As a Technology Director, I want all my staff to be successful. I would like to see all my managers go on to become Directors, Vice Presidents or CTO's. How can you tell if you are coaching your managers to obtain the skills they will need? What is a simple test for understanding where a particular manager may need more work? Here is a simple test, ask them a question. Before you roll your eyes and click out of here allow me to explain.
As you move up the technology profession career ladder, both the types of questions you get asked as well as the types of answers you are expected to give will change significantly. A Service Desk representative gets asked a myriad of specific technology questions on a daily basis. At the level of Service Desk representative, success is defined by how well the individual is able to articulate instructions clearly and provide direct input on very tangible and immediate problems. A Network Engineer may be approached by his or her manager and be asked to provide a design for a specific business case. The engineer may be given a loose set of guidelines along with some specific constraints. The Network Engineer produces a solution that he or she formulated using a combination of technical expertise, past experiences and critical thinking. The questions asked the Network Engineer are less tangible and immediate than what typically confronts the Service Desk representative. While answers given from the Service Desk representative to an end user may generally be right or wrong (they fix the issue or not), answers given by the Network Engineer may not so easily be classified as “correct” or “incorrect”. A technology manager responsible for more than one discipline such as Networking and Server Operations may get asked even broader questions from his or her Director. The Director may not (and usually is not) looking for the specifics that went into the answer but is simply interested in the input he or she needs to help guide their thinking on broad topics that effect strategic technology directions (e.g. hosting options, outsourcing options, budgeting etc..). The Director may not get asked anything at all! The CTO or VP to which the Director reports may have broad reasonability for business applications, development, project management etc.. At the VP level, the Technology Director should be a trusted advisor who stays abreast of the technology market trends and opportunities. It is expected that the Director has a strategy and direction for the organizations critical IT infrastructure that aligns with business goals. The director will often simply be asked to present his or her plan in terms of budgeting needs, resource commitments, business disruption and ROI/TCO models. The Director is rarely instructed to look into specific technologies like desktop virtualization, however if an opportunity exists for an organization in the area of desktop virtualization it is expected that the Director has examined it and has a logical opinion. At a certain level, people stop asking you specific technical questions and start looking to you to be an intelligent, informed and articulate advisor. A successful Technology Director never finds himself or herself waiting to be told what to do!
So, is your Server Operations Manager learning the skills he or she will need to sit in the Directors chair? Is he or she prepared and do they understand the types of deliverables they will need to provide? It is your job as a Technology Director to make sure you are giving your team opportunities for growth. While there may not be any immediate promotion opportunities in your organization, people will feel good about working for you if you can provide them with skills that they feel and understand will benefit them at some point in their career. So ask your mangers the same types of questions you will get asked. "Please provide me a projected capital spending budget for your area", "Please prepare your thoughts on the best practices for our company with respect to server platforms". Some managers will find these questions strange, they will see you as being "to high level" and start to grump about how "you don’t understand the specifics". These people aren’t ready. If they push back on you and give answers like "I don’t know the details" or if you hear "some of it is up to you", you need to coach this person. You may be surprised that some managers will provide you with very good market analysis, strategic plans and proposed budgets. These are your managers who are on the right track and you should foster their energy among the larger management team. Hold their work up as examples and reward them accordingly. Of course, better yet are the managers who proactively provide you with insight without you specifically asking for it!