How to Keep Your Higher Education IT Department Engaged and Motivated

Posted by on December 15, 2017

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 critical for the successful function of the entire campus. Your team provides day-to-day IT support for students, professors, and staff, while also completing long-term projects and solutions to enable your school’s growth and future. Within the IT department, though, the immense value of routine daily tasks isn't always clear—staffers can fall prey to ennui, causing engagement and morale to wither. 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 explaining a simple connectivity issue. 

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 their work’s value? Fortunately, no rousing, coach-at-halftime oratory is required—instead, implement these strategies to draw a clear connection between your staff’s work and the success of the university or school employing them.

Tweet this: How IT leaders at colleges and universities can support students, faculty, and functionality of the entire campus

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. The training is relatively easy for this work, but so too is leaving the position. Some amount of staff turnover, particularly with students and interns, is to be expected. But it's best avoided: Even when it's easy, training takes time and effort, and the interview process for new staffers is also burdensome and time consuming. In order for the IT department to function smoothly, and offer customers the support they require, IT staffers need to be reliable, knowledgeable, and strong communicators. Finding people who possess all these qualifications is hard—if you find strong candidates, it's to your advantage to hold on to them over the long term.  

If you’re eager to keep staffers engaged, tedious, repetitive work isn’t the answer. Provide all employees—students and full-time alike—with tools that allow them to make changes locally, and encourage them to think beyond resolving tickets to resolving underlying issues. Instead of responding to endless queries from a support frequent flyer one ticket at a time, for instance, staffers can set up a brief one-on-one training session. Or, they can respond to repeated tickets about a tricky but routine set-up issue by updating the workflow or writing an explanation on the self-service portal. When it comes to student staffers, for a potentially budget-friendly option, create a track that allows them to work full-time after graduation.

All IT staffers will be more engaged when they're empowered to go beyond tickets to long-term solutions. For students in particular, the encouragement to brainstorm and execute long-term solutions paints a better picture of your department's work and the opportunities available to staffers for creative, meaningful work than simply tackling tickets would. Bigger projects and higher-level tasks also provide students with on-the-job training that has a value as significant as students' hourly wages. If students get good job placements after graduation, it reflects well on the college, and could also lead to better quality applications from students in the future. And, of course, customers will benefit as well from this responsive care.  

Tweet this: Higher education IT can be challenging. Creating a feedback loop between IT and school goals is critical 

Create a Feedback Loop Between School Goals and IT Work

Your IT department's work is often behind the scenes, obscuring its merits. If IT implements a new workflow that helps the recruitment team assess and select stronger candidates, who gets the recognition? And when IT helps the science department recover a corrupted file required for a grant application, who gets the acknowledgement when the grant is awarded? IT support in these examples may not be splashy—but in both cases, it helps deliver something meaningful. IT department leaders need to make sure that their staff is aware of how their work connects with larger college and university goals—and also showcase the department's value to other campus leaders. Here are some ideas for how IT leaders can establish a feedback loop using ITSM to ensure that staffers are aware of their work's value, and are receiving recognition:

  • Set goals and make it a game. Before the world was occupied catching Pokémon, we were flinging angry birds or swiping our screens to combine numbered tiles. Games exert a powerful motivational force, and you can harness that force and boost engagement when you implement gamificiation tactics in the office. Consider your department’s goals: Whether it’s closing tickets rapidly, completing a project, or increasing customer satisfaction, it’s easy to determine monthly targets for each of these needs. Measure performance weekly (to avoid unpleasant end-of-the-month surprises), and use rankings, badges, and other game-derived reward systems to inform staff of their status. If you're not sure how to gamify department goals, ask your staff to help—requesting their involvement boosts engagement, and helps people feel valued and connected to the process.
  • Don’t dismiss the power of the customer survey. Here’s an easy way to show IT staffers their work is valued: Issue a survey for every resolved ticket. This mechanism boosts motivation by providing tangible proof of the effect IT staffers’ work has on people with problems. (It can also help you know which staffers might need additional attention or training.) To increase responses, make the survey easy to complete—skip complicated questions in favor of asking people to choose between happy- or sad-face emoji to evaluate service.
  • Broadcast achievements within and outside of the department: Use internal communications to showcase your staff's work—whether it’s a saved file or a whole new system, make sure that IT's influence is known to other departments and university leaders. Within your own department, share the school's yearly goals, and when staffers further these goals, offer public praise and acknowledgement of their efforts.

University and college IT leaders are fortunate: staff turnover is typically low. Motivation and engagement, however, can dip when the impact of their work isn't clear or when there's a lack of acknowledgement and praise. To maintain morale, IT leaders must make it clear to all IT employees—interns and students, entry level and experienced—that their work has value, connects with school goals, and is vital for the school’s long-term success and ranking.

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