Thoughts from The 100: Motivating Team Members

The-100-Title-OnlyRegular readers know I believe in putting people first. When people work in teams, individuals need to know what matters from an organizational perspective. As we often say at Intertech, “There is no ‘I’ in team!”

As a manager, you have a special responsibility to lead and help your team members grow – as individuals and as team members. This next series of posts will share my thoughts on this important topic, as originally noted in my new book, “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership.”

Engagement, which I covered in earlier posts, bears another mention in this series on leading and managing teams. Why? Keeping people motivated goes a long way toward building effective teams and reducing attrition.

New research by Gallup suggests that a vast majority of people are not motivated at work. Another survey, recently released by the Associated Press, found that more than 70 percent of workers are opting for early retirement even though it means receiving lower Social Security benefits. This suggests to me a lack of engagement.

So how can you keep your people motivated?

Don’t be afraid to push employees beyond their professional comfort zones (although give new employees a few months to adjust before you ask them to “up their game!”). Motivated employees want to build their skills by working with high-profile companies on challenging assignments. We help to make that happen by building in a specific learning goal into each employee’s performance plan at the beginning of each year and even occasionally turning down client projects that might bore our people to tears. Less experienced employees are encouraged to work on internal projects that help our firm, while helping them learn new skills (but not on our clients’ dime).

Of course, challenging work that engages employee strengths is key to helping folks stay motivated. Sadly, a whopping 80 percent of U.S. workers say they do not use their strengths every day (Gallup 2013). Savvy managers make an effort to match the needs of their clients with the needs of employees to stay challenged. It also helps to let people know how they rate compared to others and how they fit within the overall organization. Mostly, though, employees need to know that the work they are doing is important–that it matters—as an individual and as a team.

Much of what I’ve been talking about describes a perfect world: engaged, motivated employees happily learning new skills while doing top-notch work for customers. Yet, even though I dread admitting it, the world in which we live and work is rarely perfect. Sometimes our long-time clients need our help with work that is, frankly, boring. To make matters worse, that work can be repetitive with significant time pressure, with no end in sight. While this may sound like a work nightmare, there are things leaders can do to help employees get through the challenge while avoiding burnout. Believe me, it’s in your interest to do so – otherwise you risk losing your best people to other employers. Here’s what we do to help employees deal with mind-numbing assignments:

  • Verbally recognize the nature of the task and express our gratitude
  • Offer more interesting additional assignments or a training opportunity
  • Put a time cap on the dreary assignment (most people can endure almost anything if they know when it will end)

Intertech Announces 2016 STEM Scholarship Recipient

STEM-Logo-300x178For the past two years, Intertech Foundation has provided a $2,500 scholarship to an exceptional college-bound young woman planning to study computer science. Last year we awarded the Intertech Foundation STEM scholarship to an impressive high school senior named Annina Hanlon.

Annina, now a student at Stanford, has successfully battled cancer and channeled her personal health challenge into an innovative iPhone app to help raise funds for pediatric cancer research. Her career goal is to (continue to!) combine science and technology in ways that help humanity.

This year, the Intertech Foundation STEM scholarship has been awarded to Alexina Boudreaux-Allen, another outstanding student with innovative dreams involving technology and the arts. Read on to learn how Alexina plans to use technology to make a difference in the world:

  1. Why computer science?

I am interested in computer science because I enjoy coding and think that learning to code will provide me with a way to share ideas with a global community.

  1. How did you first get interested in coding?

In high school I enrolled in AP Computer Science during my senior year. I thought it sounded like an interesting class (although) I had no prior experience with the subject. This class ended up being the most enjoyable class I took in high school.  So I decided to pursue my newfound passion for computer science in college.

  1. Why do you want to attend USC?

I selected the University of Southern California because it provides me with the unique opportunity to pursue both technology and the arts. Through the engineering school I take computer science classes for my major, through the music school I can take computer recording and editing classes, and through the film school I can take 3D animation classes. I think it is important to integrate technology and art, and the best place for me to do that is USC.

  1. What is the USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT)?

The USC Institute for Creative Technologies (ICT) is an academic research institute that collaborates film and game artists with computer and social scientists to find ways to digitally improve mental help therapy, military preparation, and other services. I want to intern at ICT because it would provide me with a great way to explore a meaningful real-life integration of art and computer science.

  1. Can you give an example of how you might combine computer science and art?

One example I have in mind is a virtual reality program for musicians where they can work on getting over stage fright. In this program, the user would put on VR goggles and play an instrument and be able to play in front of a “real” (virtual) audience. This could also be used as a fun program rather than just a therapeutic one, and it possibly could incent kids to learn to play real instruments rather than video game versions, such as Rock Band. Hopefully after studying music and computer science at USC, I will be able to integrate these two fields in a way that can positively impact the community around me.

