Tips for Maximizing Your Staff

By Dave Willmer

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In these difficult times, it seems every company is trying to do more with less, and central to that goal is maximizing employee contributions and productivity. While increasing workloads can be a short-term solution, over time it will lead to staff burnout, so organizations must find other ways of addressing their business needs under tight staffing conditions.

Here are some ideas:

Start with a blank slate. If you’re operating with fewer employees or resources, it’s particularly important that you shift your focus away from specific job titles and responsibilities and tap individual strengths when assigning work. For instance, a software developer who normally concentrates on .NET projects may be the ideal candidate to head an upcoming initiative as a project manager. Relying on historical patterns—such as having people in certain roles manage certain tasks—may not make sense under current business conditions, when you need to take creative measures to get work done.

Take a look at previous performance reviews and employee resumes for insights into individual skill sets. Often, people possess abilities that aren’t utilized in their daily work. Also ask for volunteers when starting major projects. You may uncover some hidden talents within your group.

Focus on the right projects. It’s easy to get so caught up in routine that you fail to question whether assignments are essential today. For instance, it may have been common practice to update your organization’s website design once a year. Will making the changes benefit the bottom line? Take a fresh look at all of the projects managed by your group to make sure they’re tied to critical, current business needs. You’ll help ensure your employees are devoting their limited time and resources to the right tasks.

Invest in training. When budgets are tight, often one of the first things to be eliminated is professional development programs. This is a mistake, because you need employees with the skills necessary to make even greater contributions. Training can play a key role in achieving this goal and has the added benefit of boosting retention rates. When IT professionals feel their employers are investing in their careers, they are less likely to leave when the economy improves and job opportunities arise.

There are a number of training options available that won’t break the bank. For starters, take advantage of internal knowledge and pair employees in mentoring programs. Also investigate educational offerings through trade associations. They often provide seminars and courses at reduced member rates, and the topics are customized for IT professionals. E-learning through the Internet or company intranet is another budget-friendly choice.

Minimize distractions. You also can get more out of your staff by avoiding time-wasters. Make sure meetings are essential and consider whose participation is critical before sending invites. Schedule formal discussions during slower times, such as later in the day or work week.

Also help employees stay focused by limiting the overlap of urgent projects. People do their best work when they’re able to concentrate on particular assignments before moving on to others. While you can’t avoid multitasking altogether in the IT field, do your part by trying to minimize the need to complete multiple high-priority initiatives at the same time.

Business conditions may be challenging, but they don’t have to lead to a slowdown in productivity. Rethink the way your IT department operates so you can accomplish more with limited resources. You may find that even small changes bring out the best in your employees and lead to greater motivation and job satisfaction.

Dave Willmer is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a leading provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multiplatform systems integration to network security and technical support. The company has more than 100 locations worldwide and offers online job search services at www.rht.com. For more advice on managing a team in today’s economy, request a free copy of The 30 Most Common Mistakes Managers Make in an Uncertain Economy by visiting www.rhi.com/30mistakes.