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Workplace environment for motivated, creative staff?

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Workplace environment for motivated, creative staff?

skewenrich
Hi. I'm an Application Development Manager who has experienced a number of resignations over the last few months. I've been at the firm 3 1/2 years and feel that morale and interest in the business is at the lowest point yet.

My question really is this:
In a development environment where we are not using cutting edge development tools (Main tools are VB6, SQL Server 2000 with some .Net) what is the best way to keep staff interested? We have a huge amount of work to do and evolving the tech is not something that is easy to do. So, I'm thinking specifically of the environment. Casual Dress? Home Working? Games console in the corner of the office? How about office layout?

Welcome your thoughts! Thanks - Rich
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Tony Hopkinson

VB6? Another year or so and they would be better off knowing cobol or fortran!

It's not just losing people , how are you going to attract replacements? I wouldn't touch you with a barge pole, I'm not that close to retirement

Personally I'd recommend training and a good salary. Yeah I know, a bit of worker solidarnosc couldn't help myself. Sorry

This upcoming workload what can you hive off to new tech. Start small and simple, by all means but it's got to be done. Not just to keep your work force happy, but to have a future full stop, all you are doing is putting off the invetible and it isn't going to get cheaper or easier.

I left my last place because of this, there was a sonic boom, I got out that fast and that was two years ago and for a promise to go to .net fully that's only just started to realise.

None of the things you are suggesting would make me stay, relocating to Thailand with entertainment expenses might make me pause, or a 100k a year, little else though.

And no, I'm not joking, you need to address the tech gap and you need to do it yesterday.

You are going to be left with the inexperienced, the unambitious, the fearful and the just plain incompetent. If you started on a port to say VB.NET today, how long would it take, add on your current workload...

Anyone of your people with the IQ of a daffodil will be hitting jobserve everyday.
Putting a play station in the corner will just give them something to do while the recruiters ring them back.

If you aren't going to address the tech gap, don't bother with any of this stuff your business is going to need the money. You could actually end up being so far behind your VB6ers will get better offers for a niche skill!

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skewenrich

... Its not just the tech. Like I said, there is some .Net happening but there are also framework products like Metastorm and Visualfiles. This is the way most professional services are going as why would a company that isn't a software house write something from scratch that other people have already done?

We use VB.Net for integration components around these but also writing new components in it where it makes sense and the VB6 app can call them. So, plenty of web services etc and tech isn't the main reason the people have left.

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Tony Hopkinson

then, have you considered asking them? Course if you do that you'll have to be prepared to address some of their concerns, otherwise it will just get worse.

The things that make me happy about work apart from interesting work and of course money.

A relaxed working environment and mutual respect.
Sometimes our boss just goes out and gets us a bacon butty for breakfast.
He'll pop out for beer with us and get the first round in.

We have end of iteration meals as long as we make the dead lines.

They sent me to Tech Ed in Barcelona last year.

We've got a telly and sky and they let us watch world cup matches, no doubt a few of us will be popping in and perusing the cricket soon.

They are spending the training budget on us, we have technical track advancement and more management oriented progression.

Oh we aren't sat about in front of the telly with a beer and a burger all the time.
Usually we are working our asses off in hope of one of these wee treats.

Mostly it's showing I have value, with a consistent message. Don't treat me as an asset one week, and then a cost the next.

It's a succession of little things that make the difference. No one can pay me enough to take a load of crap, and no one gets to sacrifice my career. It's me who decides whether it is crap, or that my career is going south, telling me it's not and it isn't won't cut it.

You haven't made promises to these guys you haven't been able to keep have you?. That one is trust killer.

Best advice I can give, take your company head off, would you be happy as one of them?
If not, why not?
Us tech types put our trousers on one leg at a time just like you.

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skewenrich

Not much difference there Tony to be honest. Not shy on the beers / nosh etc. Its just noticeable that the old buzz isn't there so was thinking about introducing some "fun"

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Tony Hopkinson

my work is fun. People actually pay me money to play with their computers. I've slacked off due to a hefty commute 2.5 hours there and back, but I used to program as a hobby, after I got back from work.

OK I'm strange.

More taking the fun out of it from my point of view.