  1. How useful will the Intertech Foundation scholarship be in funding your studies?

Although I wouldn’t want to go anywhere else for college, the University of Southern California is very expensive. The Intertech Foundation scholarship puts me one step closer towards graduating loan-free, and I am very grateful to be receiving the award.

  1. How do you feel about entering a male-dominated field?

Computer science is a male-dominated field, and often times, as a woman, I find myself receiving help that I do not want and never asked for. In order to really learn something, it is important to make mistakes. So, when coding, don’t be afraid to mess up and do something wrong.  Be confident in your abilities and take some time to try solve your mistakes on your own!

Congratulations Alexina. We look forward to hearing great things from you in the future!

Intertech Named a Top Workplace

StarTribuneTopWorkplacesEarlier this year, Intertech was named one of the 30 Best Places to Work in Technology in America by Fortune magazine, a top work place in Minnesota by Minnesota Business magazine, and this Sunday a Top Workplace in Minnesota by the Star Tribune newspaper.  My thanks to our super-dedicated employees and loyal customers for making us possible.

Thoughts from The 100: Onboarding

TomToTalk-TTYou probably would not casually throw seeds on the ground, walk away and expect an award-winning garden to pop up in a few weeks. The smart gardener provides good soil, fertilizer and water, and checks in regularly to pull weeds and prop up plants that need a little extra support.

Gardening provides a good metaphor for bringing a new employee into your organization. Here are my top three tips for helping new hires to thrive (which you can read more about in my book “The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership”):

Set the tone quickly 

Newly inaugurated U.S. presidents seek to make a significant mark within their first 100 days in office. That’s important because first impressions matter. In the case of new employees, the first few months are critical in determining whether he or she becomes a valued, long-term employee.

You can begin setting the tone before your new hire’s first day: send flowers with a note of welcome within one week of his or her acceptance. Then send an email explaining what to expect during the first week, about one week before the person’s start date.

The first week on the job is crucial. Take time to explain your company’s history in a personal way, such as over lunch with a few of the employee’s new colleagues. Focus on how the employee fits into your firm’s future and your confidence in him or her.

Check in regularly

I recommend informal check-ins with new employees at 30, 60 and 90 days. Use these conversations to ask how things are going and to determine if the employee understands what he or she should be doing. We always ask if the person needs any training or additional tools, and if there is anything else that might help him/her be more effective. Check-ins usually result in “all is well” comments, but they show employees you are committed to their success and, in rare cases, enable you to catch problems before they get out of control.

Be patient

Remember that gardener waiting for his seeds to grow? It’s a similar process with new people. It takes time to learn a new environment and hit the “sweet spot” where a person is working optimally. In the meantime, be patient and encouraging. And remind them that “a person who never makes a mistake never makes anything at all.”

Thoughts from The 100: Hiring

TS2015-Softcover-BookCover-NewIn my book, The 100: Building Blocks for Business Leadership, I devote seven chapters to the hiring process. Why so much focus on something so basic? As Sherlock Holmes might note, “It’s elementary.”

Without great people you cannot build a great company. People are at the heart of everything we do and they are central to client satisfaction. So avoid the temptation to hire quickly. While hasty hires may seem like a simple solution in the short term, you’ll end up spending more time and money in the long run. I’ve learned it the hard way: employees hired in a hurry rarely make a good fit. We use a proven hiring process at Intertech, which includes:

  • Hire slowly – take time to thoroughly vet your candidates. If you’re wowed by someone’s technical prowess but concerned about his or her honesty or attitude, don’t risk it (more about this in my next post).
  •  Consistently ask all candidates the same questions – to ensure the best hiring result, use consistent questions that all candidates must answer. You’ll find it will be much easier to compare candidates if you have an apples-to-apples set of responses.
  • Vary the setting with interviewing candidates multiple times – for example, if the potential employee will have substantial client contact or need to interact with top management, take him or her to lunch to observe social skills and table manners.
  • Involve multiple people from your organization – at Intertech, the final in-person interview includes meeting with two of our employees for a team interview.
  • Use LinkedIn to learn more about any candidates that you may be seriously considering – this is a good way to find common connections, which may help you learn more about candidates from people you already know and trust.
  • Always check references and ask open-ended questions,– it’s easy to let emotions, especially positive ones, tempt you to skip your due diligence before offering a job to someone who appears ideal. Don’t yield to this temptation. Always call the candidates three or four most recent employers or clients and ask questions that get the real story. Ask, “What did Bill do?” instead of, “Bill said he was a project manager who oversaw 20 employees. Is this true?” Open-ended questions ensure that you will get a more complete and accurate description of the candidate’s past responsibilities and performance.

Next time:

Teamwork makes the dream work or as we say at Intertech, “One Team, One Dream”