Information technology has taken an increasingly dominant place in our work and lives. We can hardly imagine a life without smartphones, tablets and computers. Communicating, navigating and gathering knowledge has never been so easy. Most organisations have become so dependent on IT that they can no longer function without it. Every day, an army of IT professionals actively ensures that the systems are up and running and further improves the IT infrastructure. What precisely these professionals do is a mystery to most people. Most employees in organisations have only sporadic contact with their IT colleagues. If there is any contact at all, it is usually because a problem has arisen. As a result, the staff of an average IT department mainly have to deal with frustrated colleagues or customers. Because most people are not in a positive mood at times like these, IT staff rarely or never receive a token of appreciation. That is unjustified. These employees form the backbone of modern organisations, because without IT everything comes to a standstill. It is time for this profession to receive the appreciation it deserves. In this article, we discuss the status quo and make a first move to change this.
Grumpy if it doesn’t work
People quickly get used to luxury. The same goes for IT. Thanks to information technology, we can now work much faster and more efficiently than before. Who still thinks about how much effort it used to take to type and post a letter? You needed at least a typewriter, a fresh typewriter ribbon and paper. Not to mention the Tipp-Ex to correct errors. When the letter was finally ready, you needed an envelope, a stamp and the right address. The letter was then posted and a few days later the message could finally be read. Now an e-mail can be created, sent and read within minutes. We hardly ever realise that so many things have become easier. On the other hand, we are immediately frustrated when a computer programme doesn’t work properly or the internet is down. That’s when we suddenly become aware of the importance of IT. The positive aspects of IT are consumed without a thought and go unnoticed as a result. Negative aspects, however, are experienced intensely and therefore contribute much more to the perception. An IT manager in the healthcare sector sketched a typical picture. ‘When the nursing staff started working with tablets, it caused some grumpiness at first because they had to adapt. After that, the work was easier, but they soon got used to that. Subsequently, it only causes irritation when it doesn’t work or slows down.”
The positive aspects of IT are consumed without a thought and go unnoticed as a result. Negative aspects, however, are experienced intensely and therefore contribute much more to the perception.
Everything is better at home
Many employees of large organisations work with better equipment and a faster internet connection at home than at work. In addition, the requirements for safety at work are higher, which means that complex passwords and codes have to be used more often. An organisation must take account of confidentiality, protocols and privacy, which does not always improve user-friendliness. Because the IT environment at home takes little account of these kinds of things, it is often much quicker and more pleasant to work in. In addition, software is sometimes cumbersome and slow because large organisations work with many different programmes that have to communicate with each other. Software is sometimes outdated as well. In the interviews as part of our research, some lamentable examples came to light. One municipality, for example, urged Microsoft to maintain Windows XP for longer, despite the fact that it had been announced years before that support for this operating system would cease. Ordering IT products at home is also easier. If we order a laptop in an online shop, it’s delivered to our home the next day. When we order something at work, it often takes a few weeks before we receive it. This discrepancy between the experiences at work and at home doesn’t help to create a positive image of the IT department. What’s more, IT professionals are generally unable to explain the situation well. Often there are valid reasons why something doesn’t work or slows down.
The discrepancy between the experiences at work and at home doesn’t help to create a positive image of the IT department.
Complex projects and heavy workloads
The complexity of IT projects is often underestimated. One of the CIOs interviewed on this subject explained it like this: ‘If we have a new kitchen installed, we almost automatically accept that it will be finished late, although installing a kitchen has been a similar task for decades. An IT project is hardly ever the same. Usually we are doing something for the first time, yet there is little understanding when a project takes longer to complete. This is because people have no idea of the complexity of an IT project’. Compared to installing a kitchen, the work required for an IT project is not very visible. Most people have no idea of everything it involves and can’t imagine it, either. In addition, IT professionals are generally poor at expectation management. Under pressure from the business, they are often swayed into generating unrealistic planning schedules. This does not benefit the working relationship. An additional complicating factor is that most IT departments are understaffed. For many organisations it is not easy to recruit enough staff. The demand for IT personnel is high throughout society, so finding staff with the right qualifications and retaining talent is a challenge. At the same time, the demand for IT services from the organisation is increasing every year. In general, demand is also growing faster than the available budget, with the result that projects are slowing down and the workload is almost continuously high. There is often little understanding for this situation in the rest of the organisation. And that is also because the knowledge of IT is lacking.
