IT PROfile— Melissa Hunt, National Director of Technology Support (Grant Thornton LLP)

ITPN_2014_10_IT_PROFILE_imageHow’d you get started in IT?

I’ve been in IT now for 23 years. I started out right out of college doing purchasing of components for IT. I was always intrigued by IT, but when I was in school you basically had to go the computer science route or the business route and I chose the business route. They didn’t have many IT options. So when I saw an opportunity where I could use my business degree and learn more about IT at the same time, it intrigued me.

So I started out doing procurement of IT components, then I moved to professional services support. I started working for Arthur Andersen in 1992, and picked up doing all the procurement for IT in the Dallas office. Eventually I got into leadership of imaging and asset management, and eventually led our entire IT group within the Dallas office. I did that for awhile, had regional and national roles, and when Andersen was getting ready to close its doors I actually shut down IT operations within the Dallas office.

I moved to Grant Thornton in 2003. I was hired on as regional technology manager, and that role’s major focus was building relationships with office managing partners (OMPs) and regional managing partners (RMPs).

The legacy regional technology managers were more technical in nature and struggled with the relationship piece the OMPs/RMPs were looking for. They had a hard time putting things in layman’s terms, so everybody could understand it. I built solid relationships in this role for 4 years, then transitioned into my current role—Director of Technology Support. I’m responsible for service desk, video conferencing, mobile devices and field support. Today, I have responsibility for all the regional technology managers (who we now call service delivery managers-SDMs).

Was there a specific point in your career where you knew “I want to be on the leadership side of IT,” rather than stay in software and the technical side?

Yeah, I was always more intrigued with the people side of things. I’m passionate about the technology, and I like to learn about the technology, but I was always driven to do better—and to make better IT organizations—by improving relationships & figuring out what we as an IT organization can do make the business more successful.

So early on I decided I wanted to go down the leadership path. To stay more focused on the people side—and the leadership side—versus the technical.

What is your general leadership philosophy, and what skills do you think are important to develop as a leader—both to succeed in your own role, and to take responsibility for your team?

You have to have really good communication skills and in particular excellent listening skills. To me, being present, truly listening and hearing what people say is the most important part of being a successful communicator.

Getting to know your employees is also very important—spend time with them! I have 65-70 employees scattered across the US, so it’s hard to get to know everyone, but investing the time in the relationships is worth it and the payback is amazing. At a minimum, I have skip-level one-on-ones every other year. I get to know what drives them, what they are passionate about; if they’re potential leaders I can tap into that and keep them in mind for future opportunities. If they’re more technical, we keep them in mind for operational-type roles down the road.

And I encourage my managers to get to know their people too. We share a lot of things on share-point sites, since we’re a virtual team. For example, if there’s a big snow event in the Northeast, we’ll get people to go out and take a few quick photos of their kids or pets playing in the snow, and share them on our site. We try and get creative and add more human touches, instead of always focusing on the IT side of things.

I also try to make sure my management team has a varied background when it comes to personality traits. If you look at it from a DISC assessment perspective: we have some Ds that are dominating, some Ss that are steady, and a couple of the Cs that are very analytical. Then we have an I that is very social and a cheerleader, of sorts. We have a good blend of all the different types of personalities. And if you look at me from a DISC perspective; I’m an S.

As far as my leadership style— I’m a firm believer in empowering my people. Make sure your team has a firm understanding of the business goals, the IT goals and make sure they are in alignment. Then just get out of the way and let them do the work, guiding them when they need it. If you take time to hire the right people, there is no need to micromanage them.

What are the biggest challenges you’re seeing IT people face today—both within your team, and more generally?

The speed at which information comes at us. Things are constantly changing. As a result, you should beef up your skills in change management! You have to decide if the Cloud is the right solution for you. Then you’re going to have to deal with BYOD and decide to what degree you’re going to have to deal with BYOD. Just staying sharp from a technical perspective is challenging.

But while we stay sharp from a technical perspective, I push my team to stay sharp from a customer-service perspective, as well.

I’m encouraging my managers and my supervisors to really look for people who are customer service savvy first, and then who have the desire and the passion to learn the technology—because you can teach the technology, but you can’t necessarily teach the customer service aspect.

Is it hard to find that combination?

It’s definitely a challenge to find well-rounded IT people, and the more technical their roles are, the more challenging it can be. You have to look longer and harder. You have to find the right recruiters who have a good understanding of what you’re looking for.

Aside from listening, which you mentioned before, what other “soft skills” you consider especially valuable?

Relationship building. That’s key no matter what level you’re at within the organization. You have to be able to build relationships at all levels. In our organization it’s a partnership, so you have to be able to communicate with staff all the way up to partners because you’re interacting with all levels on a daily basis.

If you started your career over tomorrow, what would you do differently?

The only thing I would do differently is get my master’s degree with a focus on both IT and human behavior (or emotional intelligence). I have a BBA in general business, which I think has served me well (especially working with professional services organizations). Having a solid understanding of the business has helped me throughout my career, but focusing on the behavioral side of things is very intriguing, as well.

I like to observe people. I learn a lot just by observing, listening, and paying attention to what’s going on with people around me. When you’re interacting with C-level executives, or partners within our firm—you can learn so much just from observing how they conduct themselves and determine which values and traits you want to emulate.

Access our Free Resources

Sign up today and gain instant access to our collection of free resources including reports, videos, and our newsletter archive.