Winning the hearts and minds of your team.
IT workers are the least engaged employees in the workplace.
That summary headline from the BNET posting captured my attention instantly. Only 26 percent of IT professionals were into their job. The reverse of that statistic means that nearly three out of four members of your team are disengaged from their work. In an environment that requires innovation, adaptability, and service to others, this type of disengagement can cripple a team. The article identified three possible reasons for this lack of engagement within IT:
- IT individuals are seen by many organizations necessary yet commodity-like functions not critical to the organization’s mission or strategy.
- Personal growth and career development are important engagement drivers for IT professionals. However, organizations can’t always match the demand for training, especially in a tight economy. New projects to build skill sets aren’t always available. This economic environment traps these IT professionals in maintenance projects or tactical activities.
- Finally, technical staff members are often ill-prepared to move from the role of expert employee to the leader of experts. Although well-intentioned and technically competent, they may not provide the type of coaching and support needed to align and inspire their teams.
The IT leader who understands these challenges and can guide their team through myriad of emotions that impact the individual contributors can differentiate themselves in their organization and even the marketplace.
Many statistics and articles have come out in the last several years highlighting the decline of engagement in the workforce. Prior to the recessionary influences, engagement challenges were being discussed as the next great HR challenge. During the recession, engagement issues became even more prevalent as internal and external challenges created stresses that caused individuals to shut down due to weariness and burnout. Lack of engagement leads to lower productivity, lack of sustainable growth due to retention issues, and lower levels of innovation. Lack of engagement will drain an organization, team, or an individual of the emotional fortitude to navigate the shifting demands of our new work environment. Chronic lack of engagement will eventually lead to apathy and exodus as individuals seek an environment that provides something more meaningful than a paycheck.
As the recession forces impacted the marketplace, many individuals and corporations followed the mantra of “I (they) should just be happy to have a job.” As the economy recovers, many organizations will feel the backlash of this philosophy, which has permeated many staffing and engagement discussions over the last several years. As demand for talent increases, the pent-up pressure of disengagement will lead to an increased level of job mobility and turnover. Unfortunately, for many organizations, the first few to test this new job mobility climate during the economic recovery will be their key contributors. Their exodus will potentially usher in a talent war similar to the talent market dynamic that the IT industry experienced in the late 1990s. However, IT leaders who focus on key loyalty drivers with their team can leverage this trend to their competitive advantage. By addressing some basic leadership principles, you can reverse this trend and provide a talent magnet for attracting those seeking a better place to invest their time and energy. Focusing on retention and engagement metrics will drive your organization toward profit-sustaining metrics that will facilitate your organization’s growth. You will also discover that your quality of work, life, and possibly engagement, will improve as you implement these principles for your team.
The effective IT leader understands that a fully engaged team overcomes the most daunting challenges facing organizations today. Each individual responds differently to the motivators in Herzberg’s list [See “True Motivators,” Page 36]. Yet a common driving force of engagement in numerous studies is that individuals care more about how you treat them as opposed to what you give them. Engaged workers care about what they can contribute to the organization. Disengaged individuals care only about what they can get from an organization. Understanding those differences and adjusting the individual needs of each team member is a key engagement success indicator. However, despite those individual differences, there are some specific unifying principles of engagement that can be universally applied to any team by the effective IT leader …
The primary driver of engagement is to develop a unifying message of purpose that removes personal agendas. Exchanging time for money doesn’t motivate people in a sustainable fashion. Eventually, there’s never enough money to exchange for the finite resource of time. However, exchanging time for an opportunity to share in making a difference in the lives of others has always driven engagement and progress. The IT leader who can clearly articulate a purpose and rally others to pursue that purpose will attract a devoted team of contributors. Those contributors will deliver intellectual property with little thought to personal gain. They simply want to make a difference in the lives of others.
Simon Sinek shares his observations on the power of individuals and organizations to inspire consumers and individuals in his book, Start with Why. In a Ted.com speech, he shares the elegantly simple principle of the golden circle. The majority of individuals and companies start on the outside of the circle with the what, move to the how, and possibly stumble on the why core of the circle. The successful leaders and companies start with the why and move outward. He shares his insight by explaining that there are leaders and there are those who lead. Leaders may hold a position of authority over us, but those who lead inspire us no matter what position they hold.
Project Oxygen at Google reinforced insight as they published the results of their internal study to build a better boss. Many have looked at the list of eight items as management common sense. Yet one item on the list is “Have a clear vision and strategy for the team.” Clearly articulating and linking a team to a powerful vision will inspire and engage individuals as they partner with their leader in pursuit of that compelling dream of a better world.
Once the team is unified in the pursuit of purpose, it looks for leaders who are willing to serve by putting the needs of others before their own agendas. Most individuals have developed a strong sense of version toward self-promoters and users in this day of contrived marketing and airbrushed celebrity lives. Many leaders and institutions of our society and culture have let them down in such visibly public ways that it’s hard to trust any leader or organization. A leader who sacrifices time and emotional energy in order to serve the needs of others provides the perfect antidote to the cynicism of our modern business culture that drives the popularity of “The Office” and “Dilbert.”
The effective IT leader can counter this cynicism by demonstrating their Emotional Intelligence that Daniel Goleman has shared with business leaders during the past several decades. In his recent work, Primal Leadership, he describes the essence of leadership as developing an emotional bond between the leader and the team. The IT leader must deliver more empathy and emotional support as the demands of the work increase. Individuals need to trust their leader’s desire to serve the needs of others before they’ll invest the emotional energy needed for success.
