Most years in IT management have been like the ones that went before them, but as 2007 draws to a close, some real changes are starting to take hold.
More than a third of my clients are now using the IT function to experiment with new ideas in managing. This is putting the IT management team at the forefront of experiments in human resources. Here is some of what I am seeing.
Collaborative workplaces: Using the model Jon Husband promoted back in 2001 as "wirearchy", these organisations are focused on making collaboration real - and profitable.
They embrace new technologies, like the iPhone and pervasive Wi-Fi, that facilitate participation. When performance is judged, managers look at whether staff contribute to user groups, whether they are known as the go-to people for a particular issue and whether they have added good ideas to the discussions that permeate the company.
The challenge for these managers is to figure out who really performs, versus who is just a prolific commenter with nothing much to say or who has abandoned project tasks to blog constantly. They are experimenting with ways to follow the organisational discussion and evaluate staff without being intrusive and without slowing things down by adding more meetings to the workload.
A lot of organisations are hiring people for their potential, not simply to fill a job. They are looking a few years down the road to when the great demographic turnover will begin. On some ageing staff, more than 20% of employees are already capable of retiring on a full pension; if they decided enough is enough someday, they would suffer no financial penalty.
One executive put it this way: "We do not have a problem yet. What we want to do, though, is start now to build for the future. We want to raise the calibre of the entire group and become known as the place to work, so we always get to pick from the cream of the market."
At these companies, human resources does not pre-screen résumés for job matches. The IT leadership teams spend significant time - about 25% of their week - interviewing, even when they are fully staffed. They have been given money to go over head count so that they do not miss out on the best talent they see. They have also developed skill maps, showing the longevity of skills in the company, and have tied this to technology portfolio management efforts so that they can retire or replace older tools and technologies in a financially sensible way.
How are they paying for all this? They are taking on fewer contractors and consultants. After all, using outsiders to do all the interesting IT work, as they have done in the past decade, has become a roadblock to hiring the best talent available. Having a strong in-house staff means they will be able to meet the challenge of accommodating planned business changes that will require wrapping standard packages with a homegrown set of services. And hiring new voices with fresh ideas diminishes the problem of potential avenues of exploration being dismissed too easily by staff who have lived through many failed projects.
All of this is leading to a much broader definition of "leader", so that these organisations have more leaders than managers. The next battle will be to overturn a system that dictates that you must become a manager to get the next pay grade. That system is getting in the way of broad-based leadership. And when IT staff are motivated to lead without managing, managers will be able to truly manage and develop their people. It is a set of changes that is already paying dividends for everyone.
Bruce A. Stewart is chief executive of Accendor Research, an advisory services firm focused on management issues in the technology-enabled enterprise. He can be reached at [email protected]