I can see why you are concerned though, aside from having to do VB6 (I loathe it), it sounds like a decent place.

Hope it works out.

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syed.ali

I would recommend that involve your senior guys in this matter. Have a open discussion in one-to-one meeting. Note all their doable suggestions and form an Express Team who will be rensponsible to motivate the people and bring the issues on your table with solutions. This is my approach, let them solve the issues which they think causing the problem of demotivation. In this way you will get their involvment, commitment and determination as well.

Regards,

Syed

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tgpadaki

By providing the kind of Workplace Environment (as materials) would not help much (might even worsen the situation if you consider the time they spend on the project v/s. on the gaming console).
You need to provide them a very cordial environment (more to do with mind or mindset). They need to be given some ownership and rewards for achieving some good things. The definition of 'good' things vary from project to project and across companies. For VB6-like project team, they need a lot of morale-boost by recognizing them. It may be very costly to reward every now and then. But the company must think before attempting to work on those projects. These are the hidden costs that any manager would not consider while estimating the cost of the project. (Older technologies means High Cost!!).
Yes. You need change in the work place but that is to do with enhancing the relationship with your team. And KNOWING them (as a person) really makes a big difference.

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WelshBilly

I've just left a workplace where they had reasonably up to date technology, and also weren't too bad in little treats now and again. But I hated going to work every day even though I got on with everyone and made a lot of close friends.

The reasons I left were because I was not being paid market rate and also I did not feel valued.

I felt quite demotivated and any of my suggested projects were never followed up and investigated. I was always told it was a good idea and that it would get mentioned to the Head of our department. I would never receive any feedback after this, not even an explanation as to the reasons why this project will not be looked into further.

Additionally, it became quite frustrating when my boss was involving himself in the juicy projects and not the rest of the team. Also there was never any room for personal development or increasing skill level e.g. the .net guy always got the .net work. So this made team working difficult as everyone had their specialises and continued to work on them. This in turn made work boring as there was never anything new.

These are the main reasons I left and I'm glad I have, as my new workplace is so much better. I hope this may give you some ideas.

Also, if you feel moral is down, maybe you should ask your team rather than trying to guess. Good communication and all that!!

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venkat

General feeling is that working in cutting edge technology is the only challenging work. In my view all the projects are challenging as the customer satisfaction is the common goal. So in your project identify the attributes which are very important and highlight them to your team, which makes them responsible and also inculcates dedication towards meeting the project goals

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birgirsch

Talk with them, hear their greviances and comunicate the business issues to them If they are not informed(btw are you informed?) about what is hapening in the business, why they will get recognition and how for good work. Promote your department internaly in the business and comunicate the successes of that to your team.
you could gild the walls but if the business doesnt comunicate no-one will feel involved.

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LetsGoLive

One line of thinking would be to involve the staff in any improvements. This can be achieved by using something like Q12 to gauge employee satisfaction.
In a nutshell it's 12 questions which provide the building blocks to a good working environment and allow staff to highlight deficient areas and implement improvements. The key being the staff implement their own improvements (provided support is there from management)

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skewenrich

Thanks for suggestions folks. I know the guys well as I recruited most of them. We have regular team meetings and often discuss morale. Pressure for delivery from the business is a big factor as well as the tech. What I didn't really say in my original post was that the pressures of work are completely understood and the guys accept this. They know they are not getting great tech so instead want something else to grab onto. Due to the churn, there are new starters who have come in from s/w houses and saying what a great envrionement that was. The professional services environment is completely different as we share our building with 1500 people, most of which are our direct customers.

All I'm looking for is to inject some fun into a tough working environment. Most of the suggestions are around talking to them which obviously any manager would do. I'm just trying to gauge what some of the more modern setups are doing to make the day to day more interesting...

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john.mayo

Besides a well thought out rewards program, you may want to consider such things as:
1. Employee competitions over best code development, solution designs, etc.
2. Employee access to an XBOX games, pool table, dart board, stationary bike, music (for breaks),
3. Create visibility programs for your direct reports to Customers and upper management.
4. Vacation awards for on time under budget.
Just some rough thoughts to consider.

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the gaffer

If you want to know why people have left you need to ask them, did you conduct exit interviews when these people left, do you know where they went and why.