Many generational workplace studies are highlighting the need for frequent career conversations instead of waiting for the annual review ritual for the younger team members entering the workplace. Time equals care in their eyes. With the perception of a career that will lead through multiple jobs and possibly major vocational shifts, many individuals want a trusted guide to help them navigate that confusing path. In this case, the IT leader needs to transform from a manager to a coach or mentor in order to earn the trust of these individuals. These frequent touch points provide additional opportunities to check in instead of check up on your team members. Those touch points will serve to build up the trust needed for complete engagement.
That trust ultimately reveals the character of the IT leader. When properly cultivated, the character of a servant leader’s heart will offer a safe haven from the risks associated with wasting time in the pursuit of trivial matters. Many initially chose the IT field to leverage technology to improve lives. Authentically revealing a servant’s heart provides the fuel that will drive your team to pursue its stated purpose.
Throughout history, any worthwhile cause has come with a price. If your team’s purpose is big enough, your team will need to fight many internal and external battles to make a significant difference. Your team will need to see the courage of a warrior’s spirit in your actions as you fight against the distractions and detractors that conspire to keep your team from achieving its purpose. The cemeteries and seas are filled with the bodies of soldiers who sacrificed everything in a battle. The history books are filled with stories of individuals who led these soldiers on the battlefield in pursuit of a cause that led to that sacrifice. Andy Andrews highlighted the story of John Chamberlain in “The Traveler’s Gifts.” John took action at a decisive moment in the Battle of Gettysburg that changed the course of that battle and possibly the course of history.
In the final scene of “Saving Private Ryan,” an older version of Private First Class James Francis Ryan is looking at the grave of Captain John H. Miller. He asks his wife and family through tear-filled eyes if he led good life, wondering if he is a good man – worthy of the sacrifice of those who rescued him. One can almost hear the echoing words of a dying Captain Miller, “earn it … earn it,” resonate in his head as loudly as when he heard them spoken many years ago.
Most people haven’t experienced that profound battlefield sacrifice in the comfort of a boardroom. However, all want to be a part of something that profoundly impacts the life of others. Many find that impact in the legacy that they leave their family as a parent or grandparent. Others find that fulfillment is volunteering for a community or church cause. Still others search for that enduring legacy through the artistic expressions of their gifts. As a leader, you can earn a tremendous level of respect by exhibiting the willingness to sacrifice it all for your team so they can be part of a worthy cause.
As humans we require relationships to live a healthy, balanced life. The explosion of the social media phenomena demonstrates the depth of this need as people seek to find friends or link in with people around the world. They’re willing to open up very intimate aspects of their life in 140 character intervals or viral video streams. People want to be connected with others at a very deep and personal level, and they desire to be part of a group that leverages the collective strength of each individual.
Multiple non-profit and for-profit organizations have facilitated the financial needs of some major crisis situations by just making it easy for those who care to share time, talent, or treasure. Liberty Mutual received a flood of resumes after it launched its new branding campaign that highlighted the ripple effect of one good deed. A new division needed to be launched just to fulfill the demand of educators who requested copies of the commercial as a resource for their classrooms.
A leader who facilitates connection by demonstrating the ability to listen within an open forum of dialogue engages a team at a profound level. Ideas build upon ideas, which further build upon ideas. Trust grows as each idea is shared and discussed. With trust, political maneuvering disappears, and ideas are nurtured on the basis of merit instead of persuasive manipulation. Every person on the team feels valued because the leader genuinely values their input publicly and privately. With each successful project, the team grows more confident and powerful in pursuit of its purpose.
For those of you who can remember the engagement process before you were married, you know the amount of time and energy that went into planning all the details leading up to the big day. It seemed like such a big deal at the time. Yet for those of you who have been married awhile, you know that the real work in your marriage occurred after the engagement period – after the wedding. You serve each other, protect each other, and connect to each other in ways that no unmarried person can fathom. You deal with unbelievable emotional challenges in pursuit of the treasure of leaving a legacy of love for your family and friends. (A friend shared the power of this vision by giving his girlfriend – now wife – a 50th anniversary card while dating.) You understand that success is derived from committing to each other by filling the needs of each with love and respect. For couples who stay the course, the marriage is simply an engagement process that has grown deeper and stronger through the years.
Leading To a Legacy
As an IT leader, you gather a team of talented individuals to complete a project, solve a problem, or, hopefully, leave a legacy. You get everybody to see the big picture so little obstacles don’t sidetrack success. You set the example by serving others even more than they serve you. You fight for resources and time so the team can deliver its absolute best for this worthy cause. You connect them to each other so they know that the team’s contribution is so much greater than the sum of each individual. You give everybody an opportunity to make a difference in the lives of others and each other. If you follow these simple steps over and over, you’ll perpetually build an engaged and loyal team that transforms the world one contribution at a time. Through each contribution, you’ll discover love and respect of others that you’ll pass on as your legacy. IT
Many of the principles highlighted in this article have been part of the organizational development knowledge base for several decades. Daniel Pink, an author who addresses motivation and engagement issues in his book Drive likes to say: “There is a mismatch between what science knows and what business does.” In his book, he highlights the following three drivers of “Motivation 3.0.” Autonomy, mastery, and purpose drive the behavior that provides the essential fuel for engagement. He further links his list to a psychological experiment conducted by Karl Duncker in 1945, known as the candle experiment. Later in 1962, Sam Glucksberg repeated the experiment with the twist of motivating the outcome with compensation. Glucksberg discovered that monetary incentives actually decreased the probability of a successful solution when innovation was required. In 1968, Frederick Herzberg published one of the most requested articles in the Harvard Business Review, “One More Time, How Do You Motivate Employees?” There have been more than 1.2 million reprints of that article sold. In the article, Frederick Herzberg highlighted the motivators in the workplace as:
- Work Itself
Once an organization removes the fear of lack of money by paying a fair market wage in exchange for the contributions of the individual to the team, these six factors serve to bond individuals to the organization.