IT Discipline Mentoring program: Increase staff motivation and productivity

IT has been lean for years and now staff is burning out from consistently working 12+ hour days and weekends. IT executives have taken some steps to stem the tide such as developing best practices and buying the latest technology. But this hasn't had much effect. Read about an idea that may be the best way to keep your staff working productively and happily.

by Harris Kern

Each day presents a substantial challenge for IT professionals who are trying to manage their workloads, and that goes beyond the office. At home, they face personal obligations like kids and significant others who want more of their time, or the need to eat and sleep. Some would even like to brush up on their profession a little more. But as anyone in the IT field knows these goals can sometimes be a challenge to reach.

The corporate mandate is to do more with less. In IT, we've been doing more with less for the past three decades. Arguably running the business of IT is more difficult than managing any other business, for several reasons:

  • Customer demands for additional services and higher service levels at a lower cost
  • Rapidly evolving technology
  • Rapid ramp-up and/or multi-location infrastructure requirements for corporate acquisitions
  • Constant threat of being outsourced
  • Infrastructures that are complex to design, support, and maintain
  • The need to forge compromises between business and technical constraints
  • The need to enrich relationships with the business, which still has a hard time understanding IT's value
  • Managing time horizons
  • Politics - IT is the "undesirable step-child
  • Economic downturns and rising global competition

Physically and mentally, IT professionals are becoming disheveled. IT has been lean for years and now staff is burning out from consistently working 12+ hour days and weekends. IT executives have taken some strides to remedy this, such as:

  • Developing best practices (i.e., processes, standards, etc.)
  • Getting the best technology money can buy
  • Hiring experienced employees

Management has also gone so far as to invest in a variety of team-building exercises over the past few years in an attempt to promote teamwork and motivate the staff, hoping they would see an increase in productivity and customer satisfaction.

When all is said and done, the staff is still not performing at the level required in order to provide a satisfactory level of service to their customers. So what's it going to take? The traditional ways of dealing with IT staff, i.e., communicating regularly, offering incentives, challenging people, delegating responsibility, etc. help, but only a bit. For one thing, the people issues and challenges today are enormous. For example, IT staffs are typically in reactive mode; they're too busy, or uninterested in, establishing and cultivating the appropriate relationships within IT and the enterprise; some are not very people-oriented; and management is too busy to manage effectively.

Where to begin: The three key ingredients

To begin building a competitive IT organization you need to embrace the following key programs:

IT assessment

IT executives should have a senior consultant facilitate a high-level assessment of the people, organizational structure, and process issues. This assessment will provide pertinent data such as:

  • Analysis (profiles) of key individuals in the organization
  • A gauge of the staff's overall quality of life
  • Insight into the political climate
  • A determination of the effectiveness of key processes
  • A list of the obstacles and challenges

The consultant should have an extensive background in IT best practices and be people-oriented to effectively gauge the temperature of key staff (management and technical). This assessment should take about one week to complete and is based primarily on interviews with senior management, mid-level management, non-management staff, and a few key customers of IT.

The interviews should be kept to 30-45 minutes and should only focus on people, process, and organizational structure issues—not technology.

IT organization planning and development workshop

The best way to develop a strategy to address the issues outlined in the assessment is to hold an offsite planning and development workshop. This workshop shouldn't be one of those typical offsite management-planning sessions. The program should be designed to bring key contributors—staff and management from all areas of the organization—into one room to brainstorm the issues, prioritize the issues, and develop a strategy that will resolve many of the issues. The strategy should be an action plan with associated milestones and clearly noted responsibilities with due dates for everyone.

The workshop should be comprised of three days of off-site, structured, facilitated exercises and focus on the organization, people and process issues, but also taking into consideration technology architectures. Key members of your organization participate on different days. The workshop should be divided into three sessions

  • Day 1: Key IT management
  • Day 2: Key IT technical representatives
  • Day 3: Joint planning session

The IT management and technical session (Day 1 and Day 2) objectives should be to:

  • Communicate the process and the objectives of the workshop.
  • Identify detailed business issues, initiatives, and drivers.
  • Identify IT people, organizational structure, and process issues.
  • Identify details of the current organization, its history, and evolution.
  • Discuss and brainstorm issues and potential solution strategies.
  • Organize, categorize, and prioritize the brainstormed issues.
  • Design an action plan to resolve the issues.

