How to turn around an unhappy IT team

I have become IT director for a distribution firm, having previously run IT for a small retail company. There my staff were...

I have become IT director for a distribution firm, having previously run IT for a small retail company. There my staff were motivated and enthusiastic but in my new job the opposite is true. I am struggling to change attitudes and find the situation demoralising. What can I do?

Most people want to work hard and succeed
Roger Marshall, Elite

Rebuilding staff motivation is not an easy or quick thing to achieve. Yet people are fundamentally the same - most want to succeed at work and take a pride in working for a successful operation. You can help to make this happen, but there may be problems intrinsic to your company that will get in the way.

First, set out clearly your vision for the department - make it simple and to the point, and make sure everyone knows what it is.

Having set an overall vision, do not also impose the means of achieving it. Create a group, separate from the management team, to come up with ideas for achieving the vision.

Membership of the group should be thought through. It should not be composed of people who can be trusted to always follow the management line, neither should it be full of habitual complainers.

Ask the group to be brutally honest, give them your backing and act on their recommendations. If they recommend things you cannot deliver, explain why and suggest alternatives. Put yourself at the centre of the change programme, but do not try to do everything yourself.

Sack the worst-performing 25% and ride out the flak
Robin Laidlaw, president, CW500 Club

Do a quick performance assessment and sack the bottom 25%. I have seen it done quite frequently and it doesn't half stiffen up the commitment of the remaining people - but you have to have the nerve to do it and ride out the flak.

Then sit down with the remainder and let them know that the process will be repeated after the influx of those you are recruiting as replacements arrive - less than the number you sacked because everyone is going to be more productive and effective, aren't they?

It is not a time for timidity: you will only be treated with disdain - or worse. You have to make your mark and quickly, otherwise you will probably find that senior management will put lack of performance in the unit down to its new boss and then it is, "Hello P45."

Is the problem a symptom of a company-wide malaise?
Chris Potts, director, Dominic Barrow

First, be absolutely clear about whether this is unique to IT or a reflection of the wider company culture. We know people's attitudes are often a product of their environment, so make sure you know where the source of the problem lies before trying to tackle it.

If the attitudes you are seeing in IT are just a reflection of the company culture you have a difficult decision to make: are there any corporate initiatives to improve the overall culture? If not, you will struggle to change it on your own and therefore have a difficult career choice to make.

On the other hand, if the problem is unique to IT, it clearly is your responsibility to resolve it. Strategically you have two main options - and you can employ both at the same time: fix it inside-out, or outside-in. Inside-out means initiatives within IT that improve the internal culture; outside-in means working with the key stakeholders of IT in the business to place demands on the IT department that will require a change in attitude.

Help staff to understand their place in the business
Paul Bradbury, NCC Global

To improve the situation you can follow a six-point plan:

Score some quick victories and publicise them. Remove the obvious and easy demotivators, be they about procedures, equipment, safety issues, or whatever

Meet as many of your staff, at all levels, as you can. Let them see your enthusiasm and show them that you are not the old regime in a new guise

Make sure the basics of people management are in place - objectives, appraisals, reviews, development paths, etc. This will help people know what they must do and how they will be judged

Identify the leaders in your department. Give the positive influencers plenty of support. Negative influencers need to be won round - they are often the most intelligent among the disappointed

Connect your staff to the purpose of the organisation they serve. Send people to observe the business working: send one to the loading bay, one out with a lorry driver, one to goods-inward, etc. Have them present their views on how technology can help the business at your newly instigated team reviews. This may also remind them why they chose IT as a career

Keep it going. You cannot rev up the team once and then expect them to stay motivated. Do not become another failed promise.

And, finally, make their work a little bit more fun. It does not do any harm and it does not have to cost a lot.

Help staff to get to know you as you get to know them
Robina Chatham, Visiting fellow, Cranfield IS Group

Moving into a new senior role often means you want to make an immediate impact. Remember, your staff are dealing with the unknown - in this case, you. You are also going through a significant transition too.

In your smaller department you are likely, intuitively, to have adapted your managerial style to meet the differing needs of individuals - in other words, you knew which buttons to press. Now, until you know your new people as individuals, you are likely to be "reverting to type" and treating them all alike. In addition, you have not been a party to their "baggage" of the past.

So get to know them as people. You will not change their attitudes but they will, once they feel understood, valued and recognised. Help each of them individually to go through their transition to a new leader.

Work with human resources to change culture
Sharm Manwani, Henley Management College

You have been successful in motivating and managing staff in the past, so you have the core competencies to do this again, if you can change the culture.

This is a good time to build a close relationship with the human resources director. As you are new to the organisation this is the right time to ask questions and listen carefully to the answers. Target not only your staff but also the people who deal with them, such as suppliers and internal customers.

You need to assess the range of competencies that your staff have, including technical, professional and personal skills. It may be that they are competent but have lacked leadership in the past. If so, you should be able to create a different view by defining a positive vision and changing the status of IT within the organisation. Do not be afraid to work with HR to develop your own leadership skills.

If the issue is one of staff competence - as your question implies - you will need your HR ally to evaluate how to build up skills in the department. Most groups have the technical skills to do the job: what they often lack is the professional or interpersonal skills to succeed in a fast-changing environment.

Your staff need to understand this gap has to be closed. If possible, give them the opportunity to do this through personal development. There is likely to be at least one area where external recruitment is required and this will reinforce your message.

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