Oct 29 2015

EDUCAUSE 2015: Want to Innovate? Start with IT Management

Daniel Pink tells attendees their institutions must gain a competitive edge to attract and retain the best and brightest employees.

Colleges and universities have an incredible opportunity to build their institutions to “grow with the grain of human nature,” noted business and management author Daniel Pink says. 

Doing so will make them “better, more efficient and will better serve their ultimate missions,” he told those gathered Wednesday for his morning keynote address that kicked off EDUCAUSE 2015 in Indianapolis.  “Why not have it start with the IT department?”

Pink’s talk focused heavily on employee motivation, and he reminded the audience of higher education technology specialists that they must do more to attract and compete for the best and brightest employees capable of solving challenges and innovating.

An aide to former Secretary of Labor Robert Reich, Pink said a new generation of employees requires new thinking from their managers. And higher education IT leaders should adapt to attract those employees away from other private sector jobs that tend to pay better or offer unique benefits.

As this week’s conference kicks off with a new list of complex challenges higher education IT is being tasked to meet, ensuring the best employees are on the job becomes an added priority, Pink argued: “It’s urgent for higher education.”

Greater Engagement

Rewards for work have changed little since the 19th century, Pink said, and remain effective for simple, short-term tasks; however, organizations that wish to solve more complex challenges and compete for the top talent to do so must adapt their reward structure to properly motivate those employees.

As a new generation of employees enters the workforce, many organizations have failed to adapt to keep them engaged. Pink cited studies that show only 3 in 10 U.S. workers feels engaged with their work.

“That’s a big problem,” he said. “That’s a big economic problem.”

Pink advised those in attendance to pay their employees fairly, and well, as a first step to motivating them.

“A lot of institutions are getting pressure to pay people less. That’s dicey, because these people are doing very complex work,” he said. “If you pay people more, pay them enough to take money off the table, then they can focus on the very complex work that needs to be done.”

Beyond pay, IT managers should concentrate their focus on establishing three key employee and team motivators: autonomy, mastery and purpose. And managers must change their style to highlight and advance those motivators through their teams.

“Purpose is the cheapest, most cost-effective motivator and performance enhancer you have, but even at a university it’s hard to get that every single day.”

For many employees, their purpose on the job equates to making a contribution, which is also difficult to do all of the time, Pink acknowledged.

“You can distinguish yourselves from other organizations that are vying for the same kind of talent” he said, by helping employees to understand the “whys” behind their work.

“A lot of times we go crazy over ‘how.’ That works for teaching and coaching. But we give short shrift to ‘why.’ Why does it matter? Why does anyone care? The ‘why’ is the performance enhancer.”

EDUCAUSE will continue at the Indianapolis Convention Center through Friday. To keep up with the latest happenings at the conference, follow EdTech’s coverage here.


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