship-building.

As director of IT at Marconi Corp., a London-based telecommunications firm with US$9.9 billion in revenue in its 2000 fiscal year, Sprague says he builds those relationships with his staffers by being upfront and allowing them the space to do their jobs.

“You need to explain to people what their responsibilities are and that you are relying on them and their judgment,” he says.

Sprague, 48, who joined Marconi four years ago, says his people are one of his greatest assets. He says he hires talented professionals, trains them and finds them a niche to help them grow. “The ultimate goal is to allow them to use their creativity,” he says.

When solving problems or disputes, Sprague first gets the facts from his technicians and then “pulls everyone involved together to hash it out.”

This approach keeps it professional, allows everyone to confront the situation and ultimately “allows the knowledgeable people to come up with a solution, he says, adding, “If you have a problem with me, then I have to come talk with you. I need to see you face-to-face and see what the problem is.”

Outside his department, relationship-building continues to play a role. Every six weeks, Sprague surveys his end users and the customers they service to measure satisfaction and determine how his team can improve.

Sprague says he has learned three key lessons since becoming a manager: to pay attention to detail, learn to motivate his staff and resolve conflicts. “You have to [know] how to resolve conflicts,” he says, “because if you don’t, you’ve really got a problem.”