Managing technical staff is becoming more of a challenge daily. Even more so, when your staff are MORE technical than you are – which to some extent is expected … you are a manager and responsible for multiple area’s of the company, they are specialists and able to focus on their area to the exclusion of everything else.
In most cases technical staff are those who prefer to perform their work with little or no supervision and they often view Management “oversight” as a hindrance to their – getting the job done. They also quite often forget that at the other end of the phone line, there is a customer (or customers) that has been impacted and regardless of the fact that they “think” they can resolve the problem, there are timelines and SLAs in place to ensure that issues get escalated. Now, while “techs” are members of the team that managers depend upon heavily to resolve the problem, it is the managers responsibility to understand the “big picture” and also the challenges faced by these key members at a non-technical level.
The manager is responsible for balancing the needs of the company against the needs of these key resources and obviously directing technical staff can be a challenge. It is made even more of one, by those managers that are unable to step back and release control (or delegating). The understanding between a manager and his team must be such that trust exists at either level. You trust them to get the job done in a timely manner and escalate those problems that they are unable to handle & they trust you to keep their best interests in mind, work with them to get more training (which is something a “true” techie will never have enough of), ensure that they have the resources and training to resolve the problems that you are assigning to them and in those instances where its necessary … pull them back and away from a problem so that they do not get defeated. This mutual respect MUST be in place if the team and organization is expected to be effective.
The manager of a technically oriented department MUST have a reasonable grasp of the technologies and issues that his staff will face. They should be able to understand it at a “high” level, but it is OK to let your staff know that they are smarter than you! Remember they are skilled in their unique discipline and while you could not do their job, they are not managers and could not do your job either. It is far more important for the manager to be able to direct the staff to the right resources, tools or training when working issues. If the employee cannot perform the task with his current level of knowledge, it is incumbent on the manager and the company to ensure that appropriate and relevant training is available in a timely (& frequent) manner. Technical skills “rust” when not used and with the plethora of new technologies constantly being developed and launched it is very difficult to always be current with the newest while maintaining a grip on legacy tools/applications and knowledge.
Managers are constantly expected to do more, with less resources, regardless of the economy (think about it – in good times, the number of customers you have are increasing whereas your resources won’t (at least not at a comparative rate) as the company is in business to make a profit … in bad time, you lose staff and have to service what customers you have left with fewer and fewer resources) and unfortunately is probably one of the few constants in our world! Now, not only do you always have to do more with less, but you need to also ensure that the staff you have you KEEP! The cost of hiring/training and integrating new staff and making them useful is a topic for another day, but suffice it to say, if you have a “good ‘un”, you want to keep him! Its a fine line between customer satisfaction and employee satisfaction and its a tightrope you’ll be walking every day. I generally tend to err on the side of employee satisfaction – if you have good staff, doing a good job who are happy doing that job … customer satisfaction just comes naturally!