Communication is key

Each IT manager I've spoken to in recent weeks has had different approaches to managing staff, but they all kept citing communication as a key factor.

Communication isn't always easy in the fast paced world of ... oh, I was going to say the 90s. Which proves my point. Life is so fast-paced whole decades disappear in the blink of an eye.

In such times it's easy to get lazy when it comes to communication. Is there anyone reading this who hasn't been guilty, at some stage, of emailing the person right next to them instead of communicating like we did back in the old days (the 1980s that is)?

Over the past 10 weeks, I've spoken to a total of 30 IT managers about managing their staff, as part of our "Being The Boss" series.

This week I decided to analyse the words of wisdom proffered by the managers over recent weeks. Each manager had different approaches but I found that one common theme kept coming up time after time. It didn't matter what we were discussing - IT managers kept citing communication as a key factor in managing people.

Communication is an obvious and critical management tool but judging from the correspondence I receive to this column, it's something IT managers don't always do well.

And that's a shame given the role it plays in a variety of management situations.

IT managers cited communication as being vital for motivating staff, being a good leader, managing change, dealing with conflict and retaining staff.

A recent poll conducted in the US found that 64% of people surveyed found poor communication between management and workers impaired their work.

It's hard to know what the figure would be in IT in New Zealand. The IT managers I dealt with all believed that IT managers nowadays won't go far without abilities in areas such as communication skills.

So what tips did the IT managers I spoke with have about communication?

Keep yourself involved

1. Some IT managers recommend working in an open plan area so they can get a feel for what's happening around the office. This worked for one IS director who finds he is more accessible to staff and therefore people are more inclined to talk to him.

2. Another approach is to have regular meetings with staff. These could range from regular morning meetings or briefings, to more "meaty" meetings once a month. The trick is to pick the approach that best suits the needs of your company and staff.

3. Performance reviews are now increasingly a fixture in the workplace. Many companies have a two-way process, which allows staff to review the performance of their manager at the same time they're reviewed.

4.Then there's the laid-back approach. This involves going to the pub with your staff, or out for a coffee. One warning here though - don't outstay your welcome. While informal situations provide a great way for managers to communicate and mingle with staff, depending on your employees, it pays not to hang around too long.

Keeping staff informed

1. Remember to communicate your organisation's vision to staff in a targeted and timely way. There's no point bothering staff with facts that are irrelevant to them, but equally, don't omit information they might feel is important.

2. When in doubt, talk to your staff about what information they need from you and when (listening is an important part of communicating).

3. Take into account that at certain times - for example if the company is facing a merger or redundancies - that employees' requirements for information will change.

Send email to Kirstin Mills.

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