Management Rules That Are Made to Be Broken

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Over time, certain “rules” for the recruitment, motivation and retention of employees have become tradition and are cited as fact by managers in all sorts of work environments. Without a doubt, tried-and-true management strategies are useful. But, as with any edict, there are circumstances when even the most widely accepted rule is meant to be broken.

Convince top candidates to join your firm. Every manager wants to hire the most talented IT professionals. However, many make the mistake of going too far to get promising prospects on board. No matter how perfect someone seems for the job, in certain instances it is actually best to end negotiations, especially if that person seems less than excited about the role.

For example, you may have found a network administrator with the precise security expertise your group needs. But if the candidate is reluctant to accept your offer because he would like a higher starting salary, going beyond the firm’s pay scale could damage morale among existing IT staff should they learn that a new hire in the same role as theirs is being paid a significantly higher wage. Any time you consider bringing in a new hire, make sure your firm is not giving up more than it receives.

Also make sure the potential employee wants to work for you. If she accepts for pay alone, yet lacks passion and motivation, the negotiations will have backfired. All things being equal, always hire the person who is most enthusiastic about working for you.

Keep employees at all costs. No manager wants to be left short-staffed, particularly during critical times such as a major Web site update or rollout of new desktop systems in multiple departments. However, despite the hassle and costs associated with turnover, it often can be a good thing. When marginal and average employees leave, it provides an opportunity to reassess your staffing situation and bring in new people with fresh perspectives. You may even discover that it makes more sense to hire replacements with completely different skill sets or to give promising employees more responsibilities.

While you want to try to retain everyone on your team, focus the majority of your efforts on your top performers. Meet with them frequently to be sure they are sufficiently challenged and satisfied in their roles. Also work with them to define long-term career paths within your organization.

Understand, too, that it’s better to prepare for change than to just react to it. Despite your best efforts, turnover will happen, so make sure you are always tapped into the candidate pool. Meet with promising IT professionals continually to ensure you have leads if someone on your team unexpectedly resigns.

Make sure your door is always open. Forming positive relationships with staff members and encouraging them to openly discuss challenges or concerns is important. If you’re too accessible, though, you risk undermining your own job performance. When people seek your advice on every detail of their IT projects or even personal issues, you lose valuable time that could be spent on more critical management tasks. Plus, your staff may become overly dependent on your input and unable to make decisions on their own.

Instead, let team members know when they should solicit your input and when they can take action independently. You also may find it useful to set certain work hours when people can contact you about urgent matters only.

Conduct annual performance reviews. Imagine your supervisor had concerns about your public speaking skills but waited 12 months to provide you with constructive criticism and advice. You would feel blindsided by the time you heard the news and wonder why you weren’t told earlier. The same is true with your employees. They need to receive feedback more than just once a year.

Use formal performance reviews to discuss long-term career goals and provide direction on achieving those objectives. Supplement these discussions with frequent meetings about where people are excelling and where improvement should be made. Never save criticism for an annual review; the undesirable behavior could become a pattern in the meantime.

While relying on management rules is often helpful, you shouldn’t blindly follow them. The techniques used one year may not be appropriate the next, so be willing to challenge tradition when necessary. Adopt a flexible approach that takes into account the unique needs of your team and current circumstances. You’ll keep your supervisory skills sharp and become more effective in your role.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis, which offers online job search services at She can be reached at


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