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Better communication can unleash the power of your IT team

March 21, 2014

Strategic IT talent management can transform a collection of talented IT professionals into a powerful, effective team. As companies invest heavily in technology and the support necessary to implement it resourcefully, they need to unleash the strengths of their staff and create an environment conducive to leading ideas and top performance. At a time when IT jobs are in abundance, business leaders also need to consider ways to engage their employees to avoid high turnover rates and to attract superior talent.

Fueling IT teams can transform organizations
With information technology playing an increasingly central role in business operations across industries, experts are in high demand for an abundance of IT career opportunities. Well-run IT systems can make a significant impact not just in how well organizations complete their activities, but even by changing their strategies and opening entirely new possibilities that give them a competitive advantage. Therefore, it's a huge boon to businesses to have highly functional IT teams.

Almost all IT leaders believe that performance management is important at their organization. In addition to overall business success, paying greater attention to managing talent effectively can enhance individual workers' job satisfaction and career development, increasing the chances that they'll grow in their expertise and remain with the company. However, recent research revealed that half of IT professionals rate their organizations' performance management as ineffective across 10 out of 12 indicators, such as aligning employee performance with business objectives and facilitating professional development.

Good management is crucial
Managers form the link between business strategies and the workers whose day-to-day tasks form the foundation for meeting goals. Having good leadership can make or break any team, particularly in fields that require cooperation and innovative problem solving. According to TEKsystems research, 72 percent of IT support staff feel they've had mostly poor managers in their careers, with the majority adding that their supervisors haven't helped them reach their professional goals.

These numbers are particularly discouraging in light of the role management plays in the success of an IT team and ultimately the organization's business outcomes. As the Harvard Business Review reported, Gallup research has pointed to the connection between employee engagement and performance, including productivity, customer satisfaction, retention, attendance and safety. Managers are the ones responsible for fostering engagement by motivating employees, driving initiatives, establishing cultures of accountability and collaboration, building positive relationships and making wise decisions, the source explained.

Managers need to enlist the participation and inspire the passion of their team members, developing a workplace environment where IT professionals can thrive and make good use of their talents. Good supervisors excel at both leading initiatives and listening to their employees.

Baseline for engagement: Communication
Two-way communication can create an open work environment conducive to innovation, creativity and optimization. Workers want to know what's expected of them and have resources to do their jobs well, so supervisors should make sure they provide clear instructions and guidelines. Then, they should offer their employees regular feedback on their performance, both positive and negative. Being able to hold honest, constructive conversations about successes and challenges can encourage workers to build on their achievements and empower them to improve next time.

Feedback is most valuable when it's offered throughout the year, not just during annual performance reviews. Not only is a prompt response most helpful since activities are still fresh in everyone's mind, it also helps workers to envision how their performance has consequences and how changing their behavior can impact outcomes.

Here are a few performance management techniques that can contribute to a positive workplace culture and motivate IT pros to excel:

  • Provide clear expectations
  • Praise achievements and recognize good work
  • Foster good relationships between managers and team members
  • Connect employee tasks with strategic business goals
  • Review personal and professional achievements in relation to goals
  • Coach and mentor workers
  • Discuss workers' career paths
  • Evaluate raises and potential promotions

Listen to IT workers, too
The second half of two-way communication is giving employees a voice. Excellent leaders are also good listeners, recognizing the value of their front-line workers' insights and ideas. Managers should try to create an environment where employees feel comfortable providing feedback and confident that their thoughts will be taken seriously. Unfortunately, only slightly more than half of IT pros say that their managers listen to their ideas, though they have insights and feedback that they believe could improve processes and operations. This corresponds to how valued IT workers feel at their organization - although 80 percent say their roles are central to their companies' strategy, only 55 percent think their firms hold the same attitude.

To demonstrate that they value their team members and want to hear ideas and feedback, managers should encourage workers to share their thoughts and acknowledge the source of initiatives that they implement, particularly when they help to improve business processes and outcomes. Embracing ideas and innovation can help supervisors fix structural and procedural problems and can make better use of IT professionals' communal knowledge.

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