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How to Keep Your Higher Education IT Department Engaged and Motivated

Posted by on May 02, 2019

How to Keep Your Higher Education IT Department Engaged and Motivated

If you are an IT leader at a college or university, you know the work of your department is foundational to the successful function of the entire campus. Your team provides day-to-day IT support for students, professors, and staff, while also executing strategic projects and solutions that drive growth and future-proof your institution. However, the immense value of routine daily tasks isn't always clear and can sometimes cause staffers can fall prey to ennui, chipping away engagement and morale. It's hard, after all, for your IT staff to appreciate the indispensable nature of their work when they're closing out the hundredth ticket of the week that explains how to reset a password.

As an IT leader, how can you keep all your staffers—including work study, student staffers, interns, new hires, and long-term core staff—motivated and aware of how valuable their work really us? Fortunately, there’s no rousing, coach-at-halftime oratory required. Instead, implement these strategies to draw a clear connection between your staff’s work and how it directly impacts the success of the university or school employing them.

Expect More from Staffers, Even Newbies

In their position at the bottom of the experience ladder, interns, student staffers, and entry-level staffers can get stuck tackling routine tickets. Getting them up-to-speed to handle this kind of work is relatively easy, but not helping them grow in their position makes it easy for them to leave too. Some staff turnover, particularly with students and interns, is normal and to be expected, especially as semesters end and students graduate. But it's best avoided, because even if it's easy, training takes time and effort, and so does the interview process. In order for your IT department to function smoothly and meet the needs of the customers it supports, your staff needs to be reliable, knowledgeable, and good at communicating. Finding people who possess all of these qualities is hard, and if you find strong candidates, it's to your advantage to hold on to them long-term.  

Engagement is key to holding onto talent, and tedious, repetitive work won’t help. Provide all employees—students and full-time alike—with tools that allow them to think independently and act autonomously. Encourage them to think beyond resolving tickets to resolving the root cause of issues. Empower them to hold one-on-one training sessions with users that submit numerous queries per week so they can better self-serve, or create macros for FAQs and incidents. You can even create a development track that sets them up to work full-time after graduation, which can help you fill roles with proven talent in a very budget-friendly way.

That said, all IT staffers will be more engaged when they're empowered to go beyond tickets and working on long-term solutions. For students in particular, the freedom to brainstorm and execute upon more strategic projects can help demonstrate the opportunities available to staffers for creative, meaningful work than simple ticket-tackling tickets does. Bigger projects and higher-level tasks also provides students with invaluable on-the-job training that they can take with them into the real world. If students coming from your IT department have successful job placements after graduation, it reflects well on your institution, and could also lead to more and higher- quality applications from students in the future. And, of course, we can’t forget how much the customer experience will improve from this kind of responsive care too.  

Create a Feedback Loop Between School Goals and IT Work

Your IT department's work is often done behind the scenes, which can obscure its merits. If IT implements a new workflow that helps the recruitment team assess and select stronger candidates, who gets credit for the outcome? And when IT helps the science department recover a corrupted file required for a grant application, who gets recognized when that grant is awarded? The role of IT in these examples may not be flashy—but in both cases, IT has helped deliver something incredibly meaningful. 

IT department leaders need to make sure that their staff is aware of how their work connects to their institution’s larger goals, as well as showcase the department's value to other campus leaders. Here are some ideas for how IT leaders can leverage ITSM to establish a feedback loop that helps esure staffers are aware of their work's value, and receive appropriate recognition:

  • Set goals and gamify work flows. Before the world was busy catching Pokémon, we were flinging angry birds or looking for patterns in jeweled candy. It’s clear that games exert a powerful motivational force, and you can use them to harness that force and boost engagement by implementing gamificiation tactics in your department. First, consider your department’s goals. They can include decreasing time to ticket resolution, completing a large-scale project, or increasing customer satisfaction. From there, you can determine monthly targets for each of your initiatives and measure performance on a weekly basis (taking a somewhat agile approach will help you avoid surprises at the end-of-the-month ). Use rankings, badges, and other game-derived reward systems to keep staff informed of their status and how they’re progressing in the ‘game.’ If you're not sure how to gamify department goals, ask your staff to help—requesting their involvement still boosts engagement and can help them feel invested in the process.
  • Leverage the power of customer surveys. Another way to motivate IT staffers is by issuing a survey for every resolved ticket. Surveys provide tangible proof of the impact IT staffers are making on their community (and can help you identify those staffers that might need additional attention or training). And good feedback can really help IT understand how impactful their day-to-day work really is. To increase responses, make the survey easy to complete—skip complicated questions in favor things like ranking their service on a scale of emojis (happy or sad faces).
  • Broadcast achievements within and outside of the department: There’s nothing like receiving praise for a good job done in front of your team. Take advantage of your institution’s internal communication tools and systems to showcase your staff's work to other departments and university leaders. And within your own department, keep staff informed of the school's yearly goals so that when your staffers meet or exceed them, you offer public praise and acknowledgement of their efforts.

University and college IT leaders are fortunate in that staff turnover is typically low. This can increase, however, and motivation and engagement can decrease when the impact work has on the institution is unclear or acknowledgement and praise is neglected. It’s up to IT leaders to foster engagement and motivation by connecting the dots so all IT employees—interns and students, entry level and experienced—can see that their work has value, is supporting the school’s goals, and is vital for the school’s long-term success and ranking.

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