Seven Steps for Helping Geeks Grow

Geeks need to grow to retain their value to the business and their personal satisfaction. Here’s a guide to the process.
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In a previous article we categorized people working in IT into two groups: those who are oriented around action (process, business, projects) and those who are oriented around things (hardware and software technology, documents, data).

Geeks are the IT staffers who are more interested in technology than the business drivers to use it. For the health of the business it’s most important that management understand the geek mentality and manage appropriately. To get you started, we pointed out the most important threats to watch out for from geek culture. Now we move on to really managing geeks: how to get the best from your geeks and to help them grow.

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The days of the pure technologist are on the wane. Like other specialist professions before them they are slowly becoming of lower value and less esteem. As the business aspects of IT gain prominence – and as IT matures into a new professionalism – it is the analysts and architects and systems engineers who step into the limelight.

Geeks need to grow to retain their value to the business and their personal satisfaction. This growth needs to be sideways into broader skills, not deeper into technology. The ones who do not, or can not, escape the technology silo will be increasingly marginalized, and displaced by young usurpers.

Having geeks retreat into their cubicles or wander off to another employer or get themselves laid off is a terrible waste of corporate IP. Nurture them for their unique technical skills but grow them out and cycle them more, or else they will become stale and venomous and develop an inflated sense of their own worth. With proper management the corporate intellectual property grows while the individuals do too.

So here are seven steps to manage and grow your geeks. I designed and ran four-day workshops in a major corporate, combining steps 2, 3 and 4 below, which trained 88 people. Average score on “use of my time” was 4.5 out of 5; “impact on your thinking/behavior/direction” was 4; and “return on investment for the company” was 4. All managers reported an average positive change.

1) You need to care. You may care because they are your friends and colleagues. You may care because they represent a large investment that needs to make a corresponding return. You may care because losing them from the business is a loss of corporate knowledge. For whatever reason, the satisfaction and growth of geeks should be of primary concern to all good managers.

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