How do you evaluate your professional information technology staff?  Who is responsible for that evaluation and how often do evaluations occur?

While these are basic human resources questions, we find that many firms do not have fair and equitable systems in place to ensure the anticipated results, as well as to provide a professional career path for internal information technology professionals. Simply using the tools that are currently available to evaluate accountants may not be enough. Additionally, we recommend multiple tools and frequent communication with IT personnel.

The evaluation criteria is consistent with a balanced scorecard approach. The four primary areas that internal information technology personnel should be evaluated on are:

1. Financial: Managing to both a strategic technology plan and a budget.
2. Learning/training: Continued growth in skills, certifications and training of others.
3. Standards, policies and procedures: Adoption of standards and documentation of operating policies and procedures.
4. End-user satisfaction: The customer is the end user.

The other focus of evaluations should be on how the person adds value to the firm.  While value may be subjective to some, there are three basic characteristics in adding value (internal or external). They are:

1. Leadership: The employee provides direction.
2. Relationships: The employee provides confidence.
3. Creativity: The employee provides new capabilities.

Evaluation criteria alone are not enough. Many firms attempt to start the evaluation process without a basic foundation. A written strategic plan built upon a clear vision, mission, core values and prioritized strategic objectives will dramatically increase the chances of employee success.

Getting the right person in the right job is the key. Job descriptions will greatly increase the success of the employee and the satisfaction of the firm.   It is difficult to clearly define the job without a strategic game plan. This is especially true in jobs that are not front-stage production jobs. Back-stage jobs require thought and planning, and must be directly related to the strategic objectives of the firm.

With this foundation (the strategic plan and job description) in place, the evaluation is much easier and the entire process is far more objective.  IT personnel should be evaluated based upon their contribution to the firm’s strategic IT plan (which should be integrated with the firm’s strategic plan).

Keep it simple
We recommend a one-page laminated IT plan that is easily understood and communicated to all employees and owners.   Without these basic building blocks, it is very difficult to focus limited resources on important objectives. Too often, IT departments get placed into the role of “fire fighters” rather than “builders of strategic initiatives.” Thus, IT personnel are often looked at as “overhead,” rather than as strategic assets and part of the firm’s team.

It is very difficult for IT personnel to meet expectations if the expectations are not defined and documented in advance. The accompanying form is designed to be used on an annual basis, and is one of three primary tools we recommend in addition to a strategic plan and job description. The other tools are a 90-day personal game plan and a quarterly review of accomplishments. Focusing on accomplishments builds confidence, and confidence is necessary for learning and growth.

Who will manage?
Human resource management requires time, and is not a unique ability of many accountants. Some prefer to work alone rather than manage people. Determine who the managers are in your firm and provide them with the tools to create the environment for success. You will find that, with the right tools, the time requirements are insignificant, while the results are significant.

Recent firm statistics show that most firms are less than 50 percent chargeable, so don’t say that your firm is too busy to deal with the management of an important resource (your information technology team).

Personnel management by way of improved planning, documentation of expectations and quarterly reviews appears to be a good use of some of this non-chargeable time. Training and learning are the other areas that will contribute most to profitability, and the attraction and retention of quality personnel.

L. Gary Boomer, CPA, is the president of Boomer Consulting, in Manhattan, Kan.

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