The workforce awakens: IT’s impact on engaged employees

Employees are most satisfied when being productive, so engage your IT workforce to make an impact on all the employees within the organization.

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In this age of digital transformation, organizations are and will be even more heavily dependent on technology, making IT operation’s role ever more crucial. So, gone are the days when the IT department or team was tucked away in the basement or in a hidden, dark corner of the building. To get and keep companies on track with their transformation efforts, IT must become a true and integral part of the entire organization. However, in many current instances, IT is tasked with doing nothing more than “keeping the lights on” and has been branded with a reputation for saying no to advancements and new initiatives. On top of this, workforce demands are changing as employees are embracing a new way of working.

In this series, I want to share three insights that will help you unleash the potential of your IT workforce by engaging them and empowering them to wow their customers: all employees within the organization.

Insight 1: Employees are most satisfied when being productive

As we are in the age of the customer, the focus on the employee experience is very relevant. You probably have seen the term “employee experience” pop up in a lot of articles and communications recently; for instance, Forrester has an extensive playbook directly addressing this topic. Basically, it means offering your employees a good working experience by providing them with a good physical, cultural and technological environment. To be able to offer that great experience, we need to know what it is that makes employees engaged and satisfied.

Many studies touch on this, such as Mihály Csíkszenmihály’s study on flow. His study points out that the perfect mix of skills and challenges brings flow to people. This is often portrayed as “being in the zone.” And flow is what you want to strive for to have satisfied and engaged employees. Here’s a personal example: When I wake up knowing that I am going to be presenting at a conference that day, I am sure that I will have that moment of flow so am more eager to get the day started, and I feel more engaged in what I’m about to take part in.

The Progress Principle is another study that touches on how to ensure a great employee experience. Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer talk about how meaningful work progress creates the best inner work lives and, as a result, produces more engaged employees. A key aspect in this is the word “meaningful” as simply getting things done does not guarantee a good inner work life by itself. You probably have experienced days where you worked hard and got a lot of things done, but still did not feel motivated or were even frustrated with the outcomes. That likely is because your perception of the tasks that you had been working on that day felt peripheral of irrelevant. You did not consider the tasks “meaningful.”

What does this mean for IT?

The studies not only show how important it is to have a good HR strategy in place so your IT employees can thrive in their jobs, but how IT’s role is not to be underestimated within the organization. IT has a major influence on enabling employees to achieve flow and work on those tasks that they feel are about making meaningful progress. We also call it “workforce enablement.” Let me point out some of the steps IT organizations can take.

Experience safari

Traditionally, service management has been very demand-driven and the IT team is seen as order takers. To put it simplistically: Customers either request something or report that something is not working properly then IT makes sure the request is fulfilled and that which is broken gets fixed. Therefore, as technology gets more integrated and important throughout every aspect within the entire organization, this approach is not enough anymore. If the IT department is portrayed as order takers and on top of that has a reputation of saying no – mostly for well founded reasons, such as security – employees will look for their own solutions. So, IT must move toward being considered trusted advisors that know their customers and giving people what they ask for so that ultimately they are able to give people what they need.

I have seen many organizations working on great initiatives around this point, where IT goes on an experience safari. In so doing, they go to a specific location or department to actually see what it is people experience on a daily basis and what their real challenges are. A great example of this that I saw personally was at a big car rental company. It had someone from IT go to a local branch to shadow the employees there for a day. He immediately noticed how slow the computer software was that was used to check out the rental cars to customers.

The local branch had created a work around to give its customers a pleasant experience caused by the delays of the slow software: they set up tables with chairs where people could get something to drink and read while waiting for their car. However, surprisingly, no employee had ever thought of complaining about the slowness of the system because “it always was that way.” IT immediately investigated the issue and found some quick fixes to make the software process quicker and to ensure the entire car check-out went much smoother.

These experience safaris are not always this effective, of course, and are not always as successful. Unfortunately, I’ve heard many stories about those “walk a mile” days turning into a “lets all rant to IT” days or “here is my list of orders to IT” days. Don’t be discouraged by those bad examples though, but keep experimenting with experience days. In fact, to make them even more powerful, you can turn things around and create a setup where people from the business shadow IT for a day as well. All to create a common understanding and awareness of each other’s challenges.

Outside-in customer journeys

Usually a follow-up point is the setup of customer journeys, based on the customer personas that have been created. Do be careful, though, when setting up these journeys, that you choose only some moments of truth; you don’t have to wow your customer at every point.

I recently purchased a new car and that brand is very well known for its focus on creating an amazing experience. And the customer journey was, in fact, just that, from the moment I walked into the dealership to the moment I drove out with the new car and even after that. The brand clearly focuses on the moments of truth that, at least in my previous experiences, can be very dreadful. Take, for example, the long wait you have when they are getting all the paperwork together. The dealership dealt with that in a very smart way by taking that time to give a tour of the facilities, introducing the service department, offer some drinks and food and even having massage chairs available for use. A little over the top you might say? Sure, but also a very well thought-out process and implemented with the right timing. If that tour would have been towards the end, I would not have had the same experience because I would just have been eager to drive my new car out of there.

In short, whenever you work out or perfect customer journeys, make sure you look at it from the point of view of the customer. Additionally, have some business partners onboard to think with you and give their honest feedback about the processes.

Cross-functional environment

A big hurdle in supporting employees well is the vast amount of silos within businesses: within IT or between departments. These siloes are there for various reasons: geographical location, language, jargon and even conflicting goals.

There might be various reasons to have silos, but none are contributing to your common goal that comes out of this first insight that speaks to what makes employees most satisfied. Creating awareness and understanding of each other’s challenges is the foundation of a great partnership between the entire business, including IT. The key lies in creating a cross-functional environment of “yes” in which the main focus is on enabling the workforce so they can focus on meaningful progress.

And don’t forget the workforce is not just IT’s customers, but also the IT professionals themselves. When these steps are carefully considered and acted upon, you’ll likely soon see your workforce awaken.

This is the first of a three-part series. In the next pieces I will discuss how IT can enable the new reality of work and what that means for the way support is offered within the organization.

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