How do you evaluate your professional information technology staff?Who is responsible for those evaluations and how often do they 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 the internal IT professionals. Simply using the tools currently available to evaluate accountants may not be enough. Additionally, we recommend multiple tools and frequent communication with IT personnel.

There are four basic requirements of any performance evaluation system. It must:

* Be simple and easy to understand;

* Be future-focused;

* Include frequent communication (quarterly); and,

* Make the employee responsible.

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

* Financial - managing to a strategic technology plan and budget.

* Learning/training - continued growth in skills, certifications and training of others.

* Standards, policies and procedures - adoption of standards and documentation of firm operating policies and procedures.

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, whether internal or external. They are:

* Leadership (provides direction);

* Relationship (provides confidence); and,

* Creativity (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 chance 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 more thought and planning, and must in turn be directly related to the strategic objectives of the firm.

With this foundation (the strategic plan and the 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 strategic IT plan, which should be integrated with the firm's strategic plan. We recommend a one-page laminated IT plan that is easily understood and communicated to all employees and owners.

Without these basics, it is very difficult to focus limited resources on important objectives. Too often IT departments are getting placed into the role of "firefighters," 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 they are not defined and documented in advance. The sample form (see box, this page) is designed to be used on an annual basis, and is one of three primary tools that 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.

Human resources management requires time and is not the unique specialty of many accountants. Some of them prefer to work alone, rather than managing 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 50 percent chargeable, so don't say your firm is too busy to ignore the management of an important resource, i.e. your IT team.

Managing personnel through 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 the 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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