Use training and recognition to create a climate that boosts IT staff performance

Creating a positive workplace is not a mystical process, there are clear strategies ITdirectors can follow - our awards judges...

Creating a positive workplace is not a mystical process, there are clear strategies ITdirectors can follow - our awards judges outline the road to success.

Organisations that invest in their IT staff and encourage best practice in order to cultivate more positive IT departments will be recognised in Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work Awards.

Last week we examined the impact on the bottom line of a happy IT workforce. This week, our panel of judges reveal the best ways to achieve a positive ethos among staff working in the IT department.

The panel scored companies' performance against specified criteria in three areas: the benefits offered to staff, the flexibility of working practices, and the investment put into the employability of staff.

Investing in skills and employability was recognised as particularly crucial in the IT world, but improving relationships with team members, line managers and the rest of the business was the route to a more positive and productive workplace.

"In my experience, companies which truly value their staff place a premium on skill and competency development, establishing a partnership between the company and the individual," said Karen Price, chief executive of E-Skills UK and judge on the awards panel.

"One powerful example of good working practice came from a group which highlighted its company's commitment to employee development through the engagement of University placement students," she said.

Jonathan Exten-Wright, a partner with law practice DLA and another Computer Weekly awards judge, agreed that investment in employability was perhaps more crucial for staff in IT than in any other area. "Because of the technical nature of the job there is a danger of obsolescence without sufficient investment," he said.

Exten-Wright's frequent exposure to IT teams in his work has led him to conclude that integration with other departments should be another target for IT directors.

"The integration of IT staff with the rest of the business is key to how positive they feel about their work," he said. "Feelings of exclusion from the business may afflict other internal services, including legal and HR teams, but it is often particularly acute for IT."

Marc Adams, an occupational psychologist with Pearn Kandola, felt this separation at first-hand when he worked as an analyst programmer. In his first job with a US company Adams found a positive approach to problems and an expectation that people would contribute their ideas. By contrast, at his next post, with a UK company, problems were seen as political issues to be managed internally, he said.

"There is a danger that if things are not addressed openly in a spirit of collaboration with the business, but instead are discussed just within the IT department, then they can get pushed under the carpet, only to emerge as bigger issues further down the line," said Adams. He recommends that organisations invest in their leaders and IT managers and directors take every opportunity to gain feedback.

Giving praise and encouragement may be a small step for IT directors to take but it can yield positive results for individuals and the standing of the IT department within the business. IT can suffer because it is an internal service provider, said Adams. "What motivates people is praise. There is a broad issue for organisations in how they praise and value their IT departments," he added.

Eugene Burke, an occupational psychologist working for psychometric assessment firm SHL, agreed that a good workplace is not just about cultivating the right skills and knowledge but about the culture and climate too. He cited the case of an IT manager in charge of software development at a bank who improved results of his team by focusing on their career development as much as on technical milestones.

"Developing better relationships reduced the number of errors reported during testing by between 50% and 70%," said Burke. This ensured better software quality and greater customer satisfaction. There was also a reduction in the time taken to implement new software because of the increased commitment and motivation among staff.

"Improvements can be made by sharing observations about your staff's behaviour and suggesting ways to improve it" said Burke. "For example, they may not have any conversations with senior people in the organisation, or may be failing to contribute to meetings. Appropriate conversations about positive steps to take can help."

Positive workplace checklist     

The CIPD report Effective People Management found that the most successful departments scored well in the following areas: 

  • Number of training days per year given to new employees 
  • Number of training days for experienced people 
  • New recruits given preview of what working for the organisation will be like 
  • Non-managerial employees given a regular performance appraisal 
  • Non-managerial staff given feedback from multiple sources 
  • Non-managerial staff covered by performance-related pay 
  • Employees eligible for profit-related pay or bonuses 
  • Employees provided with flexible job descriptions 
  • Job candidates tested on  performance, ability or personality  
  • Employees qualified to perform more than one job 
  • Employees participate in work improvement teams 
  • Employees participate in problem-solving groups 
  • Harmonised benefits for all  
  • Information on performance targets provided to all employees 
  • Information on business targets provided to all employees 
  •  A commitment to achieving employee harmonisation 
  •  Level of compulsory and voluntary redundancies in past three years.   

Improve your relationships   

Providing staff with a vehicle for feedback was identified as crucial to work wellbeing by awards judge Angela Baron, an adviser to the Chartered Institute for Personnel and Development. Communication and consultation was one of the best practice topics listed in the CIPD's Effective People Management survey, published last year. Here Baron lists three ways of better relating to your staff:   

Cross-functional teams 

If there is a process problem to solve that impinges on other departments, set up a group to meet regularly and discuss ways of solving it.   

Social capital  

Business is increasingly about the exchange of knowledge, often in informal ways. Smart companies are building more social areas to encourage this communication, and smart managers worry if their people are not talking.    

Learn how to coach  

Start thinking about coaching staff, rather than using formal training programmes. Coaching and supporting on the job is a good way of breaking down barriers and learning more about your staff and their motivations.

Read more on IT jobs and recruitment