Human Resource Management for IT Leaders, Part 1

Part 1: The Role of Human Resource Management in the IT Department

Human Resource Management for IT Leaders

Human Resource Management for IT Leaders, Part 1:

  • Introduction
  • The Function of HRM in the Organization
  • The Role of HRM in IT
    • Types of Organizational Culture
    • Who Establishes the Organization’s Culture?
    • The Importance of Embracing Organizational Culture
  • Enhancing Team Member Effectiveness through Work Analysis
  • Maximizing the Benefits of Work Analysis

Introduction

We, IT Leaders, are interesting and unique creatures. Often we are exceptionally competent individual contributors (ICs) who have managed to rise through the ranks until we reach management, where we find ourselves “in charge” of other ICs.

As such, it can be tempting to believe that our superior technical capabilities elevate us above the interpesonal, human-related concerns of the rest of the company.

Indeed, many IT Leaders are tempted to ignore Human Resource Management, and focus instead on the technical and strategic requirements of their business unit. At best, this represents a missed opportunity. At worst, in can damage the morale and productivity of their employees.

My goal with this article is to illustrate how you can leverage Human Resource Management to increase employee job satisfaction and morale, and, consequently, employee productivity.

The Function of HRM in the Organization

Human Resource Management is highly administrative – that is, it deals with the policies and procedures that define how people perform their work in the company. This includes the primary functions of:

  1. Workforce Planning
  2. Performance Management
  3. Training and Development
  4. Compensation and Benefits
  5. Health and Safety
  6. Employee/Manager Relationships

As an IT Leader, you can influence how these primary HRM functions are coordinated within your business unit and help to maximize the effectiveness of the HRM system as a whole. By doing so, you are supporting the overall Business Strategy of your organization

More to the point, you are contributing to the productivity and profitability of your business unit’s employees, which is one of your core responsibilities as a manager.

The Role of HRM in IT

We will cover some of the HRM functions in this series, but others (such as Workforce Planning) will be covered elsewhere. Before doing so, however, it will be beneficial to understand organizational culture and how it impacts employee productivity.

Types of Organizational Culture

Organizational culture can be roughly defined as “the way things are done”. It is the practical application of the values, mission, and strategy of the organization as well as the aggregate attitudes, ideas, and temperament of the organization’s employees.

Understanding the type of culture your organization employs can help you to ensure personal and business unit alignment with that culture.

Broadly speaking, there are four types of organizational culture:

  • Entrepreneurial – These companies are characterized by an emphasis on creativity, innovation, and risk taking. High-tech, and market-leading firms often adopt this culture.
  • Bureaucratic – These companies are characterized by formal organizational structures and the implementation of stringent procedures, norms, and rules. Organizations that use this culture often require high levels of consistency (think regulations), and high ethical standards
  • Consensual – These companies emphasize loyalty and tradition. They encourage employees to stay with the company long-term and generally promote from within. The military is a prime example of this culture type.
  • Competitive – These companies emphasize capturing and maintaining a competitive advantage and market superiority. These are often fast-paced, and high-stress environments.

In addition to these, organizations can demonstrate a combination of two or more types, though usually one type is more dominant (a true hybridization would likely result in a culture that is conflicting and confusing to employees).

Who Establishes the Organization’s Culture?

Ultimately organizational culture is defined by the organization’s top leadership. However, each leader within the organization is responsible for how that culture is interpreted and applied within their business unit. This is why alignment is so important. A well-meaning, but misaligned leader can created conflict in their business unit by promoting a culture that conflicts with the overall culture of the organization.

The Importance of Embracing Organizational Culture

In order to maximize the benefits of your HRM system, you as the IT Leader, must embrace your organization’s culture. This is imperative. I’ve seen business units wherein the leader was aloof, and even resentful, of the organization’s culture. This is not healthy and it is not conducive to a strong, productive workforce. Indeed, the instance that I observed resulted in low morale, high turnover, and a sub-culture of resentment towards executive leadership.

The attitude that you, as the IT Leader, adopt towards your organization’s culture will be mirrored in the morale and sentiment of each of your team members.

