Keeping Your Best and Brightest, Part II

By Joe Santana

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For some of you, administering the survey from my column last month to your teams may have provided a pleasant surprise.

For others, however, the results may have been less then stellar and led to the next set of questions, "What make it so hard to get things done in my organization and what can I do about it?"

Some IT organizations approach productivity challenges by adopting one of the many best practice systems, such as ITIL, Six Sigma or any of the other less well known flavors of month improvement practices. These all provide positive benefits. All of these, however, will work a lot better if we couple them with the removal of what I affectionately refer to as management-and organization-made productivity obstacles.

When I first spoke to Bill Jensen, author of Work 2.0, and our conversation zeroed-in on management-and-organization-made productivity obstacles, I was excited by how applicable the conditions and advice he presents to organizations across various professions and industries is to the IT space specifically.

IT Productivity Obstacles

Clearly one of the biggest errors made by IT leaders and organizations that experience less than optimal productivity is the practice of trying to cram more stuff into people's schedules along with poorly designed support tools in a manner that increases their team members personal aggravation.

People have a finite amount of time and attention. Their ability to perform is also directly linked to their ability to make sense of what needs to be done. Finally, their motivation to perform is directly linked to the ratio of pleasure and pain offered by the task.

All of these factors are experienced at the individual level and need to be addressed at the individual level with each member of your team.

The key, therefore, to increasing IT productivity with any of the aforementioned best practice methodologies in place is to couple them with a clear recognition of people's needs and limitations and manage these effectively. Specifically:

  • Focusing their attention on what you need to get done.
  • Creating user friendly tools that enable them to make sense out of input work data faster.
  • Decreasing the personal pain to act and if possible also increasing the pleasure factors based on their personal value system.
  • At this point, you may wonder, what are some specific ways my organization and I can do this? The good news is, its not really that hard or, in many cases, expensive.

    Fixing the Problem

    Here are just six of the many specific ways you can make your IT more productive by addressing individual team member needs based on my discussion with Jensen tailored for the IT space:

    Study, test and implement usability friendly tools. Treat your employees the way consumer companies treat their customers.

    No consumer company worth its salt would pull customers and prospects to a Web site that was hard to navigate and of low-value to their customer because they know that their competitor is only one click away.

    While your employees may not have an alternative tool one click away (yet), human beings will naturally look for ways to circumvent and/or replace painful to use systems.

    In the end, your investment in these unfriendly tools are not completely returned by the positive results you expect and you generally spend a great deal of management time and effort to force people to use them even modestly. Make it easy for your team members to navigate and get the information they need to get their work done.

    Organize data and tools the way people need them and you will get a bigger ROI on your tools and reduce your cost of running a management-police operation.

    One way to do this is to design your work tools backwards. Start with the needs of the team member who will use the tool relative to the achieving the goals set for them. (Sound like the way we build customer interfaces? Exactly!)

    Of utmost importance in our quest to improve productivity, however, is the fact that as Jensen aptly puts it "[e]ase of use and reduced consumption of time to perform are equal or greater motivators than rewards, recognition and hierarchy in driving human behavior."Know your people wholly and engage them wholly. Match talent and passion as closely as possible to the tasks.

    This can be done one of two ways. One way is to observe what your people do extremely well and place them in assignments that make the best use of these natural gifts. Another is to allow enough flexibility in how your team members perform their jobs, so as to enable them to engage their unique talents in attaining the target results.

    Provide all your team members with training on how to manage their time and maximize their efforts. In this way you can reduce stress (what's in it for them) and increase productivity (what's it is for you). For example a simple course on how to read and write emails effectively can do much to increase your productivity and lower your team's frustration.

    Email as we all know, while a fabulous tool when used correctly, is commonly one of the corporate worlds biggest time waster. How many hours have you spent trying to make sense of a poorly written email with a ten-page list of sub-message attachments?

    Provide training and development that benefits the individual as well as the company. Knowing why its good for the company is not enough in an economy where layoffs and moves are common.

    Also remember that people are always at a higher level of attention when there is a clear opportunity for personal gain derived from the investment of their time and attention.

    Tap into the power of connecting people with their peers. By providing transparency and a free flow of information, you will tap more fully and richly into your people's talents as well as the talents of all the other people with whom they network.

    This will also get your people working better vertically as well as horizontally instead of operating is a slow bureaucratic up and down the chain of command fashion.

    Some of the ways you can start doing this right away include the following:

  • Start your team blogging. Blog software can be obtain as freeware or at a very low-price. Organizations, such as Google, have found it extremely valuable in getting people sharing peer-to-peer.
  • Encourage and support your people in networking through online communities like Ryze or Linkin.

    This enables them to tap into a huge global network of contacts and resources that can enrich their perspectives and skills, which they in turn will bring back to your team. (For more on an IT Professional Global Association, I invite you to visit my IT Pro network on Ryze.)

  • Implement effective and end-user valuable and friendly Knowledge Management tools.
  • When you talk to your team always communicate what success means to them in terms of the things they value (e.g., money, training, recognition, etc). One of the most frustrating things people tell me they endure is sitting through an hour long meeting where management presents how great the company is doing and its plans for becoming even bigger and richer without interpreting what this means to them.

    Many managers will look at this and say, "That's silly. They are smart enough to see that the firm's growth represents more opportunities for them."

    Well, first of all, we all know that this is not always the case. Second, how many of these same managers who participate in a client meeting would fail to tell their prospect what the company's capabilities mean in terms of service to them the client? I would dare say none. Why? Because, we all know how important it is to spell out and state the benefit (what's in it for them) to our clients.

    If you want to get and keep the best people, treat them as your clients. You must continuously sell them on why they are getting the best return on their talent and time from your company and your team.

    Joe Santana is an IT organizational development specialist and thought-leader and co-author of "Manage IT." He can be reached at joesantana2003@cs.com or via his Web site joesantana.com.