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Tech Industry

Where high-tech will feel the heat in 2002

Bravanta CEO Brendan P. Keegan warns that the increasing rate of change inherent in the technology industry will put extra pressure on managers to combat waning productivity.

    The U.S. Department of Labor recently reported on American business productivity for the third quarter, but the report that everyone is waiting for won't arrive until early next year.

    This highly anticipated report on the fourth quarter will reflect the full effect of Sept. 11 on the American work force, and common sense suggests that the findings will be alarming. It's a safe bet that motivating employees and restoring previous levels of productivity will be one of 2002's most discussed business topics.

    And tech managers, in particular, are really going to have their work cut out for them.

    The rate of change inherent in tech makes it an especially difficult industry in which to address waning productivity. Unprecedented speed in the evolution of technology, competition for employees, commodity-priced products, and the virtual makeup of many work forces all make it harder to energize employees.

    A culture of nonrecognition
    Although the fierce competition for tech talent may have eased (given the current economic environment), the retention of top performers continues to be a challenge. For example, many Silicon Valley software companies are seeing their tenured employees resign, citing lack of appreciation as a top reason for leaving.

    In tech, it's particularly difficult to identify the star players and make them feel appreciated. More than any other industry, tech companies have disparate teams of employees with vastly different job functions. Each of these teams typically has only a rudimentary understanding of how other teams' contributions fit into the context of the company's objectives.

    One of the critical functions--and challenges--of management is to communicate both the objectives and the accomplishments of each team to the entire company, giving equitable visibility and recognition to each achievement and team. That's why tech companies need to develop consistent programs at the corporate level to recognize and motivate employees across the enterprise.

    This is easier to do than before because the incentive industry now uses technology to deliver service and performance recognition programs. Developing these programs allows management to consistently communicate the company's vision and objectives while rewarding employees and teams for their contributions.

    Eventually, stories of salespeople being rewarded for landing the big deals while the developers who worked on the pursuit are forgotten will be replaced with accounts of entire teams being rewarded for bringing in revenue.

    Another common characteristic of the tech industry is information--a lot of it. Simply put, it's hard to keep up with the information and decipher which messages deserve attention. For managers, the challenge is more difficult because they must filter information from the corporate office and translate it into action items for their teams.

    There are numerous examples in the tech industry where employees work in silos, never gaining feedback from other departments regarding how their work was received. Was sales able to sell it? Was management pleased? Was marketing able to get it into stores on time? Lack of feedback has a demotivating effect on employees because it creates a perception that they aren't valued by the company.

    On the flip side, when a company with a clear vision communicates strategy across the enterprise, then creates incentives and rewards against it, the work force becomes unified and energized. In this model, each employee knows what the company's objectives are and how the individual affects the whole. This is only accomplished when communication is clear and supported by initiatives that motivate and reward results.

    Companies create their own momentum. The tech companies that bounce back from this dip in productivity will be those that focus on pulling their employees into the strategy and maximizing the return on those human assets. These companies will demonstrate that at the heart of change are people, and that people who are motivated and fulfilled will affect the bottom line through greater loyalty, performance, sales and productivity.