What does it mean to embrace your organizational culture? It means that your own professional efforts are in alignment with the core values of the organization. Cultural conflict arises when individuals maintain aims and ambitions that are out of alignment with those core values.

In contrast, high levels of employee involvement and commitment lead to higher levels of performance and productivity.

This is a benefit that you, as the IT Leader, should strive to capture.

Enhancing Team Member Effectiveness through Work Analysis

Work Analysis is just what it sounds like – analyzing the work that team members are performing. This includes the content of the work and the relationships that the work facilitates.

Aside from staffing concerns, the business goals of work analysis are two-fold:

  • To ensure alignment with the organization’s culture and support of the IT Strategy
  • To ensure employee job satisfaction

If a work analysis reveals that all team members are doing work that best fulfills these two goals, then no changes are necessary. However, it is often the case that a deficiency exists that can be corrected through appropriate managerial action.

If you find that a team member’s work is not supporting the IT Strategy, or it’s revealed that a team member is not satisfied with the work they are performing, the IT Leader has a few remedial strategies that they can implement:

Job Enrichment

This is the practice of meaningfully increasing the complexity of a job to provide a team member with a greater sense of responsibility and achievement. You can use this with ambitious employees who are eager to expand their skills and knowledge.

To get the best results from Job Enrichment, it is important to expand the team member’s responsibilities in a way that contributes to their individual professional aspirations. You should know what their aspirations are based on your weekly one-on-ones (a practice that I highly recommend, and will cover in another post).

For example, if you have a PC Technician that aspires to be a System Administrator, you may choose to enrich her job by assigning her low-risk System Administration tasks. These will allow her to explore her interest in System Administration in a safe, but contributory environment.

Job Enlargement

This is the practice of adding more tasks at the same level of responsibility and skill as the team members current position. This is best used with highly competent and motivated employees who find fulfillment in their current role, but need more work to do.

Job Rotation

Job Rotation is moving employees through a variety of jobs. Although this may increase employee engagement and motivation, I find it to be less effective than Job Enrichment which is more deliberate.

However, Job Rotation does provide three unique benefits:

  1. It provides skill redundancy so that if a key employee resigns or retires, there is at least one other person who is familiar with the technical aspects of the position that employee held.
  2. Exposing employees to different responsibilities can increase empathy across sub-departments that may otherwise be susceptible to conflict (such as System Administration and Development)
  3. Exposing employees to different responsibilities may spark new interests and aspirations that would have otherwise gone undiscovered.

There are also security-related benefits of Job Rotation as well, but that is outside the scope of this article.

Cross-Training

This is similar to Job Rotation except that the primary emphasis is on cultivating skill redundancy rather than increasing employee job satisfaction.

Each of these strategies can be likened to knobs that you use to tune your business unit. One strategy by itself may not be sufficient – or it may solve an employee satisfaction problem, while failing to address an alignment problem. Do not hesitate to use a combination of various strategies to help maximize the morale and productivity of your IT Department.

Maximizing the Benefits of Work Analysis

In determining your Work Analysis strategy, there are some additional principles to remember that can help you to maximize your effectiveness:

  1. Job satisfaction is positively related to productivity
  2. The benefits of Work Analysis will compensate for the lower efficiencies related to decreased employee specialization
  3. Changing job content is generally very inexpensive
  4. Employees are likely to appreciate changes in their job content and their work relationship
  5. The more experience you gain in Work Analysis, the more successful your efforts will be
  6. Work Analysis is a long-term investment – substantial payoffs may take one to three years to materialize

Conclusion

In summation:

  1. HRM plays a unique and vital role in your organization
  2. As an IT Leader, you can leverage HRM principles to benefit your department
  3. Alignment with your organization’s culture and strategy is vital to realizing these benefits
  4. Work Analysis provides a strategic mechanism for fine-tuning the morale and productivity of your employees

I hope this article has helped you to understand some of the benefits that Human Resource Management can provide to your IT Department. In Part 2 of this series, we will discuss Hiring, Developing, and Maintaining High-Quality Talent

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