How to manage propeller heads and code monkeys

For IT managers who have risen from the ranks of the technical professional, leading other technical gurus can be a daunting task.

Today's technical staff have specific needs and notable characteristics that warrant special training, according to professional development firm Alexander Paterson.

Director at Alexander Paterson, Rhonda McSweeney, who was speaking to CIOs and IT line managers in Sydney last week, claims conventional methods of managing staff in a corporate environment do not work for the technical professional.

"The technical individual has a unique set of needs. Mainstream methods don't work because [techies] have a different mindset with how they work and how to extract that performance. It all comes from profiling. There's enough difference to warrant special treatment from those who lead them," she said.

McSweeney cited research conducted by the firm's US partner Blessing White in Silicon Valley over a three-year period commencing in 1995. Blessing White looked at staff from 19 national and multinational companies across various vertical sectors from the technology-oriented to engineering firms, to profile the behavioural trends of the technology professional.

She said the firm was retained to investigate "what new behaviours the new technology graduate showed and how to coach and mentor them".

"They were not responding to corporate processes and wearing the corporate uniform. If they worked late, hooked up at home on a server, then they'd come in at 10 or 11am the next morning. Managers used to toeing the corporate line were not used to this behaviour and didn't know how to manage it," McSweeney told Computerworld.

"The whole question was 'Are technical professionals so different that they require special training?' The answer, we found after observing technical individuals themselves and identifying their behavioural needs, was 'yes, there's enough uniqueness to warrant special training'.

Main motivators

McSweeney listed the six notable characteristics that research identified about today's technical professional in order or importance:

* Desire for autonomy - the technical individual is highly self-driven and motivated. They need a high level of autonomy themselves and don't respond well to micro management* Need for achievement - professionals are driven by need to accomplish goals* Participation in mission and goals - technical professionals are more resistant to committing to mandated organisational goals than are most occupational groups.

* Concern for keeping current, involvement with state-of-the-art equipment and leading edge techniques and processes and the consequent fear of being out of date * Propensity to identify with first their profession and second with the organisation - as a result the pursuit of professional goals can conflict with the attainment of department and organisational goals.

* Desire for collegial discussion and involvement, rather than hierarchical reporting relationships.

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