People are our most important assets. It’s a well-known cliché that most businesses like to claim. But, how do you keep those people motivated to do their best for the business? And how do you help them perform at their best?
These questions are vitally important for IT businesses. We depend on creative people who can push the boundaries and develop the solutions that maximize customer satisfaction and help our businesses grow.
And, because teamwork is so important in the IT business, how should we manage our teams to get higher performance? Recent research published in the Harvard Business Review (HBR) provides some vital pointers.
The management consultancy Deloitte (Reinventing Performance Management – HBR April 2015) described how they reinvented their performance management system to drive greater performance from their teams. Their findings are relevant to the IT business because Deloitte teams also work on a project basis.
#1 Evaluate people frequently
Like many businesses, the consultancy had traditionally reviewed individual employees‘ performance annually. They felt this was unhelpful because it reflected the past, rather than the future performance of individuals and teams. Annual reviews were too far removed from the real-time environment of project management. The consultancy also found that they were spending too much time talking about their people, rather than talking to them.
With so many IT businesses now using agile techniques and holding weekly sprint meetings, these findings are relevant. Deloitte surveyed employees to find out what motivated them in their teamwork. The most important factor to emerge was ‘I have the chance to use my strengths every day.‘
#2 Help people use their strengths
That corresponded with earlier findings by the research firm Gallup where the strongest factor was ‘At work, I have the opportunity to do what I do best every day.‘ Based on those findings, Deloitte decided to base their performance management resources on helping people use their strengths.
Gallup‘s research indicated that this approach would be good for business, as well as the individual. Businesses with that type of employee attitude were 44% more likely to earn high customer satisfaction scores, 50% more likely to have low employee turnover, and 38% more likely to be productive.
#3 Make team leaders responsible
Those are powerful business benefits, but how do we put this into practice? Deloitte recognized that the best people to work with employees and evaluate them are team leaders. And, the best time to evaluate is at the end of each project.
Another important change is that team leaders now report on what they would do with each employee, rather than what they think of the individual. They report on four factors:
I would award this person the highest possible compensation increase and bonus.
I would always want him or her on my team.
This person is at risk for low performance.
This person is ready for promotion today.
As well as evaluating employees, the best team leaders communicate regularly with their teams and check-in once a week to set expectations, discuss work in progress and deal with any problems.
#4 Choose the right leaders
Initiatives like this help set a clear direction for IT teams and maintain performance at a high level throughout a project. But, it takes good leaders to put this into practice and, in some situations, leaders may not be at their best.
Another HBR article (Powerful People Underperform When They Work Together – HBR February 2016) found that leaders were generally people who could process information more effectively, think more creatively and focus for longer because they felt powerful.
However, these skills only came into play when they worked alone. Powerful leaders working together with other leaders frequently underperformed. The researchers concluded that problems of status between powerful leaders was key to this failure to work together.
In a smaller or mid-size IT business, this is probably less of a problem, but it‘s more important that we have the right leaders who can work closely with their teams.
#5 Maintain continuity
An article in the AT&T Networking Exchange Blog (Collaborative workforces don’t just happen – April 2016) highlighted the fact that teams work together more effectively when they understand how the company works and recognize the opportunities available to them. Leaders can provide that essential level of communication.
But, people move on or change roles, so it‘s important to maintain leadership succession and to identify the next leaders so that change happens smoothly with no disruption to the team‘s work. Promoting people internally not only recognizes and rewards talented people, it helps maintain continuity of leadership in a collaborative environment.
This research provides useful guidelines for improving the way we manage IT teams for high performance. With the right leaders in place and the collaborative environment of a weekly sprint meeting, we have a great opportunity to build high-performance teams by helping our employees use their strengths and talents every day.
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