The art of workplace motivation: How to keep IT staff engaged under high-growth pressure

IT teams, particularly in the tech and health tech worlds, face a high level of pressure in today’s environment -- whether it is supporting first-to-market launches or ensuring the highest level of security to prevent data breaches. But how do you keep an IT team engaged, motivated while ensuring they are "always on?"

According to a recent Gallup poll, only 2 in 10 employees strongly agree their performance is managed in a way that motivates them to do outstanding work. That frustration can lead to serious retention issues. In fact, LinkedIn’s most recent talent turnover report indicated the tech software sector saw a 13.2 percent turnover rate, the highest in comparison to the other major categories (media and professional services). Here are 5 tips to keep IT staff focused and driven.

First and foremost: Understand the end goal.

High-growth companies often have many directions they are going in when it comes to product updates and enhancements. Sometimes it’s easy for IT employees to get caught up in a task or skill and lose sight of the overall goal. It’s important to understand the value of the individual contributor, which gives software developers a strategic overview of their function. This often leads to not only an "ah ha" moment, but also spurs directional thinking. And don’t forget the good ole’ human presence. Having someone listen to what’s on a worker’s mind diffuses what can appear to be a scattered approach.

My Style is Not Necessarily Your Style (and That is a Great Thing!)

As the case with all companies, there are a variety of workplace styles that can sometimes create friction. True collaboration means all voices should be heard and all healthy debate should be welcomed (and encouraged). By building relationships of trust and respect, and avoiding dictatorship, managers can assure that the majority will win, but also that the "good fight" was fought hard. When it comes to bringing on new talent, the current and desired workplace culture should also be taken into account to foster an open environment -- it’s not just about skill, but about a match and balance between skills and how the individual fits into the team dynamic. Like other industries, the world of tech can be a mixed bag of introverts and extroverts on both extreme ends of the spectrum. Managers who harness those talents in a harmonious way to keep all members of their team focused and motivated will find success.

Striking That Delicate Balance

When it comes to keeping a team together, engaged, and productive, managers face a tricky task. Be too personable and you come across as lax, potentially hindering results. However, be too strict and you come across as a dictator that employees feel uneasy working for. Striking a balance between the two is arguably one of a manager’s most formidable challenges. Managers need to adjust interactions and training to help groups develop. It’s the "forming, norming, storming, and performance" matrix. Once managers center on a perceived issue, chances are at least one member of the team will be a proprietor of information gathering, disseminating to the rest of the team. 

"Way to Go!" Championing Success

Managers need to be a championed proponent of their team, without going overboard. Too much praise loses its luster. Not enough praise can lead to lack of motivation. For example, one might ask themselves, "I’m working hard, but not getting recognized, why should I keep going?" Managers need to decide the best ways to promote success within their team, and within the company. This can come in all different forms under various budgets, from a monetary bonus, a gift, or a team t-shirt. When in doubt, shoot for the simple email: "We successfully implemented 'x', thanks to your hard work for the team." A simple note goes a long way.

Say What? Navigating Cross-Team Collaboration

Some high-growth tech companies require collaboration between teams with very different skill sets. For example, in health technology organizations, engineers and IT developers are oftentimes working directly with clinicians. In these scenarios, varying lingo, data, and workflow can often create challenges or communication difficulties. In many ways, the two groups actually speak different languages. The key to tackling this situation and ensuring the highest productivity is to create a forum for discussion. One method that has worked is direct observation -- for example, an IT worker may sit with a patient care team and watch them work. This personable approach invites collaboration. Conversations such as, "What works well with a product?" and "What doesn’t work well?," flow much easier under these circumstances leading to more efficient and effective change.

Forums, discussions, and focus groups are all ways to keep staff engaged, but don’t forget the value of observation and face-to-face time. As managers, one of the most rewarding parts of the job is watching your team face a challenge head-on knowing that, if something fails, we’ll retool and move on. Failure leads to growth. Give your team the support, trust, respect, and watch them grow. Your team and the overall company’s success will likely grow in tandem.

Photo Credit: Rawpixel.com/Shutterstock

Steve Shead is the Vice President of InfoSec and IT at Grand Rounds, an SF-based healthcare navigation platform.

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