How to Kill IT Worker Engagement

Engaged employees feel valued and are willing to put forth their best efforts, thoughts, and initiatives. These employees serve as dynamic role models for others. When an employee believes that he or she creates real value and helps drive performance for the company as a result of his or her demonstrated expertise, there is a measurable difference in performance. Even better, there are real dollar results attached to what some might consider the "soft" side of management.

For example, in a 2008 study by global consulting firm BlessingWhite, electronics retailer Best Buy reported that stores in which employee engagement is increased by a mere tenth of a point on a five-point scale typically see a $100,000 increase in sales for the year.

Yet, it would seem far too little attention is being paid to employee engagement. The Conference Board Inc., a non-profit research group, conducted a 2009 survey found that workers in less than half (45 percent) of the 5,000 U.S. households surveyed were satisfied with their jobs. This is a sharp decline from the 61 percent who reported being satisfied with their jobs in 1987, when the first survey was conducted. The Conference Board survey identified many job issues covering all occupations that could directly result in a decline in employee engagement, productivity and retention. A 2008 study conducted by BlessingWhite, meanwhile, found that only 29% of North American workers reported that they were fully engaged in their present workplace.

Savvy CIOs must consider how well their current approach to engagement is aligned to their workforce and rest of the organization’s business strategy. How often are you measuring your IT employee engagement strategy against business results? Annually? Monthly? Weekly? Not at all?

Other questions to ask yourself:

  • What is actually being measured?
  • Will these metrics continue to matter in the near future?
  • How important will these be in the long run?
  • How will IT’s engaged talent create the production of high-value products and services?
  • What will be the relative impact on the social, environmental, and brand image for the overall business?

Since engagement is rooted in relationships, it is not something that can be mandated, forced, or trained in a seminar. Building a community based on effective two-way communication — where there is open, honest exchange of ideas, information and learning — is central for engaging IT professionals. It’s equally important to empower your IT professionals through continuous learning, not only about the tech choices that are available, but also about the business environment in which their users operate.

The transformational CIO will focus on turning his or her IT department into high-value integrators for the enterprise, strengthening internal business relationships and increasing collaboration across organizational divisions. The benefits that may be derived from such openness and transparency include strengthening core capabilities, increased learning agility and knowledge transfer, early- stage talent or succession planning, and cost efficiencies.

Here are five mistakes that are guaranteed to derail engagement among your IT teams:

  • Fuzzy communication and squelching of disagreement.  Given the speed of IT change, bringing clarity of organizational strategy and IT objectives to your team through aligned, focused, and unfiltered communication is essential.

  • Failure to ask your IT professionals for their input. Are your IT workers seen, heard and valued for sharing ideas and putting in a stellar performance? Or, do your IT employees feel isolated and unheard? How well do you encourage respectful push-back?

  • Ignoring the needs of front-line management. It’s crucial to understand how these jobs may need to be redesigned to meet future conditions. Redefine responsibilities and expectations so that your front-line teams are not focusing primarily on fixing problems and auditing the work of others. Instead, reward those who anticipate problems and act as coaches to their direct reports.

  • Highly disengaged workers have already quit, but they just won’t leave. While this often represents a small percentage of an IT workforce, its impact can be costly to the rest of the organization. Such workers often influence the attitudes of those around them.

  • Too many surveys, not enough action. Gaining key insight into your people-management and engagement drivers is critical. But, it is essential to turn that information into action through which you can move organizational and IT strategy forward and cultivate real results. Mistrust breeds when employee feedback is collected and limited action follows.

The most successful organizations integrate talent engagement through business strategy and ensure it maintains a continuous priority throughout the year rather than hyping up an annual event that yields no effective or lasting engagement. A multi-faceted approach to IT employee engagement can ensure that CIOs and IT leadership proactively address issues while strengthening engagement muscle within their organizations.

Judy White, SPHR, GPHR, HCS is  President of The Infusion Group, LLC, a people management consulting and coaching firm.

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