The joint planning session includes representatives from both IT management and key technical staff, who work together to integrate the plans developed during the previous sessions into a single, cohesive plan, which is presented to the IT executive sponsoring the workshop.

Key workshop deliverables should include:

  • Preliminary migration approach
  • Key people, process, organizational structure issues/opportunities for improvement and recommended solutions
  • An action plan developed by the workshop participants
  • Across-the-board buy-in of the action plan

IT discipline mentoring program

IT professionals can't always rely on management for support, let alone help. So they need to be mentored to be able to motivate themselves. The goal of a discipline mentoring program is to empower IT professionals to become more productive in their careers, which will spill over into their personal lives as well.

This program is specifically designed to help IT professionals become efficient, therefore more productive. Again, for this program to be most effective it's recommended that you hire a senior consultant who is objective and who is familiar with IT and HR issues. Here are the phases of the program:

Phase I: Background

Initial meeting with executive sponsor to understand the following:

  • The corporate culture
  • Business initiatives/external competition
  • Organizational issues and challenges
  • People-related issues and challenges. These would be potential candidates for the discipline mentoring program

For each mentoring candidate that is identified, you would:

  • Analyze performance reviews
  • Analyze individual development plans, etc.

The next step would be to acquire buy-in from HR and agree on vision, strategy, purpose, goals, timeframe, deliverables, etc.

Phase II: relationship and analysis

This phase includes an in-depth interview with each IT professional who will be involved in the discipline mentoring program to gain knowledge of every aspect of his or her career and personal life. Here you would:

  • Determine sensitive areas [for example, the individual may have difficulty with time management or thinking strategically]
  • Determine from customers, co-workers, peers, and direct reports which areas they feel needs improvement
  • Ascertain what the IT professional wants to get out of the program. What are their goals for their career and personal life?
  • Shadow the IT professional in meetings, giving presentations, interacting with direct reports, management, etc.
  • Analyze current priorities (personal and career)
  • Analyze daily and weekend routine (personal and career)
  • Establish base-line metrics

Phase III: Evaluate

The consultant and the IT professional will compile and summarize data. The consultant will have a heart-to-heart discussion with the IT professional, conveying the message that this is the last opportunity to resolve the issues, that if he fails, the consultant fails. They should together determine which areas are feasible to address and which ones are not.

Phase IV: Action Plan

Develop a discipline mentoring action plan:

  • Identify themes.
  • Structure data into themes and subsequently categories, with each category being a problem statement.
  • Develop an action plan to address the problem.

An action plan would include jointly developing tasks with milestones/dates for each problem. [In the case of our example of an IT pro with a time-management problem, you would have him document his current job functions by a certain date and then have him determine the time allocation for each job function by another date.] Then you would jointly develop minor and major goals for each problem, adjust current priorities to improve odds for success and establish a new daily routine.

Phase V: Mentoring

It's time to officially begin the program. Determine an appropriate schedule based on current job responsibilities. Review progress (or lack thereof) with one-on-one meetings, unlimited e-mail, and weekly phone calls to IT professional on action plan. It would look something like this:

Program #1 (8 weeks): The program includes:

  • Eight 10-15 minute sessions weekly via a conference call
  • E-mails, as required to monitor progress between sessions
  • One 5-10 minute phone call in between weekly con calls, as required to monitor progress
  • One one-hour face-to-face meeting to gauge ongoing progress and to discuss post mentoring program challenges

Program #2 (Ongoing Monitoring – 3 months) This program is a customized successor to Program #1:

  • One 10-15 minute session weekly via a conference call
  • E-mails, as required to monitor progress between sessions
  • One 10-15 minute phone call per week as required to monitor progress

Phase VI: Post discipline mentoring program

Closure discussion with sponsor and IT professional:

  • To recap process
  • To review action plan and accomplishments
  • Check to see if there are any new issues that need resolution. Did individual meet expectations
  • To discuss next steps (if applicable)

Employee mentoring may seem like a large task but it is an essential one if you are to keep your employees motivated and productive. Regardless of the latest and greatest technology or the world-class processes you design and implement, at the end of the day, it is all about the people

The Harris Kern Enterprise Computing Institute ( is a consortium of publications — books, reference guides, tools, and articles - developed through a unique conglomerate of leading industry experts. Together with Prentice Hall/PTR, members of the Institute have published several 'how-to' books, including such titles as: IT Services, IT Organization, IT Systems Management, IT Production Services, High Availability, Managing IT as an Investment, and CIO Wisdom to name a few.

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