Getting Workers 'Fired Up' about Their Jobs

The author of 'Light Their Fire' talks to Datamation about what it takes to build a dynamic team in the IT department.

Are employees at your company fired up about their jobs... about the company itself? Does your staff champion new strategies and enthusiastically get behind projects and policies?

More than not, the answer is no.

But it doesn't have to be that way, according to one of the authors of a new book, Light Their Fire.

Employees are key figures in the success of a company -- every company, says Sara M. Roberts, one of the book's three authors and president of San Francisco-based Roberts Golden Consulting. And the first step to firing them up is to treat them like the critical players that they are. Find out what their needs are. Give them the tools they need to succeed. Give them a voice in the company... and you'll be on the road to having a dynamic team instead of a group of people who arrive at work every day to collect a pay check.

In a one-on-one interview with Datamation, Roberts talks about what it takes to get IT workers fired up about their jobs.

Q: In your book, you talk about the need for employees to buy into the company's message before customers do. What do you mean?
You can't really expect your employees to automatically live your brand promise or translate what your brand means to customers. You can create all the adds and great marketing that money can buy but employees need to live that brand promise. You need employees to buy in before you can work on getting your customers to be loyal.

Q: The IT industry has really suffered in the last several years -- layoffs, mergers, tightened budgets. How do you fire up these beleaguered workers?
You have to make sure you take an honest assessment of your organization. How have your employees been impacted? Everyone has been impacted differently, whether it's someone who has been laid off or a manager who has to manage differently because he has disgruntled employees... There are project managers, there are engineers, there are technicians. If there have been downsizings, they've all been impacted in different ways. Ask them if they've been given honest communications. What could we have done better? Create an individualized plan for each one of those employee types.
We went into an organization and did focus groups and interviewed different job segments. Most said, 'We don't feel like you've been honest with us.' We really focused on.. saying we are basically getting the truth serum out. Everything we're communicating is going to be straight forward. We might say we don't know what's coming, but this is what we know right now. Say we don't know right now, but we'll know by this date.

Q: But how do you reach these people who do feel that managers haven't been honest or fair with them?
You have to get at the things they feel they're missing. You can't take a bad company and gloss it over to make a good company. You can't get people to drink the Kool-Aid when it's a bad company. It's about really communicating the strengths of a good company. Usually companies don't sell enough of what they're doing. Identify your [internal] audiences. Communicate what's in it for them. What are you going to do for them?... Employees are usually most disgruntled with a lack of communication. They don't feel like they're being kept in the loop so they don't feel very respected.

Q: What are some of management's biggest mistakes?
I would say that they just don't involve employees enough and they don't necessarily communicate or display that they're important enough to be involved in decision making.... Executives don't ask employees what information or involvement they need. They just assume they don't need to know about something... It's very common for managers to become negative and they don't understand the implications of that. When we're undertaking a change or layoffs or restructuring, a lot of times management hasn't been appropriately trained or taught how to communicate. They end up saying, 'Yah, yah. This place is all screwed up.' They feel like they're empathizing, but it's really sending a bad message. They often say things that will breed negativity.

Q: To create a positive culture in the company do you have to do something differently with employees who are working remotely?
It is more challenging because a lot of the time, you need face time to inspire people. It's about building relationships. If you have to, build relationships virtually. To get around that, it's important to use technologies to see people's faces and have a virtual meeting.
A few years aback, IBM was undertaking a mission and visions value exercise. They wanted to revamp values. Instead of sitting in a room and coming up with them themselves, they asked all employees to be involved. That's pretty hard when they have about 330,000 employees across the globe. What I like about it is that they used their intranet to throw a World Jam. Their intranet, for 72 hours, played host to over 50,000 employees who showed up. They offered over 6,000 ideas for the value changes. And their technology distilled the most common themes and they presented the three values that most represented what employees had to share. It did show all 330,000 employees across the globe that they are part of the company and it sent the message that their company cared about them and it made them feel like one big community.

Q: IT workers might respond differently to corporate tactics than, say HR people or sales people. Do you have to change your strategy for techies?
Yah, for some part. One thing you really have to do is choose your champions. A lot of the IT folks maybe aren't so excited about this or they might think it's all hokey. To IT people, you certainly will have things they think are childish. To get IT and tech people involved, you have to choose your champion. Make sure that you get certain people on board to go out and champion your cause or your culture or go out and communicate. Find the most articulate, well-liked and enthusiastic manager or employee... They were selected to really help be the front runners. If you can get the most outspoken employee on your side, that person can go out and be your biggest proponent. Or if you don't, that person can be your biggest opposition.

Q: What are the key steps to motivating employees?
It boils down to the four 'E's. You really need to think about how am I going to engage them. What information am I communicating to them? The next thing is to enable them. Make sure you give them all the appropriate tools to complete their jobs. And empower them to be able to make decisions and take risks... Empower them to make decisions and feel like they're an owner of the company. The fourth E is to ensure or hold people accountable. Employees, a lot of times, feel like their [colleague] never gets a slap on the hand even though he is surfing the Internet all day. Accountability really motivates employees.






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