6 Ways to Boost Employee Morale

In 1999, it was fun to manage I.T. workers. You were liberal with bonuses, provided a stream of sexy new projects and created a career path filled with opportunity. Now, your job as manager is not quite as much fun. The specter of layoffs hangs in the air. Training has disappeared and, for many IT workers, so has the dream of a successful career in IT. No wonder your staff is a little depressed.

But according to members of the Best Practice Exchange, you can keep morale up when the chips are down if you include six basic elements in your management toolkit.

1 Training.

Skills development is probably more important to IT workers than to any other type of employee. So get rid of the parties and the vending machines, but keep a decent training fund in your budget. And try some cheap alternatives. Working with corporate training and development, CIO Sheila Beauchesne of Martha Stewart Living Omnimedia secured state grants to help fund her IT training budget. The grant from New York covered 50 percent of her IT training budget for New York-based employees, and the Connecticut grant covered some vendor training for her employees there. "The best way to find training grants is to go to the website for the Department of Labor for your particular state," she says. "Most have funds for training, which they use as a tool to recruit companies and retain jobs in their states. Some funds are set up specifically for technical training."

Steve Agnoli, CIO of Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, arranged a Microsoft-led .Net concepts and applications training course for his systems development staff at no charge to the firm. The class provided an informed evaluation of how the .Net framework might work at Kirkpatrick & Lockhart, and Microsoft benefited from showcasing its new technology solution to an eager client audience.

2 Recognition.

Whether your balance sheet is in the red or black, your people want to know that they matter, and proving it to them doesn’t have to cost a fortune. Here’s an idea that works for Lee Lichlyter, VP and CIO of Butler Manufacturing: Every quarter, IT staffers nominate peers for an outstanding effort in technical wizardry, service excellence or value creation. Staff and senior management vote, and the winners receive a modest cash award and a giant silver cup engraved with their name, which they keep until the next quarter.

3 Financial rewards.

Let’s face it, money talks. So make sure that even in tight times you dip into the pot, especially for your "A" players. "Despite some recent layoffs, we continue to reward outstanding performance with spot bonuses," says Tom Smith, CIO of Waste Management. "And we have reaffirmed that our 401(k) match and similar benefits have been retained. All of these statements let our employees know that Waste Management will continue to treat them as the valuable assets they are."

4 Communication.

The combination of fear and ignorance is powerful, indeed, so keep your employees in the loop. Weekly meetings, open-door polices and regular visits with employees will help quell the rumors that are often damaging to staff morale. "Our CEO has a quarterly ’all-hands’ call in which he tells everyone what we’ve done and what our plans are," says Bob Odenheimer, senior VP of IT at Magellan Behavioral Health. "Thirty minutes of narrative and 30 for questions are a big help with staff morale. You’d be surprised what it means to employees when they can ask their CEO direct questions and get a real answer."

5 Alignment.

As Andrew Dillane, IT director at CNC Global, puts it, "There is a direct relationship between morale and an individual’s ability to contribute." So make sure all members of your IT staff get to sink their teeth into the projects that bring the most value to the enterprise. Soon after he became CIO of The Huntington National Bank in March 2001, Joe Gottron and his team worked closely with the business units and the finance department to replace an ineffective "all you could ask for" work-request system and a "who you knew" prioritization system with a chargeback process for application development and project management. This new process has dramatically improved productivity and morale. "The new process provides interconnectivity between projects, budgets and resources," says Gottron. "Today, business unit priorities are very clear, and the technology team knows that what they’re working on truly matters to the business. That creates a great deal of energy and motivation."

6 Leadership.

Jeff Chasney, CIO of CKE Restaurants, contributes up to 2 percent of his annual salary for recognition parties, employee events, dinners and employee awards. Scot Klimke, vice president and CIO of Network Appliances, directs his more seasoned staff to work with the Gen X-ers and to give them the assurance that economic downturns do inevitably come to an end. Now is the time to look up from your spreadsheets, take a minute between meetings and use all of your leadership energy to make life a bit more pleasant for those who have chosen to follow you. (To learn more about boosting staff morale, visit www.cio.com/printlinks to read "Staff Alert.")

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Copyright © 2003 IDG Communications, Inc.

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