This cliché is so threadbare it’s got holes, but it’s still true: Your people are your organization’s greatest assets.
No matter what your product or service is or your organizational mission, your people will make it happen. Or not. Not if you can’t find them. Certainly not, if they are not engaged.
Forty percent of global companies report problems filling job roles, according to Manpower. It’s the worst worldwide talent crunch since 2007, just before the start of the Great Recession. IT staff jumped seven places in 2016 to land as the second toughest roles to fill, reported 42,300 employers. IT staff includes developers, programmers, database administrators and IT leaders and managers.
On top of that, Gallup reports a global employee engagement crisis. Gallup defines engaged employees as involved in, enthusiastic about and committed to their work and workplace. It found that just 32% of U.S. employees were engaged in 2016, and a dismal 13% worldwide. Those numbers haven’t budged significantly over the past decade.
Your challenge as a team leader is to build and sustain your team’s engagement with your project’s goal and company mission. There are ways to achieve this. Robert Half Company’s OfficeTeam compiled a report called Motivating Your Team: 25 Ways to Increase Employee Engagement. No. 7 on that list is showing you care by getting to know your employees personally and No. 11 is discussing their career aspirations with them.
The onus is on you. Good leaders have ongoing conversations with their people on where they want to take their careers. This means constant and consistent communication. You can’t just guess, or assume where someone wants his or her career to go. You have to really get into the discussion with people. Find out what they’re looking for and what they would like to pursue.
Uncovering hidden expertise
When talking to your people about their skills and career goals, it’s amazing what you find out. Like expertise among your team members that you didn’t know about before. For example, I’m constantly floored by the numbers of networking CCIEs who originally started their careers in software.
Having these conversations leads to happy coincidences all around. Suddenly you find you have all of these highly capable people on your team who just happen to have a background in software - just as your company is charging into the software arena. And a lot of these people know all about it. They’ve been there. Whether they want to become involved in software again depends on how you tie it to the initiative. Is it a good fit for their preferred career paths? You won’t know until you discuss it with them.
Of course, given the quick pace of the workday, it’s not always easy to have these chats. People are coming and going. You have coworkers who you think you know, but maybe you’ve never really had an in-depth review of their career goals or where they want to go. As the team leader, it’s even more important to make time to have these talks. Some people may want to stay in their positions, in their roles forever. And if it continues to be a good fit, then that’s fine. You may not know if their role will be there forever if the organization changes, but those are the risks that people have to take.
And you have to continue to put yourself out there but the employee must be committed, too. You cannot provide that commitment on the employee’s behalf. But the first step in up-skilling is really knowing your organization and knowing where people are and what they bring to the table.
For example, when I put a coworker in charge of a particular team recently, they put their heads together and came up with the idea of using virtual reality to deliver some of our training. And a whole bunch of people on the team just jumped at the opportunity to run with this. They were the folks with the very extensive software backgrounds. They were excited to work on this project because it engaged their skills in a visionary way. They see where they can connect to the end goal in a way that is very unique and very special.
Get to know your talent. That is an imperative for project and organizational success.
Training for Digital Skills
A big part of the problem with filling IT roles is due to digitization. The IT skill needs of organizations have changed dramatically in the digital era. Every IT role has been impacted. This is the second part of upskilling: more formal training in the valuable IT skills that your organization needs now.
Happily, training to upskill employees is a win-win for them and your organization. According to Gallup, 'opportunities to learn and grow' is one of The 12 Elements of Great Management. Offering training is the 10th recommendation on the Robert Half OfficeTeam motivational list.
Gallup researchers also write that one of the critical errors organizations make is 'measuring workers’ satisfaction or happiness levels and catering to their wants, instead of treating employees as stakeholders of their future and their company’s future.'
Employees with the stakeholder mindset can easily understand why they must keep their skills up to date. Skilling is a critical part of managing any team and it is tied directly to those career development conversations you are having on an informal daily basis with your team. Once you find out where your team members want to take their careers, compare that to your organization’s list of needed IT skills. You may find there’s a match and that you can add those desired skills by training your existing team members instead of having to look for new employees and assume the risk of new hires.
Upskilling your team is an investment that will pay dividends for everyone. Your team members learn new skills and become more motivated and engaged in their work and company. The organization gets needed digital skills and a more effective workforce. All because you took the time every day to talk to your people and care about where they are and where they want to be. It’s not rocket science, but it does take the desire and dedication on your part to be the best possible leader you can be.