Making Enterprise IT Fun Again

by Bruce Skaistis

The Problem
I have seen three recent commentaries about enterprise IT not being much fun. I wish I could argue with the sentiment, but I canít.

In the good old days, when I first started working in enterprise IT, we had a lot of fun. We were working with exciting new technology and the rest of the organization held us in high regard because we were helping them use computers to make their jobs easier. We worked long hours, but it did not bother us because we were receiving positive strokes from people at all levels in the organization.

Fast forward two or three decades and we find ourselves living in a very different enterprise IT world. Cost cutting, outsourcing, organizational politics, and other constraints have taken away most of the fun. I suspect a high percentage of enterprise ITers would probably choose a different career path if they could go back and start their careers over.

The Solution
From my research of high performance enterprise IT leaders and organizations, Iíve found that making enterprise IT more fun is an important part of maximizing enterprise IT value. Happy workers really do produce better results. If you donít believe me, ask Southwest Airlines. Southwest Airlines has received a lot of attention for its fun-loving work environment and for outperforming most of its competitors. Having fun and outperforming competitors is a good combination.

Borrowing from Southwest Airlines and other high performance organizations, here are some suggestions for putting the fun back into enterprise IT.

Build Company, Team and Personal Pride
The first step in making enterprise IT more fun is building company, team and personal pride. That means making members of the enterprise IT team feel good about what they are doing.

Southwest Airlines employees are not the highest paid people in the airline industry, but you would never know it from watching them in action. They are proud to be part of the Southwest Airlines team, and they do whatever they can to help the company succeed.

We need to do the same thing with our enterprise IT people. We need to make them feel good about being part of the enterprise IT team, and we need to takes steps to recognize the importance of each team member to the overall success of the team.

A more difficult challenge is to make enterprise ITers feel good about being part of the company team. Many enterprise IT organizations are insular and their members do not see themselves as part of the larger company team. That must change. Enterprise ITers need to take pride in their contributions to the companyís success.

Pride is a powerful motivator and creating a real sense of pride for members of the enterprise IT team can make them feel better about what they are doing. An effective way to reinforce such pride is to tie rewards to company, team and personal performance.

Establish Clearly Defined Expectations and Accountabilities
Establishing clearly defined expectations and accountabilities is straight out of Management 101; but I have found that many enterprise ITers donít really know what is expected of them. They are given specific assignments with deadlines, but they are not told what else is expected of them, and they frequently find out about accountabilities only after they miss a deadline or make a mistake.

People perform best when they have a clear understanding of what is expected of them and how their performance will be measured. Many high performance organizations provide their team members with written expectations and accountabilities. It takes time to write and discuss expectations and accountabilities, but it is time well spent.

Donít be afraid to set the bar high on expectations, but make sure your team members know why you are setting the bar high. If team members understand why expectations are high, the challenge of working against high expectations actually makes work more fun.

Provide Continuous Feedback on Performance
Waiting until a scheduled salary or performance review to provide feedback on performance is not only counterproductive, it is an absurd way to handle people Ė and it certainly is not fun for anyone.

Football coaches donít wait until the end of the season to give feedback on performance. If they see something that needs to be corrected, they address it with their players immediately. They also let their players know immediately when they do something well.

Immediate feedback on performance is ten times more effective than waiting until formal reviews. Actually, your players should never hear anything about performance in their reviews that they havenít already been told. Good or bad, your team members want to know how they are doing Ė and they donít want to wait for feedback.

Share the Glory
Time for another coach analogy. Good coaches give credit to their players when they win, and they accept responsibility when the team loses. On the other hand, bad coaches frequently blame their players after losses and forget to give credit to their players when the team wins.

The Detroit Tigers were heavily favored to beat the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, but the Tigers were beaten badly in the first game. After the game, Jim Leyland, the Tigers manager, met with the press. He took full responsibility for the loss and he went on to say that he was confident his players would come back strong in the next game (which they did). He was protecting his players Ė but he was also setting expectations for better performance. After the press conference, one of the TV commentators said, ďthe Tigers players love Jim Leyland and they will do anything he asks them to do.Ē

Sharing the glory for positive results and protecting your players when there are problems creates a strong bond with your team members. It also makes working for you a lot more enjoyable.

Create Good Work/Life Balance
Creating a good work/life balance should probably be at the top of the list of ways to make enterprise IT more fun. It is that important.

It is easy to get caught up in the countless pressures associated with working in enterprise IT, but those pressures can seriously jeopardize personal lives and lead to burnout and other personal problems. Burnout and personal problems are not good for productivity.

Recognize that your team members have a life outside work and take steps to make sure they maintain a good work/life balance. Give your team comp time off when they have been putting in long hours. Make sure they take their vacations and holidays, and make sure they are not made to feel guilty about taking time off. Offer incentives they can share with their families and friends, such as tickets with special privileges at sporting events, shows, museums, and amusement parks. Hold special events to recognize the important role family and friends play in the success of the enterprise IT organization.

Stress the importance of life outside of work every chance you get. Your team members will appreciate your commitment to their personal lives Ė and their families will too.

Play Together Enterprise IT staffs were much smaller back in the good old days, so we could go out after work on Friday and have a few beers together. It was fun to share some laughs and unwind from the challenges of the week. Several of us also played together in a flag football league. Working together and playing together let us develop a special bond with our co- workers.

Playing together with todayís huge enterprise IT staffs and diverse workforce requires some creativity, but it can be done. The trick is to create activities that are as inclusive as possible. Iíve seen co-ed athletic competitions, award presentations, community improvement projects, family picnics, charity events, nature walks, fishing competitions Ė even weight loss contests Ė used to bring team members together to have fun.

Moral of the Story
Putting fun back into enterprise IT is not easy, but it can produce two very positive benefits. First, working in a fun environment has been shown to significantly increase productivity. Some time will be lost cultivating a fun environment, but the lost time is more than offset by gains in individual and team productivity.

Making enterprise IT more fun also makes it easier to retain the best people. I have read that free agents in the NBA want to play for the Dallas Mavericks because Mark Cuban, owner of the Mavericks, goes to great lengths to make playing for the Mavericks fun. I am confident that, if given a choice, most enterprise ITers would opt to work in a fun environment rather in the drudgery that characterizes many enterprise IT organizations.

Creating a fun environment can also make life a lot easier for CIOs and other hassled enterprise IT leaders. Fun is fun for everyone.

About the Author
Bruce Skaistis is the founder of eGlobal CIO. He began his career as a consultant with Arthur Andersen and was CIO of a large bank group before forming his own management services firm. He has extensive enterprise IT management, process optimization, and action facilitation experience.

Copyright ©2006 Global CIO, Inc. All rights reserved.

Back to