When CIOs and IT managers are challenged with unmotivated employees, dysfunctional work environments, lack of teamwork and high employee turnover, it may be an opportune time to create an intervention plan. While the IT workplace can be a fertile environment for productivity, unfortunately it also harbors a wide variety of negative behaviors. Why do these behaviors occur, how do they affect work productivity and, quite simply, how can we fix things? For an effective, seasoned IT manager, these issues are easily identified. In a sense, a successful IT manager is similar to a play director. If the director puts people in specific roles and situations, he or she can predict how the actors will interact, react and perform. Having this skill is important to identifying problems in the work environment. After a dress rehearsal, you are ready for the grand performance. Here are 10 strategies to create a culture you want IT to be.
- Communication: This topic is endlessly discussed as an internal and external IT problem, but rarely remedied. Having a communication practitioner within your IT department is essential. The job of this person is to take the complex and make it understandable. IT practitioners know the technology, but many times have difficulty explaining it in simple terms. Communication should always be clear, concise and frequent.
- Cross-Pollination: An effective way to improve internal IT communication is to promote cross-pollination of IT unit meetings. Units should invite each other to their specific meetings and agendas should be consistently shared, archived and regularly disseminated. Meetings should also be used to inform IT staff what work their colleagues do, and how to find ways to work more closely together. Ensuring staff are on the same page leads to a team approach regarding issues and resolutions. Cross-pollinating end users issues with IT employee solutions can create important relationships.
- Empowerment: If employees do not feel empowered, it’s difficult to feel motivated. Asking your employees how they can feel empowered is important. Feeling empowered can inspire employees to work harder and to more readily embrace change.
- Ownership: Putting employees in situations where they can own and lead a project can help motivate them to try things they may have been afraid of, or had been unwilling to take risks for.
- Risk: Risk is tied to ownership. If you are encouraged to “own” a project, the employee will be more willing to accept change, and take on risks they would not normally tackle. What happens if they fail? Taking calculated risks helps us navigate potential failure.
- Failure: It's difficult to admit something didn't work, especially in front of your colleagues. While we may fear failure, we can learn from this important element. Tom Edison once said, “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.” If your employee fails, they should not be teased or publicly ridiculed. Employee failures should be celebrated and learned from.
- Leadership: An IT department needs both leaders and managers. A leader will develop the vision, motivate the employees and guide staff members toward a departmental or institutional goal. A manager brings the unit together to accomplish the goal. A key component of effective leadership is to practice servant leadership. This concept embodies the concept to serve others, either the staff members around you, or your clients. The core concepts in this article can be traced back to specific elements of servant-leadership to lead and manage, as you would want others to lead or manage you.
Managers should literally promote an “open door policy” to encourage open discussion. Providing consistent and constant access to the management team is essential. Managers should emphasize and support collaboration. During project meetings, managers should ask the question, “Who was not at the table last time, who should be invited to the next meeting?” Asking this question helps provide a sense of community and inclusion.
- Professional Development: Investing annually toward staff improvement in technical, customer service and leadership skills is an investment in the individual and the enterprise. Too often departments invest in hardware solutions, rather than devoting funding toward employee training. Investing in professional development can pay big dividends and show the employees you are willing to invest in them.
- Innovation: Creating dynamic team environments fosters innovation. Creating an environment, which promotes innovation, will stimulate creative thinking to encourage staff members to “think outside the proverbial box” and create strategic and effective solutions to problems.
- Empathy: Understanding your employees' background, work and personal lives can help managers make strategic yet empathetic choices. Employees who feel management understands their individual situations helps create an environment of teamwork. It helps employees to more willingly accept change. Having empathy for employees, as well as clients, helps create a dynamic, trusting and lasting workplace.
Creating a sustained positive IT culture takes time. It requires consistent commitment, cooperation and communication to be successful. The key for positive change in your IT enterprise is to start the process and celebrate the small steps. If you make steady, consistent progress, you will positively change your IT culture.