If you’ve been in IT for a while, you’re probably used to sitting through year-end budget meetings where you’re asked or challenged to defend the technology requests for the new year. Questions about EOL hardware and software always seem to be on the table because those are topics most executives approving budgets can comprehend. But if you only discuss the routine, you’re missing out on an opportunity to move your company and department ahead than where you were in 2015.
Don’t assume departmental budgets are set in stone. I’ve worked at companies where budgets deviated very little from year to year, but the last two mid-sized companies operated on a more fluid budget plan where the department heads who could best justify their business needs wrapped up the lion’s share of the budget.
This week I’d like to discuss a few topics IT managers might consider as part of their 2016 planning. These topics overlap with discussions you’ll have with your team and your superiors.
Have I constructed the right mix of talent?
Many managers perform employee reviews in January or February, and this allows them to consider whether or not they have constructed the right team. I was watching an NBA game the other night, and Hall of Fame player and former coach of the Houston Rockets, Kevin McHale, was discussing how the most talented teams don’t always win the NBA title. He gave a few examples of teams stacked with talented players, but without the right mix of talent or personalities. He mentioned how he admired Steve Kerr, coach of the Golden State Warriors and his ability to mesh talent and personalities along with the right mix of role players to put together the greatest start in NBA history.
Not all of us have massive budgets or a Steph Curry-type talent to elevate the performance of our teams. But each manager should assess each of her employees and determine if they are in the best position to succeed. I recently had a discussion with a colleague of mine who I assumed would never want to leave the lucrative sales position she’s held for nearly a decade. She shared with me that she wanted to move into research and publishing. She’d been through the last formal review process with the same manager going on four years, but never mentioned she’d like to work towards moving to another department. Asking these type of questions of all your direct reports will help you assemble the right mix of seasoned and new talent. It will also allow valuable long-term employees to search for new opportunities inside instead of outside the walls of your company.
It’s never easy to discuss parting ways with an underperforming employee or one with a toxic attitude, but through experience I’ve found it’s better to act sooner than later. Looping in HR to the discussion is critical. Don’t go about this on your own without their input and assistance. I’ve never regretted speaking to HR early in the process. HR will advise you of any previous issues, legal considerations and may be able to share information that helps raise the employee’s performance or help to locate another position in the company where he or she can succeed. Sometimes the devil you know is better than the one you don’t when it comes to working with challenging employees.
The best businesses are always evaluating and recruiting new talent.
Should I rent instead of own? (SAS vs. Licensing)
With more SAS options arriving each year, this is never an easy question to answer, but it doesn’t hurt to review where you stand in terms of SAS vs. licensing your software. Some companies like Adobe have moved entirely to a SAS model. Designers who were unhappy with this move three years ago might be chomping at the bit to get their hands on the latest version of Photoshop or Premiere today. Other products that don’t change a lot from year-to-year might be worth owning.
This past year I witnessed a company move from their home-grown CRM to Salesforce.com while also implementing Slack across the company. The amount of training required to get all employees moved over to these platforms was less than anticipated, but that’s often not the rule. I recently upgraded from version 7 to version 11 of my favorite remote control/remote access program and spent several hours getting familiar with the changes and new features. If January is a slower month for your business, upgrading software might not put a large strain on employees, but it’s still wise to schedule the necessary training so they feel comfortable with those changes.
Any licensing discussion can quickly change into a budget discussion so be prepared to discuss both when making any modifications to the software platforms. SAS might be all the rage today, but it may not make operational sense for your company so don’t feel pressured to move to it unless you can articulate the tangible benefits. I’ve found that executives love SAS because it can make budgeting for software more predictable over time, but it shouldn’t be the only consideration.
How do we collect and act on feedback?
Nobody questions the value of collecting feedback from paying customers, evaluating that feedback and working to resolve the most prominent issues with the service or product. Somehow gathering feedback from paying customers became the only feedback worth collecting, but that’s changing quickly. IT departments have “customers” they just tend to be internal customers, but they are no less important.
This is a good time to review how IT feedback is collected. I’ve worked at companies where IT followed up with an email after each ticket was closed which included a link to an online survey. Consider how you can increase your close rate by making it easier for employees to provide feedback. I’m more likely to provide good feedback about three questions than I am to take a survey with twenty questions.
If you offer your customers only one method to provide feedback, you might consider adding more. I do contract work for a company where feedback wasn’t collected until about three years ago. We started by sending emails to customers. Over time we moved to calling a subset of customers and asking one or two questions. Over time, we’ve found that providing more than one way for customers to reach us with their comments works best.
The best way I’ve found to collect better quality feedback is to act on the feedback you receive. It sounds simplistic but employees will provide you with good quality comments if they see you’re acting on feedback they’ve given. You might need to take the lead and show your team that you’re serious about collecting and acting on feedback. If they that it’s important to you, it will be important to them.
There’s always so many loose ends calling for your time and attention at the end of the year that it’s easy to get bogged down in administrative tasks. If you haven’t already, I hope you’re able to take some time away from the office and consider the larger goals for your team. Is there new technology on the horizon you’d like to jump on in 2016? Have the overall business goals changed or are they still in line with yours?
When I worked in IT, I was asked each year how my team was going to provide more value than the previous year. That’s not an easy question to answer, but I would take the time to reframe the question in order to determine and/or confirm that the goals of my team were still in line with the overall business. I’ve found when those goals are in sync, it’s easier for both sides to move forward with confidence into the new year.
Good luck and a prosperous 2016 to you!