People have no idea about the complexity of an IT project
It’s high time for pride and appreciation
The factors described above mean that employees of an IT department are confronted with a great deal of negativity. It’s generally true that IT staff come up against a lot of grumpiness and very little explicit appreciation. This has repercussions for the department – negativity is contagious. If people experience a lot of negativity, this often results in a negative attitude towards the outside world, towards each other and towards themselves. This situation is also noticeable in many IT departments, and it is undesirable and unjustified. IT personnel are very involved and generally work on complex tasks under high pressure. If there is a crisis, people sometimes work day and night to get things back on track. Organisations have become completely dependent on a well-functioning IT environment. In the event of a malfunction or a hack, an entire organisation comes to a standstill. This means that the IT department has a great deal of responsibility. Despite limited resources, high quality is usually delivered, so that most of the processes within an organisation run smoothly. It is time for IT professionals to receive the appreciation they deserve. If more recognition is given by the organisation, this will have an impact on the pride and positivity of IT departments. Positivity is also contagious.
IT staff are very involved and generally work on complex tasks under high pressure.
IT professionals are not universally undervalued, however. There are organisations that do place IT professionals on a pedestal. Team Rockstars IT is a good example: a team of 300 selected Native Software Developers (IT-Rockstars) who develop IT solutions for their customers on a project basis. The company, based in the Netherlands, gives their IT-Rockstars a great deal of recognition. Just by calling them IT-Rockstars, for a start, but also by the way they work. For example, customers rate the IT-Rockstars, but the IT-Rockstars also rate their customers. If customers are given a rating of less than 8 out of 10, the company removes their IT-Rockstars. So the Rockstars decide if they want to continue the assignment. More than 50% of the customers give a 9 or 10 to the IT-Rockstars – which obviously is a really good score – but customers also assess the IT-Rockstars by answering an open question, which leads to many appreciative stories being shared. These compliments are fed back and celebrated. We have also encountered pride in some other organisations, when it comes to the role that IT plays in the organisation, and in a few of them, positive feedback was also actively provided. However, this is still very limited in most organisations. That is why we end this article with some practical tips.
There are organisations that do place IT professionals on a pedestal.
Make people aware of the importance of IT in the organisation
Make clear what role IT plays in serving end users, the end customer and the end product. IT has a direct impact on the productivity and health of colleagues. There is often a direct influence on the end customer or end product as well. However, this relationship is not always very visible. When we were asked to give a presentation to the IT department of one of the major banks about customer enthusiasm, the employees wondered why this presentation was being given to them. After all, they didn’t have any contact with end customers, did they? However, by showing them film fragments of consumers who were enthusiastic about the bank because of internet banking, privacy and security, it became crystal clear that they did have a major influence on the enthusiasm of the consumer.
Share positive feedback from internal customers or end users
When companies measure their satisfaction with IT services, action is often only taken when results are negative. IT organisations are used to reacting to calamities and that is of course very important. But it is a missed opportunity if attention is not paid to positive signals as well. If you look for them, they are often abundantly present. By also taking note of compliments and other forms of appreciation from the customer, pride and flow are created and it is also much easier to create a customer-focused culture.
Many IT project organisations race from one project to the next. When a project is concluded and evaluated, often only the things that could be improved are considered. When a project has run smoothly, has remained within budget or has made a customer happy, we quickly move on to the next project. That’s a pity, because it’s important to give successes the attention they deserve and to take a moment to celebrate this together. Preferably also with colleagues from other departments who have contributed to the success. In this way, a positive flow is created that extends even beyond your own department. Let external parties join in the experience of celebration if they have played a role in the achievement. This is also conducive to future collaboration.
Make room for positivity in regular meetings
It is not just IT departments that focus on problems – this focus can be found everywhere. Take a look at the main evening news. The human brain is programmed to be alert to danger. It dates back to the time when we had to constantly look over our shoulders to see if we were being chased by a predator or an enemy from another tribe. But it also means that positive things rarely get attention. Sometimes attention is paid to positivity for a while, for example when the manager has been on a course, but often it doesn’t become a structural part of the work situation. That’s why it’s a good idea to make room in regular meetings for discussing matters that have gone well. It is advisable to start the meeting with this item, because otherwise it often slips off the agenda. Additionally, it has been demonstrated that a meeting goes better if it starts with something positive. The brain goes into a different mode, as it were. We become more creative, more tolerant towards others and more open to cooperation.
Give more sincere compliments
In addition to passing on positive customer feedback and celebrating successes at project level, there are naturally many more opportunities to show appreciation to colleagues. Every day, there are colleagues who help us or deliver great results. By consciously thinking about this, for example at the beginning or the end of a working day, it improves our own mood. It evokes a feeling of pride that is easy to share with the colleagues concerned. By expressing verbal appreciation or by sending an app or a message by e-mail, you bring your colleagues more into flow. Everyone likes to receive a compliment. As long as it’s serious and shared with enthusiasm.