In an industry as high stakes as IT where one small mistake could spell disaster for an entire organization, delegating and assigning roles to your team is one of the most important functions of a manager.
When your team has a firm grasp on their job descriptions and they know what you expect out of them, a well-trained and skilled IT team should be an efficient asset to any organization.
Make sure you have the right people in the right places
According to Corey Kirkendoll, president and CEO of Texas-based managed IT services firm 5K Technical Services, the first step is to make sure the right team members are in place.
“The first thing we do is make sure that first of all, we have all the right people with the right skills on the bus and hired in the first place,” Kirkendoll says.
Next, managers should evaluate how each employee communicates effectively, which should managers an idea of how they need to communicate to each employee.
“So we give them the necessary skills that they need so we have a good understanding of how they communicate, how they react and what motivates them so we can put them in the appropriate role,” Kirkendoll says.
However, without a clearly defined, written job description that spells out what each employee is responsible for, there could be some gray area.
A job description ensures that employees are fully aware of their goals, objectives, what is expected of them, who they answer to and what their day-to-day should be.
“They should know 100% what’s expected of them and everything they need to do to perform to meet their goals and objectives,” Kirkendoll says.
Balancing the day-to-day, emergencies and special tasks
There are two essential components to an IT staff’s workload: day-to-day housekeeping and special projects. This includes day-to-day tasks like scheduled maintenance, routine updates and monitoring along with emergencies like responding to cybersecurity attacks and outages.
According to Kevin Rubin, chief information officer and president of Illinois-based Stratosphere Networks, this means planning for the known daily work and being ready to respond to any elevated requests.
Daily delegating and having a good plan of attack for each day will help set the IT staff up for success, Rubin says.
“If it’s a ticket, making sure that you understand what it is, making sure you’re asking the right questions so that it can be delegated to the right technical resource,” Rubin says. “Sometimes people aren’t qualified to address an issue. Every technologist wants to resolve it, but some people might take two days versus 15 minutes.”
Some tasks should be elevated to higher-level staff like managers or chief information officers, depending on the size of the organization.
If delegated appropriately and effectively, the day-to-day tasks should be almost completely handled by staff without intensive supervision.
Project work and client emergencies will typically involve the IT manager, Rubin says.
“When it comes to project work, that’s where it starts with that director or IT manager level,” Rubin says. “They can help kick everything off.”
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Communication is key
However, IT is susceptible to rapid change due to security threats, software patches, new products and updates. So, after a job description is produced and documented, managers should have regular one-on-one meetings with each employee to make sure everyone is still aligned.
“We ensure that things they’re working on always align to their job responsibilities and the things that they need to be focused on to make sure they stay on track,” Kirkendoll says.
If an employee has doubts about what they’re supposed to do, they will always have the job description to fall back on.
Even if there is a job description and regular one-on-one meetings, managers should be hesitant to make the assumption that IT staff – especially new employees – know how to get the job done.
According to Kirkendoll, most in IT are type A personalities and are reluctant to speak up when they don’t know how to do something. So when managers delegate, they should follow up with questions to make sure employees know how to carry out those tasks
However, managers should also acknowledge that IT professionals typically come into the job with some degree of skills, knowledge and education. They’re ready to attack the IT field.
“So, I’m not going to get in the weeds and tell you how to pull cable out of the box, put it together and go,” Kirkendoll says. “But I do have a high level of expectation.”
That means communication from the top down is critical to ensure each customer and end user is given the tools they need to carry out their duties.
Choosing tasks to delegate
Managers should be authorities who can dole out specific tasks to their employees, but that should stop short of offloading tasks the manager doesn’t want to do.
Tasks should only be delegated if they aren’t core to what the managers do each day. Tasks that typically fall under a manager’s responsibility should rarely be delegated to employees.
If a manager has the confidence in an employee to carry out a specific task without involving the manager, that task should be delegated, Kirkendoll says.
However, managers should be aware that delegating tasks that usually fall under a manager’s purview could be setting someone up for failure.
“I can give them the responsibility, but if they can’t get it done or don’t have the authority to get it done, that’s always going to come back to me and I’m going to think that this person is no able to do things,” Kirkendoll says.
Choosing which tasks to delegate is however a balancing act. Managers should be able to field questions from their staff if they need help on a project, so they shouldn’t be overburdened with duties that could easily be delegated out.
“It’s almost setting them up for failure because they’re not going to be able to follow all the way through,” Kirkendoll says. “But if I have managers not available or too busy, it makes it almost impossible to complete that task.”
Assigning roles and evaluating strengths
Effective communication, having clear expectations and delegating the right tasks are critically important to running a well-oiled IT team, but managers also need to decide which employees are assigned what roles.
In typical IT environments, technicians are placed into junior or senior levels, each with tiers that correlate to their skill level, knowledge and length of employment. This is where job descriptions become more important.
“If they’re a junior tech, they have certain things they’re allowed to do,” Kirkendoll says.
Many in IT have similar skill sets, but expertise can differ between employees. Managers should evaluate where each is strongest and place them in that role to set them and the team up for success, Kirkendoll says.
Technology is a fluid field with new devices, software and threats emerging daily. That means IT professionals need to constantly stay up to date on new trends, which opens the door for career growth.
“A lot of technology professionals want to grow their skill set, want to be exposed to more, more advanced technologies or different types of technologies to keep them growing,” Rubin says. “The challenges within you know, within normal businesses, it’s hard to continue to task IT professionals with growth, because a lot of it is keeping the lights on doing day-to-day and then maybe doing one or two projects a year, which might be tasked to the higher level or the managerial level.”
A good way to get employee buy-in and keep staff satisfied is investing in their professional growth with continuing education and professional certifications.
Trust and accountability
If your employees don’t trust your leadership, they won’t respect their job descriptions and won’t have the confidence that they’re in the right role. On the flipside, IT managers need to trust that their employees can carry out the essential functions of their job without being micromanaged.
An environment that fosters trust will make delegating easier, help employees settle into their roles and empower staff to grow their careers.
According to Rubin, trust should be a core value in any organization, but especially on an IT team where employees might have access to sensitive information.
“You want to make sure you build the team around you based on trust and accountability,” Rubin says.
That also plays into employee retention and recruitment.
“People want to go to work with people that are trusting, accountable and have certain core values,” Rubin says. “It’s extremely important that employees have a fiduciary responsibility to the team, their pers and the company to make sure that they’re doing what’s in everyone’s best interest.”
Managers should empower employees to stand, but let them know that it’s OK to fail, Kirkendoll says.
“We’re not perfect, but we should learn from those mistakes so we don’t keep making the same mistakes,” Kirkendoll says.
Managers should maintain an open-door policy and should not be afraid to get in the trenches with staff. This helps managers stay available to staff if there are any questions about how to do their job.
“No question is a stupid question – especially in the world of IT,” Kirkendoll says. “If one of us fail, we all fail.”