Job well done? Better ways to assess tech employees

As IT responsibilities evolve, managers strive for better ways to measure techies' contributions

evaluating employees

How many lines of code did you write this quarter? By how many hours (or days or weeks) were you behind in delivering your latest project? Was it over or under budget, and if so, by how much? How quickly were you able to get your last program to testing?

For many years, those were the metrics by which IT employees were judged when their performance reviews rolled around.

These days, IT managers acknowledge that writing fewer lines of code can be more efficient, that time and budget creep can be acceptable if it means getting a project done right the first time and that quickly moving a program to testing doesn't necessarily indicate a job well done.

What's more, as IT shifts from being a service provider to a strategic business partner, managers are looking for a different skill set from their workforce.

"What we value is high performance of our services and strong execution on our projects," says Joel Jacobs, vice president and CIO at The Mitre Corp., a not-for-profit science and engineering organization in Bedford, Mass., and McLean, Va.

Jacobs is clear about his expectations, and he wants to make sure each of his IT staffers is working to those objectives. The question now: How to determine if that's the case? If the days are gone when technologists were measured on straightforward, quantifiable metrics that reflected the heads-down development-focus of the typical corporate IT department -- what should replace those metrics?

"We have to decide what we measure, and that's true in any part of the organization, not just IT," says Jacobs.

Importance of informal feedback

How important is regular, high-quality, informal feedback to your success in your role?

Extremely important 49%
Important 44%
Neutral 6%
Unimportant/extremely unimportant 1%

Source: TEKsystems' survey of 3,500 North American IT professionals.

As part of the current overhaul of how Mitre evaluates its workers, including those in IT, the company evaluates the impact of what people produce alongside more traditional measures such as being on time and under budget. "What we're trying to measure is performance against our plans for existing services and new capabilities," Jacobs explains.

Wanted: Better IT assessment

Throughout the industry, managers like Jacobs are wrestling with the question of how to best measure and monitor tech workers' job performance in the face of evolving responsibilities.

Consider the findings of an October 2012 survey of 3,500 IT professionals and leaders by TEKsystems Inc. The IT staffing and consulting firm found that only about half of the respondents in either group say their managers are great at performance management.

"[Performance management] is definitely challenging, and that's why you see it not happening," says TEKsystems marketing director Rachel Russell.

But any organization that wants to maximize the value of its workers will want to make sure assessments do, indeed, get done, Russell says. Performance management, of which evaluation is an important part, is "basically how an organization leverages people to achieve what it's trying to achieve," she says. (See Key IT performance metrics for specifics.)

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