Exit interviews dont need to be formal, infact they sometimes work better if they are informal and 'off the record'. Unless you are part of the problem you should get a pretty honest reply.

If you did not have exit intervies it's not too late, if you still have contact details of the people who left why not give them a quick call, ask them how the new job is going (the grass is not always greener) and then ask them why the left. Now that they have settled in to a new job they have nothing to lose by being honest.

It's not the rats who leave a sinking IT ship first it's the ambitious people with the most to offer to other companies, finding out why these people went should help you figure out what you need to do to get decent replacements and hold on to your other staff.

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dr.phil

Exit interviews aren't worth anything. The management in this case needs to PRO-ACTIVELY engage the next level of management to alter the budget so that the new technology can be utilized. Ask yourself this: would you even apply for a job punching 80 column cards in this day and age? I think not unless you have no respect for your career much less yourself. Is this a product of squeeky tight micro-dollar-management or is this a lax time for your career and you're afraid to ask for $'s for a technical update? The upper level mgrs would be frantic if they knew how much $'s they are loosing not only in talent but the lack of technical upgrade resources. It's a wicked formula; not one with only one parameter. One trick I've learned over 27 years of IT is taking the time everyday to sharpen the saw. if you work 8-5 try to stop your usual activities at 4 and use the remaining hour to learn what's new technologically. It will energize you to find new/better ways to apply IT and accidently make you produce a new product that is slick and presentable to management. Lever that with "oh, btw the IT department could really stand additional resources ($'s) to allow management experience these new applications". Pretty soon the exodus of staff will begin to think twice about bailing out as the jobs they are looking at don't seem as upbeat and prosperous as the job they currently have.
Oh yeah, btw the technical refresh is accelerating and from what I am experiencing if you wait 18 months to refresh your "stuff" then you need to find another career.

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pmorrow

Free food and drink

1) Coffee, tea, hot chocolate, and water available at no cost and in a convenient location. I worked for a firm that had this and then they brought in a policy that we had to supply our own, as the 'cost' was too high. Morale dropped way down, so I paid for it myself for three months and then managed to get it as a budget item.

2) Snacks on a regular basis and for special occasions. Bagels or donuts at staff meetings, cake once a month for birthdays (or special events). If your group is small and there is not a birthday that month, find something else to celebrate: Feb - valentine's day, Mar - St. Patrick's day, 1st day of Spring, or a team day (soccer, hockey).

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john.mayo

In my opinion, the best way to motivate staff is to sincerely care about them as people. That does NOT mean you have to promise them the world, but you need to spend time with them and determine what they value, what their career objectives are short and long term, and demonstrate that you will help them get there. In return, you explain your explectations, your perceptions and value structure and what you need from them to succeed in your organization. That with a few creative rewards and recognition programs, and you will maximize retention and growth. Beware half-hearted rewards programs, however. My famous quote to the business world, "Don't spend money to alienate your people".

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sajimon.alex

It is challenging to motivate people when the technology used is obsolete. One suggestion is to use modern development practices like iterative development, so people get an opportunity to learn something new. Try to arrange some training in these new areas.

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ProcessManager

Rich

Most of what everyone else stated is true, better pay, asking what the employee likes (or dislikes), casual dress, new technologies etc is important and will help you create a better work environment. But the true measure must come from the employees themselves. Are they passionate about the work they do. Do they care if its done correctly or just done? Do they fit in the job they have? I have worked directly in the tech world for 9 years and have seen the changes to the tech environment, some good some bad. If the person is just doing a job for a paycheck and derives little or no satisfaction from what they are doing the level of work will suck (sorry to be so blunt). You need to find what motivates the people that work for you, if its just a paycheck that motivates the person then you will have more problems than solutions. Pay, benefits and a casual work environment is not the only motivators; you can't pay me enough to do a job that I don't like!

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IT-Slave

Sure you could set up a gaming room in the corner with a keg, but it still doesn't resolve whatever the underlying problem is. It's true that your developers should be able to get some beta or trial peroid software to develope with, that way they aren't left behind if that's what the issue is. Sounds like you need to get your team together and find out what the real problem is.