For Jos Creese, head of IT at Hampshire County Council, the key to running a happy IT department lies in offering staff a challenge.
"If you are not able to offer your staff challenges, then, however wonderful an environment you provide, they will not be happy and their frustration will show," he said. "No one really likes having an easy life or being spoon-fed, or they would not be in the profession."
Challenges faced by Creese's staff include providing varied, complex IT to a large and diverse community of users with changing needs.
"There is a need to have a willingness to accept constant change - if that is part of the culture, change becomes positive; if it is not, it can be very stressful and difficult to manage," said Creese. "That is especially true in a large organisation like ours."
Encouraging staff at all levels to contribute ideas is also important, according to Creese.
"Everyone has to have a part to play in setting direction and decision making - it cannot be just the role of the management team," he said.
"We do not assume that good ideas only come from the top - some come from the least expected parts of the organisation, often through informal discussions. I can never spend enough time 'walking the floor'."
Meetings at Hampshire Council's IT department are kept to a minimum to avoid unnecessary bureaucracy.
Creese also believes that challenge is created by the fact that, unlike many IT departments, Hampshire Council's IT department operates as a business using an internal market system.
"We do not have budgets - we have to earn revenue by delivering good service to the business," he said. "It is service managers who must decide how best to invest in IT to improve public services, with our help. It enforces good business disciplines of financial management and customer focus."
Inevitably, as a public sector organisation, salaries are not lavish. However, staff get the buzz of doing varied work that helps to improve public services in the community they work in, said Creese.
"We cannot compete with private sector salaries, but we work with diverse, exciting IT, providing solutions that are often more leading-edge than most, and that relate directly to people's lives in the community, from schools to social services," he said.
The council also tries to provide extra financial rewards where possible, such as awards for outstanding work and fast-track career paths for the most talented staff in the department.
Evidence of the success of Creese's approach is evident in the department's staff retention rates. "When they are here, staff realise there are exciting things to do and salary isn't everything," he said.
But Creese is not complacent. "We certainly have not got everything right and, if anything, our Best Places to Work Award has helped us to focus on where we need to improve further, such as internal communications."
Hampshire County Council won the local government category in this year's Computer Weekly Best Places to Work in IT Awards
This was first published in June 2004