23 Tips for Managing and Keeping IT Teams Engaged in 2023

There’s no doubt the business environment of the last few years has been challenging. 

So how are the best companies adapting to change while keeping their IT teams engaged and energized?

A panel session from the 2022 Innovation Summit 2022, moderated by transformation advisor and coach Neysha Arcelay, discussed this question. The speakers include Rajiv Kulkarni, Senior VP, Salesforce Products & Strategies at PNC Bank and Mike Speer, Business Strategy Director at Salesforce.

Panel discussing how to manage and engage IT teams

Some excellent points were also made in the session, Innovating During Times of Austerity, and are included here.

All these suggestions are great examples of innovation in managing and engaging employees that are within every IT manager’s reach.

Leveraging Technology to Do More With Less

How do we best adapt to today’s quickly changing business and tech environments?

What are the incremental steps and how can we optimize business processes to do more with less?

1. Start with the customer experience

What does your customer experience look like?

Start by trying to simplify complex problems. In supply chain and logistics, for example, how can you create visibility into what was ordered, the lead time, the production time, shipment tracking, etc.?

And don’t forget your internal customer experience. Solving for both internal and external customer experience will be a major differentiator in 2023 and beyond.

2. Adapt to changing landscapes

In banking, for example, the demographic is aging. Younger folks don’t ever want to go into a branch. They prefer to do all their banking on their phones. So when it comes to improving customer experience, it’s not just about being able to do something, but about being able to do it in three minutes from wherever the customer is located.

Increasingly, we’ll all need to respond to stiff competition that isn’t local.

3. Embrace automation

Many companies are still doing things the same way they did decades ago. 

Know that automation takes time. Other initiatives often have to take priority. Focus on leveraging the automations available in the software and tools you already have while also looking into Blue Prism or similar process automation tools.

There are many repetitive tasks that employees are so used to doing that it never crosses their minds they could be automated. Keep trying to tease those out.

4. Prioritize integrations

Integration is one of the main ways we can make complex problems easier.

Core banking platforms used to be containerized. Now there are numerous fintechs and neobanks, like Chime, Zelle, or Venmo.

These apps aren’t part of every bank’s offerings, but the bank still has to integrate with them, and we see this in every industry.

Going into 2023, there will be a lot of emphasis on efficiencies, and many of those are related to integrations.

rajiv kulkarni speaking at innovationsummit

Tips for Managing and Engaging Your IT Team

It can be tough to keep IT teams engaged and excited, especially in 2023.

As Rajiv says, “I think we’re still learning, but we’ve shown that we can operate in this new environment and actually thrive in it.”

The panel came up with the following ideas you may want to adopt.

5. Accommodate a hybrid workforce

Dollar Bank, for example, isn’t going 100% remote but they do plan to settle into a hybrid model going forward.

In fact, they’re renovating one of their office spaces to include more focus rooms, collaboration rooms, and hoteling — meaning not everyone will have an assigned cubicle.

All these considerations are balanced with safety as well. They accept that they can’t please everyone.

6. Talk to the shop floor

Mike Speer does one-on-ones with his team throughout the year.

Through these discussions, he hears about opportunities for improvement. He follows up with the direct manager in case they have a better explanation or understanding about why something hasn’t been — or can’t be — changed.

He feels it’s crucial to talk to internal customers who are in the trenches. Once they see improvements, they clamor for more.

7. Meet people where they are

It’s important to give team members the freedom they need to feel comfortable while communicating. For example, no one turns on cameras anymore.

Some people like messaging. Others prefer email. Finding what works with everyone is key. As always, some people understand better with visuals while others need to hear it. Be flexible.

8. Rethink meeting scheduling

Rajiv notes that even though we’re not always commuting, that doesn’t mean that we have to start working at 8:00 AM or have 7:00 AM or 7:00 PM meetings.

He doesn’t want early meetings — he’s a part-time Uber driver for his kids, as lots of others are. There’s plenty of time to meet later in the day.

Mike’s rule is no meetings before 9:00 AM, no meetings after 4:00, and no meetings during lunch. Not everyone’s happy about it, but he thinks it’s important that it continues going forward.

9. Reimagine check-ins

Rajiv and Mike agree — they rarely talk about work during check-ins.

“I’d much rather understand what’s going on in their lives, what kinds of things they’re dealing with and what kinds of things I can help them with. And that goes for everybody I work with, whether they’re contractors, partners, whatever. Human interaction really helps close the gap,” says Rajiv.

We don’t need to talk about work because it’s always gonna be there. We need to connect with people and talk about families first.

10. Go asynchronous when possible

Mike loves Slack and encourages more asynchronous communication whenever possible.

Many of us have had to deal with non-stop meetings from 9 to 5. People are often five minutes late because they need a restroom break, or they skip lunch with a protein bar and a Diet Coke instead of actually having a meal or taking a walk. According to Mike, that’s crazy.

He’d love to automate daily stand-ups in Slack. He’d prefer his people to focus and do what they need, when they need to — instead of attending meetings but only half listening, hoping no one calls on them.

11. Mute notifications

Mike has Slack and email on his phone, but a couple of years ago he muted all notifications.

He still checks his phone every once in a while, but in the evenings he puts it in a padded wooden box so he can’t hear it vibrate. He’ll check it occasionally but not necessarily jump to every alert.

