Offer Access to Hot Technology

Ask experienced IT workers what motivates them in their jobs, and you'll hear more than just talk about big salaries, bonuses and benefits packages. Remuneration is important to them, but these workers have an inner drive to snag hands-on assignments that include hot new technology.

"I am motivated by opportunities that provide interesting, meaningful work," says Laura Radcliffe, a 20-year IT veteran at Electronic Data Systems Corp. in Plano, Texas, one of Computerworld's top 10 best employers for hot projects.

Radcliffe defines a hot project as "one that provides learning opportunities and challenges, typically centered on new technologies or large enterprise systems." Several CIOs add that a hot project must have a tangible importance to the customer and the bottom line.

But how do IT managers use hot projects to keep employees motivated and loyal, and how can IT workers get these choice assignments?

"Good leaders seek challenging opportunities for their strong performers and will go out of their way to ensure that the individual is challenged and receives assignments that provide 'stretch,' " says Radcliffe, a systems portfolio manager charged with overseeing IT teams assigned to EDS's clients.

Indeed, EDS and other leading IT employers work with an abundance of cutting-edge technologies. But managers at these companies say they also constantly face questions about whether a hot technology has staying power or will prove to be an expensive fad. Working on the cutting edge also means they must worry about the complexity of integrating unknown technology within established legacy systems.

These leading workplaces are riding the wave of new technologies that could vanish at a moment's notice and, if managers and IT workers aren't careful, sap valuable resources.

"A lot of CIOs within our client base might be reading about some vendor's promising new technology and find it hot, without understanding the purpose," Radcliffe says. "Hopefully, EDS does try to understand the process, rather than implement new technology for technology's sake."

Radcliffe is in charge of teams of IT workers assigned to client sites where a technology integration project could make or break the customer. As such, many projects involve setting up integration backbones or architecture standards for business-to-business or application-to-application projects. Some involve creating complex Web portals or models for knowledge system architectures.

"Tying business results to what IT people do . . . encourages action and urgency in meeting project goals," says Terry Milholland, CIO and chief technology officer at EDS. He advises managers to use the customer's need for a project as a motivator for IT workers.

Build Business Value

Another company with hot projects, Harley-Davidson Inc. in Milwaukee, builds hot motorcycles. But its IT staff still must tend to legacy systems and remember the business value of its newest technology.

"It hasn't been to my satisfaction yet, but we are really trying to drive business value" in projects instead of promoting technology for technology's sake, says Reid Engstrom, director of information systems at Harley-Davidson. "Understanding the business value really makes a project more exciting and gives people a reason to come to work."

Effective managers need to explain the business objectives of a project, Engstrom says. At Harley-Davidson, a collaborative inventory management project drives revenue by putting the best-selling motorcycles and accessories on dealer floors as quickly as possible.

Managers also need to remember that lower-level employees, not the leaders, often have the greatest technology savvy, Engstrom says. "Sometimes people assume the leaders know it all, so it becomes a question of how to empower those lower down," he says.

Engstrom urges midlevel managers and inexperienced IT workers to get assigned to the hottest projects by showing initiative, keeping up with current technologies and learning soft skills such as how to work effectively on a team and how to talk with business customers.

Keep Worker Skills Current

Jeff Scheele, senior systems manager for applications at Harley-Davidson, says the company's motorcycle mystique helps when he recruits personnel, in addition to the lure of exciting IT projects. When Scheele arrived five years ago, he was attracted to a company that was AS/400-centered and was set to build new Web-based technologies and skills, having moved off a mainframe in the early '90s.

Harley-Davidson must still administer the legacy AS/400s as it tries to use new technologies to help expand manufacturing capacity with new plants and boost business-to-business integration with suppliers, Scheele says. These technologies include Microsoft Corp.'s SQL server and XML messaging.

"Still, we need some applications to stay on the legacy platform," which has required some IT workers to focus their energies there, Scheele says.

That reality has made Scheele philosophical about what really is a hot technology amid constant change. "Over time, your cutting-edge platform will become your new legacy platform," which puts pressure on managers to keep their IT workers current, he explains.

Harley-Davidson managers have fostered hot projects by offering the promise of challenging work as early as the employee recruiting phase. There's also a collaborative environment that helps to increase productivity on those projects, "where people feel empowered, where managers don't stand over you, where they rely on your opinion and where there's a lot of support," Scheele says.

He urges managers to stay in tune with the interests of their workers through quarterly review meetings, where a manager and an employee can compare what projects are coming up and what the employee wants to work on.

"We've offered real challenges in the opportunity to work on new technologies and high-visibility projects while not relying on bonuses," Scheele says.

IT workers at the company must stay in touch with the needs of real end-user customers—those who ride motorcycles—if only to know how business and IT can serve them better on the consumer Web site. To do so, Harley-Davidson sends IT staff about once a year to customer motorcycle rallies to help with demonstrations, Scheele says. A generous commitment to training, along with travel opportunities, adds to the company's ability to keep its staff ready to work on hot projects.

Offer Freedom and Variety

Training on hot technologies is key to keeping staff motivated at Kanbay Inc. in Rosemont, Ill., says Bala Kalyanasundaram, a practice leader at the IT consulting company. Kanbay relies on training and certifications from IBM and Microsoft, which Kalyanasundaram says "generates interest and enthusiasm." Kanbay also grooms workers on internal technology rollouts before they work on outside client projects.

Some companies are inherently technology-driven and are therefore devoted to hot projects.

At FedEx Services, an operating company within FedEx Corp. in Memphis, IT manager Chris Ferguson is working with a new Web-based application called InSight. The application proactively provides package shipping status to a customer based on an account number, making a tracking number unnecessary.

The project fills a customer need and promises to provide a competitive advantage, which has been a "huge motivator" for workers, Ferguson says. IT employees at FedEx have the freedom to move to their areas of interest—something that's made easier because FedEx uses a wide variety of technologies.

Matt Frantzen, assistant director of IT architecture at The Principal Financial Group, says he helps motivate workers by rotating them on hot projects for variety. A huge initiative that was launched in 1999 at the Des Moines, Iowa-based financial services firm to provide a centralized customer database has led to many new technologies, which are selected based on best of breed, he says. "Principal is a true [return on investment] kind of place, but we buy products and push their functionality, which is what makes them hot," Frantzen says.

One bit of advice that Frantzen has regarding new technologies is to research them carefully to prevent IT snafus during implementation. "Yes, we do get those airline magazine articles handed to us on something like customer relationship management, and that's when we do our research and decide what to do next," he says.

How to Motivate With Hot Projects
Make sure IT team members understand the business value of the technology they're implementing.
Use the customer's need to motivate IT and tie business results to what is accomplished.
Choose workers who show initiative, keep up with technology and have strong communications skills.
Rotate workers among hot projects to give them variety.

Copyright © 2002 IDG Communications, Inc.

Bing’s AI chatbot came to work for me. I had to fire it.
Shop Tech Products at Amazon