If you can make IT here!

February 14, 2018 at 13:24

In CFG’s most recent Member Survey, almost 50% of respondents said they had responsibility for Information Technology (IT) as a part of their management remit.  In advance of our IT Conference in March, our Director of Customer and Business Support, Martin Hubbard, discusses key issues for finance professionals when taking on this responsibility for the first time.

Martin Hubbard

Moving from any junior to senior level within finance is often a challenging period in itself, as you acquire or develop the required management skills.  At this stage, however, you are developing these skills in an environment that you should be fully confident in and where you will likely be seen as the expert.

As your career advances, at some point you will be promoted to a job that includes responsibility for an area outside of your expertise, such as IT. This can be terrifying, as for the first time in a while, people will start asking questions that you cannot answer or may not even understand.

The good news is that if you have successfully made the transition to finance manager, the generic skills you have already acquired; interpersonal and relationship-building, delegation, planning and strategy, communication, problem-solving and leadership, will be directly transferable.

When given responsibility for an area such as IT there are some do’s and don’ts to consider.

Do: Get the balance right

An early priority is to get the balance right in how much time you should spend building up your IT knowledge.  Importantly, you should resist the temptation to become an IT expert.  Try and remember how long it took you to become an expert in finance and you will realise how unrealistic this is.  You will hopefully have expert support provided by the IT Team, even if this is contracted out.  It’s generally not your role to be the IT expert and could alienate your new team if you tried.

This doesn’t mean that you won’t naturally build up more detailed knowledge over time, or that you won’t get involved with technical issues that are within your area of expertise, but it shouldn’t be a key priority.   You should aim to build up enough knowledge so you can understand the issues the team faces.  Initial time should be spent with the team getting to know the plans, goals and aspirations, as a group and as individuals.  Talk through with them what they do so that you feel you understand enough of it and so that they understand you are interested in what they do.  You will know you have the balance right when your team use IT jargon and you know enough to understand.

Don’t: Claim to be an expert (if you aren’t one!)

One problem you may face is the IT Team not wanting to be managed by a non-expert.  If you are told this directly or hear through the grapevine, ensure you tackle the issue head on.  Be open and honest; do not claim expertise that you don’t have.  Being truthful with your team will also help to build trust. Instead, try and demonstrate the value that you will add to the team.

One major difficulty when you are not the expert involves knowing when to intervene in the work of the team.  Having an agreed performance management framework, developed together with team members, enables you to monitor the outputs. This ensures that overall organisational objectives can be met, whilst allowing the team to do their jobs without you having to interfere too much.  Feedback can also be obtained via key users or other managers. If users have a similar opinion to the team on their performance then you should be confident that you don’t need to intervene.

Do: Stay positive

If you are having a moment of doubt, don’t bury your feelings, try and be positive and remember the attributes that you have that gave your manager confidence to give you the role in the first place. Don’t be afraid to seek advice and support from peers, experts, a mentor or your manager.  Whatever it is, someone else will have gone through it before.

The skills you will be developing by managing an IT Team will stand you in good stead as you progress higher and higher up the management chain. Remember, “if you can make IT here, you can make IT anywhere”.

Hear more on adding IT to the finance remit at CFG’s IT Conference 2018 on Thursday 15 March in London. Secure your early bird place now.