With the IT industry on the upswing, budgets are growing again, employees
are being hired and upgrades are being planned. This all means IT managers have a new host of pressures on them.
And most of the managers dealing with all of this have had very little
real management training. That could be making a hard situation even
harder — for both the manager and the employees, says Pam Butterfield,
president of Business Success Tools, LLC, a consulting and management
coaching company based in Manchester, Conn.
In a one-on-one interview with Datamation, Butterfield talks about
the biggest mistakes that managers make, how to tell if employees are
challenged or anxious, and how to help workers better handle all the
change that’s coming down the road.
Q: Are most managers trained or otherwise prepared to manage
No, not at all. I know when I first started out, I didn’t have a clue
that there were things I could learn to do that would allow me to be a
good manager. I was technical and I had pretty good people skills. That
didn’t make me a good manager. I didn’t know how to give feedback to
people. I didn’t know how to manage conflict. I didn’t know how to build
teams. I didn’t know the difference between being a leader and a manager.
I didn’t know how to evaluate people. Fortunately, I worked for a company
where I got excellent training.
I don’t see a lot of companies giving people that kind of training and,
actually, that’s why the individual clients I have who are getting
coaching are paying for it themselves. These people failing in their
roles as managers.
Q: What’s the biggest mistake that you see managers making on a
I think one of the biggest mistakes managers make is that they’re not
setting aside time to be a manager. When you’re not a manager, you’re
being paid to get work done. When you’re a manager, you’re getting paid
to define the work, to make assignments, to monitor the progress and
quality of what’s being done, to help people who aren’t performing
address what the gaps are. A lot of managers are not comfortable giving
feedback and receiving feedback. It’s easier to ignore those things.
Q: What’s the main thing that people could do to make themselves
People need to focus on the area of goal setting and then assigning
resources to work on the things that are most important. You have limited
resources today so you need to use them judiciously. Very often there’s a
gap between what people are doing and what they need to be doing to
actually be successful. Managers have a hard time closing that gap. Very
often people are good at solving technical problems but not at solving
people problems. That goes back to the lack of training and the lack of
experience. There’s also a lack of good managers to learn from.
People also need to seek to understand before jumping to conclusions.
I’ve learned to become a good question asker. It’s amazing what you find
out when you listen to people. Often the thing you thought it was, it’s
not at all.
Q: With the economic and industry slump seemingly behind us and hiring
and budgets both picking up, is this an easier time to be a manager?
There’s an awful lot of pressure on managers these days. The rate of
change is so great right now. You’re trying to get people who are
bombarded by change to get today’s work done, while you’re trying to get
people in a position to handle the change that’s coming down the pike
Part of the challenge for managers is there’s not enough time in the
day… They may have the best intentions but they just don’t have time.
One of the ways to do this is to look at everything that has to be done,
including the people management stuff, and prioritize. Another thing is
to learn how to delegate. Every time you don’t delegate a task, you’re
losing an opportunity to take someone else in the organization and teach
Q: Since the industry is picking up, are workers happier and more
confident or is there anxiety still left over from the slump?
Absolutely, people are still anxious… There’s a reason they are
nervous. This goes in cycles. Downturns. Upturns. It will all happen
again at some point.
Q: What’s the best way to handle these anxious employees?
If I’m an IT manager, I’m going to help my people be able to be very
comfortable with change. There are various programs that companies
provide. It’s change management for the individual. People are afraid of
change because they’re afraid the change will hurt them and they won’t be
able to make the transition successfully. Feeling like you’ll be able to
land on your feet means understanding what your skills and abilities are
and how you can use them in a new setting. As a manager, I’ll help my
people understand their strengths and talents so as change comes along
they’ll be able to adapt and still be able to add value.
Q: Sounds like you might be setting them up to think they should be
looking for a new job. Is that a concern?
There’s a little danger there. The other part of that is I treat them
very well so they won’t want to look for that next job. I’ll look for
opportunities to give them new and different projects. I’ll give them
stretch assignments — neat projects. I’ll spread the wealth a little bit
and let the good and the great employees have good projects to work on.
I’ll give them a chance to be creative.
They won’t all want that. There are certain highly technical people who
are able to adapt to change pretty quickly and then others who resist it.
As a manager, when I’m looking at a workforce, I might lead with people
who are more able to tolerate the risks of doing something new and
different. There are certain people who are really happy to go out and
try new technologies. There are others who would be happy to write Cobol
the rest of their lives.
Q: How do you tell the difference?
There are assessments that I use that will measure a person’s stress in
the workplace and indicate whether they change quickly or slowly. The one
that I use is a behavioral assessment put out by Target Training, Inc…
If I don’t have money for that, what do I look for? I’m going to look for
what people are reading. What are they learning about? Do they learn? Are
they interested in the latest and the greatest? People who tend to be
innovative and creative are interested in the next best thing to come
along. Are they good problem solvers? Are they curious?
Q: How do you tell if someone is anxious?
There are specific behaviors that I look at. There are different degrees
of resistance. If people are resistant to change, they tend to be overly
critical. They’ll be silent. They’ll find reasons why it won’t work.
They’ll agree very easily. ‘Yah, that’s a great idea.’ ‘Yah, do it.’ But
they’ll fade into the background and never help you do it. These are all
signs of different degrees of resistance… I need to start communicating
with people fairly early in the process and sell the problem, not the
solution. Very often when we’re implementing a change, top management
works behind closed doors because they’ve identified a problem. Then they
spring the solution on people. You need to educate people that there is a
problem and you need to do something about it. It’s a communication plan,
Q: What communication mistakes are managers making?
If you keep introducing change after change after change, you nickel and
dime people. They start waiting for the next shoe to fall. You’ve got to
bundle changes so it’s not that constant drip, drip, drip where they
never get a moments rest.
It’s really tempting to want to avoid being in an uncomfortable situation
so you send out an email or a memo. You think, ‘Well, I told them. It’s
off my plate.’ You need to sit down face to face with people and talk
with them. Become comfortable with the discomfort. That has to be part of
the communication plan. If that’s the way you communicate with people —
in a consistent, compassionate, believable way — it can do amazing
things. It can develop trust. It can rebuild it. Memos can’t do that.