Being able to compartmentalize and not take action took discipline, but it’s been a major positive change.

12. Hold virtual happy hours

Salesforce has had success with virtual happy hours and similar events, for example, games like Two Truths and a Lie. Set aside even 15-20 minutes so the whole team can get together and talk about whatever they want.

They started these get-togethers when everyone was home, but the idea stuck. It’s a nice way for people to unwind, have fun, and learn more about their teammates. It makes work easier for everybody.

13. Let priorities shift

Mike notes that the pace of life has slowed a bit, especially during Covid. And that’s okay. There’s always tomorrow. There’s always the next day. Sometimes you don’t need your one-on-one. You don’t need to provide a project update. He encourages people to cut out self-imposed “BS deadlines.”

mike speer panelist at innovationsummit

One of Mike’s personal boundaries is that anything that comes in on Friday afternoon can wait till Monday.

Rajiv emphasizes that he really wants his people to spend time with their families.

14. Use creative work agreements

Don’t be afraid to create unique team SOPs.

For example, consider half-day Fridays for your tech team, even if it’s not company practice. It won’t work all the time, but try to find a balance.

Do what you need to do for your team. If someone needs to take a day after working overnight, give them a day.

Get your team together to decide how you want to operate and collaborate. What’s your working agreement to be efficient and still kind to one another?

15. Manage change

According to Mike, our ability to manage change hasn’t changed much.

We have less physical proximity to walk over and pull people into discussions. That hinders us somewhat. But that was also a problem pre-Covid.

It comes down to how you can best find people — a Slack message? Email? Phone call? Video chat? Find out how they want to communicate and start a discussion.

16. Don’t sugar coat

Rajiv thinks that people are getting to the point better when it comes to sharing concerns. Whereas in the past he might get a PowerPoint deck or a 15-page email, now people are cutting to the chase more quickly — and that’s helpful.

Mike agrees. He’s also always tried to teach new people not to sugar coat.

There’s a way to deliver a message about potential problems, but encourage your team to bring concerns up early. As soon as they see an issue, let them know they should raise a flag. Give everyone more lead time to get in front of matters and pull in more people if necessary.

17. Deal with detractors

Getting buy-in is all about talking it out. The discussion will vary by situation and level of the detractors. If they’re C-suite, that’s a separate conversation. They may have insight or just the ability to kill an idea.

Put all the reasons on the table. Digging in with five whys and getting to the root cause is always helpful. Find out why they think something’s going to be an issue. Ask about their experience. Really listen.

These direct conversations might be easier now than before. In the past, someone could hide in a corner and not participate, whereas now we can just call them.

18. Drive stakeholder support and engagement

In the past, there was a lot of parity. We were efficiently bad, as in, “Here’s my procedure manual, just copy this into Salesforce for us.”

Now it’s, “Here’s our procedure manual. Let’s rip this thing up and rethink how we use Salesforce.”

We’re engaging stakeholders by showing them that we can actually improve their process, make their lives better, and remove steps from their process. Showcasing that really helps facilitate buy in.

19. Emphasize baby steps

Mike tries not to blow people away with technology because he knows he’ll regret it later, when they want everything all at once.

The problem is, users usually don’t understand the necessary incremental steps required. They don’t know the total effort or how long the entire project took.

It’s not about one big change — it’s lots of incremental steps. Show people the little things, talk about what you’ll do on Day 1. Then quickly improve as you go along.

20. Fight meeting and Zoom fatigue

Mike and Rajiv agree that the best way to fight meeting burnout is by setting team and personal boundaries. Accept that people need to take care of personal things.

It’s a little easier to manage now that we’re at home. You can still take phone calls in the car, you can answer Slack messages while you’re waiting in the parking lot for the dentist, etc. Managers can find ways to buck the system a bit.

21. Allow for flexible scheduling

Technology enables us to work whenever we want, wherever we want, as long as we get the work done. And generally that works.

But in tech it’s tough because of production needs. Sometimes you have to give your team a three- or four-day weekend because they’ve been busting their hump with a new release. Find the balance and accept some give and take. Understand what people are putting in and give back to them so they can recharge and don’t become resentful.

22. Set boundaries

Mike says that just because he stops meetings at 4:00, it doesn’t mean that he stops working. But he has told his team that he doesn’t want to see emails coming in late at night.

He spends the time between four and eight with his family and then takes 5-10 minutes at 9:00 to see if there’s anything he needs to focus on. If not, he shuts it down. But he doesn’t want to be addicted to notifications.

23. Most of all, be human

Rajiv suggests not diving into meeting agendas right away, but instead giving people a chance to chat. It helps get them in the right frame of mind to work.

It’s more important how we interact with the people on our teams and our business users. That’s what really helps make transformation easier.

Build up listening skills and trust people. Be deliberately human.

Talk about families and your kids who are sick or your dog that just died or your lottery win. Include the good, the bad, and the ugly.

There’s always tomorrow. Very rarely are there hard and fast deadlines, and if there are, it’s usually because of financial regulations, etc. There are things you have to do in certain timeframes, but most stuff can wait. Realizing that was a big change for Mike.

Watch the Sessions to Learn More

Hopefully you’ve found a tip or three that you can use in your organization. If you’d like more insight into these great discussions, watch the session recording and check out the entire video library from Innovation Summit 2022. 

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