Keeping your IT staff Engaged and Happy – The New CIO Series

The New CIO is a weekly article about the challenges facing today’s CIO as well as what can be done to prepare for future challenges.

Today’s CIO is having a tough time. They’re being asked to do more with less.  Budgets are being slashed.  Projects are being canceled.  Tough times indeed.

What can the CIO do to make it through?  Well…many are working their staffs harder and longer.  Because, you know its time to do more with less, right?

Wrong.  Well…actually it is right…but Doing More with Less doesn’t mean you’ve got to cut your staff to the core, work them to death and ignore their personal development.

So what can The New CIO do to keep the IT staff happy, engaged and working hard?

First, understand the type of people that seek out careers in IT. Then understand what drives them.  Once you understand what drives them, give them the opportunity to work on those things that excite them.  Maybe your IT Operations guru really wants to be developer…find a way to make that happen. If your technical support lead wants to move into project management, find a way to let her work her way into a new role.

Keep focusing on personal development, listen to your team and lead your team. Do these things and you’ll have a happy & engaged IT staff who will work hard for you in good times and harder for you in the bad times.

Let’s take a look at what drives IT professionals (and perhaps many other non-IT folk).

Dreams

Many IT professionals are inquisitive and love the idea of their job.  They got into IT because they love technology and they love finding creative ways to solve problems.

Then…they get a job in ‘the real world’ where they are asked to ‘do more with less’ and worked harder then ever.  For the most part, these IT pro’s are happy working hard. They like their jobs.  They like a challenge so they do whatever it takes.  Until they realize that they aren’t appreciated.

The IT employee (and group) takes a beating from the organization when things go wrong.   The email server crashes?  You hear things like ‘those IT guys can’t do anything right’. People within the organization can’t understand why it takes so long to get anything done in IT.  They don’t realize that the IT staff is way understaffed and overworked…those things don’t cross their mind.

The IT Pro wants to do the best they can but for various reasons (overworked, stressed out, disengaged, etc) they can’t.

Disappointment

IT folk are a fickle lot.   When they feel under-appreciated (or not at all), they can get defensive and morose.  It doesn’t take long for a happy IT professional to be disappointed.

The dreams of the ‘fun’ they thought they’d have while doing what they love soon turns into a nightmare of disappointment.  They don’t feel as though they get to have any ‘fun’ because they’re so busy doing more with less.

The IT Pro is disappointed.  They are struggling to keep up with current technology.  They have to sneak some time to try to pick up new technology.  They buy books at the bookstore and try to learn new programming languages.  They try to keep up…but without a strong focus on personal development from IT leadership, the IT Pro is left alone to toil on their own.

Disengagement

Disappointment inevitably leads to Disengagement.

The IT professional has worked themselves till they are bone tired.  They don’t feel appreciated by the organization.  They feel overworked and underpaid (even though they make decent money). The IT professional has put their heart and soul into their job and, in their eyes, they’ve received nothing for their effort other than a big ol’ shiny turd landing on their desk.

Now…you’ve got a highly trained & extremely technical IT professional who’s heart isn’t in their work. They don’t feel loved.     They feel overlooked, overworked and tired.  They are on the verge of disengaging from their job…and that isn’t good.

What can The New CIO do to make a difference?

First, understand your staff.  Understand what drives them and what excites them.  Then, let them spend some time doing just that.  Push personal development & training as a top priority. Follow Google’s example of letting their folks work on personal projects for a percentage of the time.  Let your team pick up new technologies and see what they can do.  Don’t be afraid to sniff around the open source world for your next big platform or project.   If you’ve got to cut costs and projects, look at the open source world as a way to cut platform costs and let your team loose on the challenge of integrating open source into the enterprise.

Second, communicate, communicate, communicate. Oh…and don’t stop communicating. Communicate to the top of the pyramid and communicate even more to the individual contributors.    Talk about what’s being worked now and what’s being planned.  Talk about the successes and failures. Discuss your plans for the short- and long-term.  In other words…talk to your team and the organization constantly. Tell them what you are thinking…be open and honest and you’ll get some great feedback…if you listen.

On that note, the Third thing The New CIO has to do is Listen.   I capitalized that on purpose BTW.  Listening is a skill that must live within The New CIO.  You’ve got to listen to your team’s needs and to the organization’s needs.   Work on your listening skills and not just the skill to hear what people are saying…you’ve got to listen intently to what your team members & the organization are not saying.  You’ve got to understand the real issues at hand…not just what comes out of someone’s mouth.

Fourth, The New CIO must understand the businessTruly understand the business.  What does this have to do with keeping your team engaged?  Lots.  It’s hard to provide technology for an organization if you don’t understand what the organization does.  Understanding the business, and communicating that understanding to your team, will help you craft your vision and strategy for technology services.   By understanding the business and building the information technology strategy for the organization, you and your team will have a full understanding of why things are being done and where you are headed.

Lastly, The New CIO has to lead. Leadership is a key factor for keeping your team engaged. There’s nothing worse than a CIO (or any manager) who can’t make a decision and/or back their team up.  Leadership is more than ‘being in charge’…it means standing up for your staff when things are tough.  It also means that The New CIO is the person in the organization leading the charge to find better, cheaper and faster ways to get things done.

Conclusion

The New CIO has a lot on their plate.  In addition to the old standards of running technology teams, setting strategy and keeping the lights on, The New CIO has to focus on the softer skills.  Selecting the right people and keeping those people engaged in their work is a difficult job but must be at the top of the list of priorities for The New CIO.

The mantra today is ‘do more with less’…..don’t let that creep into your mind when it comes to your people.  Keep developing them, keep them happy and you’ll be amazed at how much an engaged IT team can do even in the tough times.  Keeping them engaged during the times of ‘less’ will provide an amazing advantage when the ‘good’ times come back around…you keep your team happy today and watch the exponential increase in output when the budgets come back.

Join me next Thursday for a new edition of The New CIO where I’ll be talking about the chasm between Strategy & Tactics and what we can do to close the gap.

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