Sunday, December 5, 2010

Study notes on Cobit: Managing IT human resources

It is the people who will make or break the IT capability

Suppose that you have in place the best IT processes in the world and all the resources you want, but what if:

  • Your programmers are always blamed by their manager for any faults found in the software while he takes all the credit (motivation issue)?

  • Your system administrators don't care about security and use simple passwords (attitude issue)?

  • Your business analysts can't communicate with the users smoothly and pushing the users away (skill issue)?

  • Your support personnel are not familiar with the services being provided (skill issue)?

  • Your architect was actually hired by a competitor to steal your business secrets (law and ethic issue)?

Then there is no way for you to deliver business values through IT. Therefore, after all it is the people who will make or break your IT capability. Therefore, it is critical that you ensure your people:

  • tend to comply by the laws and ethics.

  • have the required skills.

  • have the required attitudes.

  • are motivated.

How? These items are of different natures so you need to treat them differently.

People tending to comply by laws and ethics

Most people do try their best to comply by laws and ethics. To ensure that it is indeed the case (in particular, if you're in a sensitive business such as department of defense or drug research company), you can perform a background check, like:

  • check if the candidate has a criminal record.

  • check with his previous company to see why he left or why he was fired.

  • check his public records such as blogs, Facebook, forum postings for any tendency for illegal activities.

People with the right skills

There are many skills in IT that can come and go easily (e.g., Netware administration). So, instead of hiring a person who has such a particular skill, you may look for someone with the ability to learn, by self-study or training, then create a training plan for him and other employees on an annual basis to meet the then current demands.
However, there are some fundamental skills that is very hard to acquire. For example, the skill to write readable code, the skill to diagnose a problem, the skill to search for answers, the skill to understand others, the skill to think strategically, the skill to think out of the box and etc. If such skills are important to you, you should hire the people with such skills.
How to test if the candidate possesses such skills? Usually I will just give him some practical tests. For example, to see if he can search for answers, ask him some questions and tell to him search for answers and see how good he is.

People with the right attitudes

Attitude is very much like the fundamental skills above. It is difficult to change a person's attitudes:

  • Pessimistic vs optimistic

  • Risk-aversive vs risk taking

  • Blaming others vs responsibility taking

  • Improvising vs planned

  • Self-centered vs empathic

  • Following vs leading

  • Negative vs positive

  • ...

Therefore, you should hire the people with the desired attitudes. How to test if the candidate possesses such attitudes? Usually I will ask him for his past actions. For example, to see if he has the leading attitude, ask him if he has taken any initiative to lead people to solve a problem.

Motivating people

Motivation is not something you do when hiring. It is what you do everyday. This is like fueling your engine constantly. How to motivate people?
First of all, money or other extrinsic rewards don't really motivate people. Why not? For example, let's say you got a pay raise of MOP2,000, you would be motivated and work harder, right? What if you found that all the other colleagues got a pay raise of MOP4,000? Then you would be demotivated even though you had more money. It means what you really care is the recognition of your value, not the money you receive.
From my experiences the following simple actions do motivate people:

  • Trust (autonomy). Trust your staff members and let them decide how to achieve the targets you set. Do not micromanage.

  • Praise (recognize). Praise them for the good things they have done.

  • Help. Help them remove the obstacles they face. Help them become better to avoid any similar bad things from happening.