A New Way to Get The Most Out of Tech Workers

Tech companies are notoriously fast-paced and challenging places to work, yet burnout is an often discussed – but ignored — problem. It’s compounded by the fact that developers and engineers often work in silos. The result, says Christine Comaford, author of the book SmartTribes: How Teams Become Brilliant Together, is that it’s not uncommon for tech workers to go into what she terms “the critter state,” a fight/flight/freeze reaction.

Happy TeamHow to combat that? Comaford says it’s critical for managers at tech firms to build a “tribe mentality to get the best out of their people.

In a conversation with Dice News, Comaford observes that innovative tech firms require special attention when it comes to creating the right company culture. A former Microsoft software engineer and venture capitalist, Comaford is now an advisor to large firms regarding HR and management issues, focusing on neuroscience-based leadership and culture coaching. DeLisa Alexander, Red Hat’s Chief People Officer, and Richard Stack, Vice President of Global Recruiting for Cloud Sherpas, also spoke with us, responding to Comaford’s tips and providing their unique perspectives from inside their growing tech firms.

1. Focus — Avoid ‘Shiny Object Syndrome’

Comaford argues that tech firms and their managers often go astray in overseeing people and projects because they refuse to focus their priorities. All too often, tech workers are told everything is important. “It’s not about doing more,” she says. “It’s about doing less.” So, managers need to rank the firm’s business activities or run the risk of sabotaging employee productivity.

Red Hat’s Alexander agrees, arguing that setting priorities is about getting rid of the “shiny object syndrome,” the distraction of too many new and competing objectives. By doing that “we’ve closed the aperture a bit,” she says.

2. Clarity — Compelling Vision or Vague Concept

Explicit, organization-wide communication keeps people motivated and productive. Says Alexander: “We’re dealing with a knowledge workforce, and they’re not handed a manual on what to do each and every day. They need to understand our mission and follow through on it. We have a methodology to teach people how our executive team thinks.”

For tasks that are critical to the company, adds Stack, it’s important to leverage a robust and open governance and communication model, constantly determining and reconfirming priorities.

3. Accountability — Move the Needle

People need to feel that they’re being treated fairly, and there need to be transparent structures for accountability, if a tech company is to establish an inclusive culture. “I do believe the key is aligning responsibility and accountability,” Stack says. “You need a very clear message regarding who is charged with specific tasks and how they will be measured and, ultimately, who will be accountable. With that accountability should come rewards.”

Alexander argues for a four step approach: freedom, courage, accountability and commitment. “You have to give a lot of freedom, and employees have to have the courage to act,” she says. “They need to be committed and accountable. After that, you can build community and rewards.”

4.  Influence — Load the Dice

Highly knowledgeable individuals need to know that they influence the organization. “We are a tribe and everyone has the same value,” says Comaford. Employees need to feel safe and as if they belong and matter. That’s how people rise up to new levels of leadership.

“If someone feels like they understand the greater mission and feel like they can contribute to it, are measured and rewarded appropriately for their contributions, and spend their day within respected relationships, they will find the proper sense of belonging,” Stack adds.

5. Sustainability — Tension to Empowerment

Not surprisingly, burnout is a top concern for tech workers. To avoid it, Comaford says managers should be responsible for keeping close tabs on the problem and get employees to “ditch, delegate, or defer work to another time.”

Stack warns that “organizations in high velocity and evolving industries, like ours, have an even greater risk,” so often a fresh perspective is what’s needed to keep employees from burning out. Cloud Sherpas addresses the problem by providing rotation opportunities and cross training. The mission, Stack says, is to maintain career freshness and opportunities by providing support for rotating in and out of projects and business units, as well as challenging staff to help recruit and develop the talent that can succeed them.

Comments

  1. BY blackMORE says:

    Clear Goal, timeline, check points, minimum supervision and flexible time is what most would prefer. Then again, every job is different. Oh and almost forgot, keep Change management and Business Analysts off from Techs. They are the biggest frustration for techs who knows nothing about technical side, but always have something to say.

  2. BY Stimpy says:

    Interesting article. So why do so many large, and presumably successful, high tech companies use the ‘stacked ranking’ system? You know, where they have a forced distribution quota system that demands 8 to 10% of the population being labeled ‘underperformers’. These underperformers are then denied raises or bonuses, shamed to the extreme, and then either forced out or quit on their own after being fed up with the psychological abuse. I hope that the kind of management enlightenment talked about in this article manages to penetrate the sociopathic executive suites. Hey, technical people are a dime a dozen, or so they believe.

  3. BY Fred Bosick says:

    What happens if you get a Lord of the Flies scenario?

  4. BY C says:

    Unfortunately qualified tech workers are being forced out with newbies that will take a lesser wage and less benefits and have fewer skills or experiences. The fact is that there is not a shortage of workers, it just that they are looking past the workers that are already here that can do the job and have been doing the job. They are being payed for there skills so they are the first to be let go. Everything comes down to the bean counters. Over half of the Executives have no clue how there workers are being treated. The workers have taken on jobs when others have quit, been promoted, retired, or been part of a lay off. Burn out is at an all time high.

    Most workers are fed up because they are being ignored, abused for not taking on more responsibility. When they take on more responsibility they are not being compensated for it. Most don’t say anything and they stay in these situations, because they don’t want to lose what they have. Life balance is a farce. The other fight for the tech worker is the Temp job. The temp person should be hired after three months automatically, providing they can do the work and are doing a good job.

    These high tech companies continually trying out workers for a month or three months is a constant let down to those the temp workers who really do a good job. The temporary people have no feeling of security, or loyalty knowing that their job will end soon. There is no benefits to show for there hard work. Also it really wares on you not to knowing from one day to the next if you’ll have a paycheck or a roof over your head. If your doing a good job you should be hired and paid for the work you do and the skills that you have.

    Also there are no benefits to the companies in the long run. The people that are left are getting burned out because they have to take time out of there busy schedules to keep retraining the new temps or constantly micro managing them. It is hard to do if your an employee trying to get your work done. Bottom line if you don’t trust someone don’t hire them. This can become an issue for technology to walk out the door. Especially if you find some who is not happy because they have been let go.

    Every holiday there is a company laying off or downsizing. The news papers are just full of those headlines. Do they really have lay off or downsize around Christmas Holiday??? Corporate America really needs to regroup and look at all the qualified workers already here. Workers who have the skills needed and are not being hired, because they are bringing workers from overseas. The workers here in the US are willing to learn something new to enhance the skills or experiences and are being replaced in record numbers.

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