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5 Ways to Keep Your Tech Staff Motivated and Engaged

David Cooper, Chief Technology Officer, WEX [NYSE: WEX]
David Cooper, Chief Technology Officer, WEX [NYSE: WEX]

David Cooper, Chief Technology Officer, WEX [NYSE: WEX]

The CEO was in awe: On a visit to a Bay Area startup that had a reputation for being innovative and fast-moving, he was blown away by the small team’s drive and ability to get things done. He wanted to infuse that spirit into his large, publicly traded company, so he excitedly acquired the startup and waited for the magic to happen.

It turned out to be a disaster. The company tried to impose its development practices onto the startup, resulting in employees feeling constrained and losing their motivation and drive to perform. There was friction and animosity on both sides.

Why didn’t this merger of minds work? To put it simply, you can’t force a process on a team. Instead, you must understand what motivates them and adapt. In the end, the company brought me in to fix the problem and finish the original intent of the acquisition. The solution was simple: Give the team back its autonomy, provide them with the tools they need to move faster and let them own the process from start to finish. What resulted was the launch of a major product in record time and a new way for the company to approach project management.

Motivating an IT staff and keeping your employees engaged and productive requires an understanding of personnel and company, and the benefits can be substantial. Here are five ways to bring out the best in your staff and, as a result, the products they push out:

1. Give them ownership. When a team has the autonomy to do its job and is given end-to-end ownership of a project; it’s more likely the employees will work harder and faster because their successes will be their own.

 Ownership drives a team, but employees also need to be agile, have access to the latest technology and be given opportunities to continue growing  

2. Provide access to the latest technology. What interest’s tech staff the most is working on new technology and building something novel. Providing access to new technology is a key factor that keeps our teams motivated at WEX. We are in the process of moving our systems to the cloud, which is a foundational shift for our development and operational staff and will introduce them to a new set of technologies and way of operating.

3. Think smaller when it comes to deadlines. It’s important to have aggressive but attainable timelines to keep a staff motivated. Teams shouldn’t focus on strict long-term deadlines, but on the short-term, one- to two-week deadlines. This kind of timeline focuses their thinking.

4. Give them opportunities to continue growing. At WEX, we believe that the most successful and motivated IT employees have access to learning opportunities that bring them face-to-face with the latest technology. With that in mind, we have taken a number of steps to provide these opportunities for our staff: We pay for AWS (Amazon Web Services) Educate courses and cloud certification programs for employees. Our WEX Tech Talks give employees a platform where they can share their successes and tech interests with colleagues. And we hold hackathons, which raise awareness of new technology, help employees gain marketable skills and encourage them to have fun working on something that isn’t work-related.

5. Offer a little friendly competition—inside and outside of work. As a CTO, I want to reward my best-performing teams, so we’ve introduced the Team Tech award, which recognizes our best performers through objective measures. Every other month, the best performing team receives a prize that is equally distributed, regardless of tenure. The smaller the team, the more compensation each team member receives. This encourages smaller team sizes, and it motivates the teams to compete from productivity and bragging rights perspective. But it’s not all about the work product. We also hold fun competitions that focus on new technologies—like the AWS DeepRacer League, where teams program the “brain” of a model car and race each other to see whose automobile is the most intelligent.

Keeping a tech team motivated, engaged and productive is critical if a company wants to employ the best developers and create top-notch products. Ownership drives a team, but employees also need to be agile, have access to the latest technology and be given opportunities to continue growing. 

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