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Engaging IT: The Story of One Team

March 27, 2009
By

The Happy and Productive Employee

By: Phil Stevens

The following is the first article in a two-part series called Engaging IT: The Story of One Team. 

The cultural wisdom that happy people will work harder and produce better results is subtly embedded everywhere, which may explain why many leaders make a significant effort to keep team members happy. Much has been discussed related to “mass customization” and “a market of one” with satisfaction being tailored to each individual. In today’s business climate, there are the multiple “number one priorities” and a pressing need to do more with less. Leaders will ask themselves—how much time should be put into employee satisfaction and does my effort have to be on an individual-by-individual basis.

In this series, I would like to share my insights and recommendations for a more productive IT organization based on a successful transformation that I led at a Fortune 100 company.

The Happy Worker

Happy workers work harder. Could this wisdom possibly be wrong?  Yes, it could be. Every MBA student has learned that a substantial body of research, dating before Brayfield and Crockett’s 1955 study “Employee Attitudes and Employee Performance,” indicates that there is no appreciable link between employee satisfaction and individual performance. Follow-up research has supported Brayfield and Crockett’s study.

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A good leader should verify research against his experience and common sense. For example, have the following employees been on your team:

  • A dissatisfied employee who produces equal, if not better, results than satisfied employees;

  • A programmer who can write code twice as fast as other team members but shows disdain for team meetings and occasionally can be overheard speaking poorly of the company; or

  • The IT Director who seems out of touch with the company mission yet “runs a solid operation.”

Individuals can be unhappy or dissatisfied yet produce good results, a surprising development because it counters what we, as leaders, have been taught.  A more important question remains: If employee satisfaction is not linked to individual performance, should leaders spend time on making sure team members are satisfied?

Organizational Citizens

Yes, leaders should care about employee satisfaction. In his book The Subtle Significance of Job Satisfaction, Dennis Organ addresses an important distinction between individual in-role performance and Organizational Citizenship Behavior (OCB). OCB refers to those little-recognized, voluntary actions that are necessary in any effective organization. For example, a co-worker helping a new hire learn about the company’s unique processes or checking with other team members before committing to a course of action. Some people use the term “discretionary effort” or “engagement.” Although employee satisfaction is not a predictor of in-role performance, it is a predictor of engagement, discretionary effort, and OCB.

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Organ explains that OCB is more important to the functioning of some organizations than others. For example, OCB may not be a differentiator in an assembly line where employees’ interactions follow well-defined standards; but, it is critical in project management where unpredictable elements require cooperation and teamwork.  OCB typically does not impact individual, in-role performance, but, in some types of organizations, it can have substantial impacts on organizational effectiveness. Individual satisfaction can impact the team without impacting the individual. Yes, it sounds a little counterintuitive.

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Is OCB important to IT?  Yes, especially when it comes to IT as a differentiator. It is safe to draw a box around some IT functions, like being ambivalent about the development process Microsoft uses to create Word but using Microsoft Word every day. Likewise, it may be possible to outsource the development of some software modules or the operation of email infrastructure without requiring a high degree of OCB with the outsourcer. On the other hand, the creation of a new business service, the integration of an ERP system with corporate processes, and the development of an ecommerce Web site—the very functions that exemplify how IT can enable the business—are all cases where OCB is critical. IT must be engaged to add value to the business.

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 As a second argument for the importance of OCB, Jim Collins said, “good is the enemy of great.” Consider the following: Good infrastructure in the organization, good development team, and a good project management organization; yet, somehow, as you assess the performance of your overall IT organization, you are underwhelmed.  How is this possible?

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Individuals or small groups are working well, but the larger team is not working well together.  It may take a long time to recognize the problem and even longer to do something about it, because good is the enemy of great.  OCB and large-scale process integration are necessary for a great, high-performance IT organization.

Conclusion

Individual satisfaction is not a strong indicator of individual performance, but it is a key indicator of organizational performance, especially in the most impactful technology projects. In future articles, I will discuss some of the challenges and solutions for improving employee satisfaction, OCB, and organizational effectiveness.  I will also discuss my initiative to create a high-performance IT organization in a Fortune 100 company.

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I would appreciate your feedback and the chance to hear your stories about employee satisfaction impacting organizational effectiveness.

No Responses to “ Engaging IT: The Story of One Team ”

  1. Jan on May 11, 2009 at 9:01 am

    There are many ways in improving worker’s satisfaction. One of them is TEAM BUILDING. A company should have planned trips that will involve all the office employees to foster camaraderie and teamwork. This way, the employees will get to know each other well and will become friends even after work. The satisfaction of the employees is an important recipe in a harmonious workplace.With team building and occasional get together, the people will look forward to go to work everyday rather than dreading a long boring day spent in the office.

  2. lvs on May 17, 2009 at 11:53 pm

    Excellent article. You are right individual satisfaction is a key indicator but not the only one. You are right there are so many factors that affect productivity. I guess the main thing is trust. Do you trust your co workers enough. You may be happy or unhappy but if there is no trust then there will be no teamwork either.

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