From solving competing priorities that are affecting your resources to when to ratchet up the risk management opportunities on a high profile project that is approaching a critical deadline, as a MidWest IT manager, you are constantly forced to make decisions. IT Engineers are also constantly making decisions, but the impact has a slightly more narrow focus where as, an IT Manager’s decisions have a much wider, more macro focus. Plenty of the IT Manager’s job stress is directly related to having to constantly make decisions that have a macro as opposed to micro impact within the organization. This article touches on some considerations for IT Managers to judge when one is solely empowered to make a decision compared to when it is more appropriate to solicit feedback from peers and senior management prior to making a decision in an effort to reduce that stress. Or more simply, as the article is titled, an attempt to help you reach out to your peers, staff and management to answer the question of how much decision latitude does an IT Manager have within their organization?
In the previous article, once you got past the mild disclaimer, the article dove into the first consideration of engaging your manager what will most likely be a series of discussions surrounding the autonomous decision making abilities extended to you and how much your manager is willing to support. In this article, adding the considerations of engaging your peer managers and your direct reports in extending you decision latitude purview.
Consideration #2 = Peers, what decisions can and can’t you make?
Along the similar thought process of strategically asking your boss for decision latitude parameters, leverage you new job or role assignment to engage with peer managers for their feedback. Consider the example decision latitude conversation starting questions below:
“Hey Bob, I’m new to Company X as the manager of the FlimFlam engineering team. I heard you are the manager of the enterprise integration team. At my last place, I had to get five signatures on a form and a stamp of approval from a review committee in order to get a decision on the name of a software component. How does decision making for stuff like that happen here from your perspective?”
“Hey Sally, I think we met before. You are in the customer service department as the shared services manager, right? I used to be the support manager in the IT employee services department. Due to the re-org, I am now the manager of the FlimFlam engineering team in the customer delivery department. Where I came from, I had to get five signatures on a form and a stamp of approval from a review committee in order to get a decision on the name of a server. How does decision making for stuff like that happen here from your perspective?”
By and large, people enjoy sharing their opinions. Also, people generally respect and appreciate a well articulated question that appeals to their superior knowledge in their area of expertise. Thus, another by product is a peer manager you may need to work with heavily in your new role will have a positive initial impression of you. Additionally, you gain valuable insight into their personality, professional capability and leadership style that could be handy when the future need arises to interact with this individual in a potentially challenging situation.
Can they form a well thought out, intelligent response to your question? Yes, they maybe worth spending more time with gaining knowledge about your new surroundings. No, they maybe a low priority time investment going forward. Do they immediately reveal they have an ego that indicates their cube might not be big enough for both you and their ego to fit comfortably? Yes, and then file this away for a future encounter where an ego stroking communication style would benefit the next exchange. Do they appear overwhelmed and oozing stress from every pore in their being? Yes, then whatever feedback they provide might not be particularly valuable since they could very well be stressed due to ineffective decision making.
The topic of decision latitude is a great excuse to get some valuable interaction and intelligence from your peer managers. One note, the above question and answer examples are just some thoughts to get your head thinking and not a direct mapping to a finite decision latitude specific determination. Many other factors could be motivating an individual to respond to your initial queries a certain way such as an out side of work challenging situation. Thus, the above suggestions are a means to get you thinking about starting dialogs with your peer managers to start to build a decision latitude framework that is ever evolving.
Consideration #3 = Ask your direct reports how decisions were made previously?
In the same thematic vein as interacting with your peer mangers, asking your new direct reports on how decisions were made prior to your arrival is another wealth of decision latitude information with a similar by product: ability to start building trust with team.
A fault of some IT engineers that get promoted into management or sometimes managers in general get a sense that because they are managers, they must make decisions because they are managers. Be it ego or the power trip that comes with having influence over others, some managers tend to assume they know everything and thus must make all decisions without consulting anyone let alone their direct reports. Nothing reduces engineering employee engagement and morale more than an engineering team that has a manager that is off making all kinds of crazy decisions without consulting his or her staff. Time after time I’ve seen these individuals consistently get reorganized from team to team until they eventually get lolipopped** on the organization chart. Does anyone want to take a guess on who disappears in the next round of staff reductions?
Using this situation to your advantage, a great way to start to establish a rap pour with your new team is to solicit their feedback on how their previous management made critical decisions. They probably have a laundry list of past examples of good and bad scenarios. What is the old adage? Those that don’t learn from the past are doomed to repeat it from the Spanish philosopher George Santayana. Your new team probably has some great stories where their previous management went off and made a crazy decision to do something and the corporate drama that ensued. Take this opportunity to allow them to share the details of decisions gone haywire. Plus, listen to how each contributes to the discussion. Who is talking the most? Who has the most passion in their description of past events? Who zones out during the discussion and has nothing useful to contribute? The conversation will give you clues to how your new position fits into the organization’s decision making process. Additionally, you will be able to gather valuable insight into your new team and what makes up and novitiates each individual.
Finding yourself in a new leadership position within a different department within your current company or starting a brand new job, how an IT manager participates in the decision making process can easily map to a how stressful the job turns out to be. Running around feeling compelled to make quick, off the cuff decisions in an organization that possesses a culture of methodically researched decisions is one way find your job stress going up. On the contrary, a culture where an engineering team doesn’t use the restroom without consulting with management is going to take a different approach to go from day one decision making to day X where you ultimately desire the decision latitude to exist within your sphere of influence. Using the newness of your role presents a great opportunity to consult with your manager, peer managers and you new team members to get some decision making parameters. Additionally, you’ll have the side benefits of starting a valuable dialog with your new manager around how they expect your role to be successful. You will also have the ability to get a feel for how your role was or is expected to function within your department’s peer management pool. Finally, by tapping the past experiences around good and bad decisions that impacted your new direct reports, you will gain valuable insight into what worked and what didn’t work in the past. You will also begin to establish a rap pour with your new as a manager willing to listen and understand rather than command and control out of the gate. This process of understanding the decisions latitude at your prevue is on going. You can expect the minute you get a sense of comfort that you have a good grasp of when you can just decide on the spot rather than form a committee to launch a research team, there will be a re-organization or an acquisition or some other corporate event that will throw the balance out of whack. Keep expecting the variability to be the normal state and try a more scientific rather than trial and error approach to having a good sense of your decision latitude.
** “Lollipopped” slang for a senior position on an organizational chart that doesn’t have any direct reports when peers at the same level have staff and potentially additional management layers below them.