IT strategy: How CIOs can create a productive workforce

From making people feel important to developing a set programme of work, five digital leaders explain how they keep productivity rates high.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

Demand for skilled IT professionals continues to rise, as do the number of technology-enabled requirements from internal users and external customers. So how can CIOs create a productive workforce? Five digital leaders give us their best-practice tips.

1. Treat your people well and make them feel important

Gary Foote, CIO at the racing team Rich Energy Haas F1, says a productive IT workforce helps ensure people in the business aren't blocked by technology from doing what they do best, be that a finance specialist who wants to crunch numbers or a race engineer who wants to make a car go quicker.

"We want to make sure that we're giving people the tools that they need in a non-disruptive way," he says, before suggesting the key to creating these great tools is to build a strong workforce. "Once you've got great people, the rest falls into place."

SEE: IT jobs in 2020: A leader's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Getting hold of this capability, however, is just the starting point. Once you have good people, it's really important you keep hold of them. Foote says CIOs looking to create a productive and loyal workforce must treat people well.

"You've got to train them and you've got to make your people feel like they're part of a team. And that last part is where we're really lucky because we're a team by definition and so people buy into that vision already," he says.

"But you want to make sure that people feel they're really engaged by what they're doing. And I wouldn't say we're perfect – we've still got work to do to make sure that we attract the best people and to make sure that, once we have those people, that we look after them."

2. Make sure your staff understand the benefits of their work

Chris Worle, chief digital officer at financial services firm Hargreaves Lansdown, is one of the new breed of digital leaders who, rather than always being an IT professional, rose to the top through the marketing department. He says creating a productive workforce can be challenging, especially when older technology systems and engrained ways of working act as barriers to a digital transformation agenda.

"It's really hard, actually, particularly when you're battling legacy technology and the challenges that brings. And when you're managing a team who are coming up with the ideas, understanding clients and shaping the vision, but can't quite execute it, that's tough," he says.

It's Worle's role to overcome these barriers and to make change stick. Having become CDO last June, he now works closely with Hargreaves Lansdown CIO David Davies to ensure there's a strong tie between digital and IT. And he says the key to creating a productive workforce in a digitally enabled business is to ensure workers understand the impact of their work.

"That's why a lot of ongoing digital transformation work is really about sharing your vision with people, getting buy in and getting them to understand that we are going to be able to deliver benefits to the business and our clients at pace," says Worle.

3. Ensure your workers and your stakeholders are satisfied

Craig Donald, CIO at the Football Association, says there are two key facets to creating a productive workforce: one is ensuring your staff are happy and motivated, the other is to ensure that senior stakeholders know that your team is working as well as they could be.

"A combination of those two things allows me to get a good sense of where we are in terms of the productivity scale," he says.

When it comes to staff motivation, Donald says he runs regular feedback sessions and stand-ups with the IT team in the office. He also gets his team together on away days.

"I think that's a good way to gauge how the team is feeling – and I think productivity generally flows from that. If you can see that the team is motivated and happy, then generally I think productivity is high," says Donald.

As for the interaction with senior stakeholders, he says CIOs are likely to find that their bosses will always want more and might well believe the IT team is not as productive as it could be. Donald uses data and presentations to prove his team are meeting their targets.

"I have to rely on the stats – I say that these are the things we've been working on in the past few weeks and these are things that we've developed. I also do regular show-and-tells with the board," he says.

4. Develop a vision that supports the business strategy

Shaun Le Geyt, CIO at Parkinson's UK, says IT leaders who want their staff to meet productivity targets must focus on the people who will use their systems and services, rather than focusing on the technology they're implementing.

"There's times when technology comes up and you know it's the right thing to discuss. But managing cultural change is as important as managing technological change," he says.

SEE: Digital transformation: A CXO's guide (ZDNet special report) | Download the report as a PDF (TechRepublic)

Ensuring staff understand the requirements of users is a challenge, as Parkinson's UK employs 450-plus staff and also draws on a dynamic network of expert staff, health and social care professionals, volunteers, and researchers. Le Geyt says CIOs who want high-level productivity must develop a strong vision for their people.

"Focus on the needs of the organisation – put people first," he says. "You need to take a strategic, innovative and visionary approach. You must work closely with the leadership team to make sure that your IT team is supporting the business strategy in the right way."

5. Create a set programme of work

Lee Wilmore, data intelligence director at publishing firm TI Media, has to work with constrained resources, so it's crucial his team are as productive as they can be. His data team are using customer insights in an attempt to create more revenue from each person that interacts with the firm's brands, which include Country Life, TV Times, and Woman's Own.

"We've got more than 40 brands that require projects," he says. "There's more work than we could ever possibly do all at once. We have to prioritise around business requirements."

Wilmore's aim is to use the big data platform he's created with technology specialist Talend to help identify new opportunities to sell to customers. And he says the collaboration tool Trello is key to helping his team work productively on behalf of the business. It allows the establishment of a set programme of work.

"Every single job is broken down on a card and the important thing about these cards is that you can't make one without a clear return on investment," says Wilmore. "This means that everyone who works for us is quite clear on what it is they're doing and why they're delivering it. And if there's ever doubt, then the project doesn't get worked on."

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