You'll need a bit of finesse to manage tech employees.
They go by a variety of labels, ranging from the reasonably respectful "technical staff member" to the more casual "techie." Whatever their title, if you find managing the techies on your staff a challenge, there's good reason for it.
"A technical professional is someone skilled in one or many technical disciplines--everything from software development, code writing and database design to automotive engineering and jet engine maintenance," says David Rubin, a training consultant with Princeton, New Jersey-based Blessing/White Inc. who specializes in training managers within technical environments. "Technical professionals are problem-solvers and fixers. In the proper environment, they are highly motivated--in fact, passionate--about their work. At the same time, they bring unique values and expectations to the workplace, and these need to be recognized and understood if you are to manage these professionals successfully."
Rubin says that as a group, technical professionals share some traits, including a desire for autonomy, a need for achievement, a fear of technical obsolescence, a need to participate in mission- and goal-setting; and a need for peer support, stimulation and sharing. "Traditional management principles meet with only minimal success when applied to technical professionals," says Rubin. To get the maximum performance out of your technical staff, Rubin offers these tips:
- Include techies when setting goals. When you're establishing short- and long-term goals, bring your people in on the process in some way. "Involving your technical staff in goal-setting generates higher motivation and more job satisfaction," says Rubin. "Then, where possible, give them some autonomy over conditions, pace and work style."
- Take maximum advantage of their abilities. "Design your operations in a way that allows each of your tech pros to operate at a level that challenges them," says Rubin.
- Communicate how their work is important. Show them the big picture; explain to them how their individual efforts are a critical part of the whole.
- Encourage them (and provide opportunities for them) to interact with each other to solve problems. "Being in a cubicle day after day is fine for some plants, but not for people," Rubin observes.
- Provide recognition and rewards. "Reward them for their efforts, even if it's just with a mention in the company newsletter or a complimentary dinner once per quarter," Rubin advises. "Find a way to let them know their efforts are appreciated."
Finally, Rubin says, spend time with your technical staff, both on a formal and informal basis. "Talk with them. Ask questions and keep your ears open. Learn from them, and allow them to learn from you. Two-way communication is the key to making it all work."