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How to Get Your People More Engaged: Loyalty is a Two-Way Street

When you work in IT, you work with people of different cultures, creeds, genders, ethnicities, every shape and stripe. This work draws in people from all over the world, and that’s powerful.

(And, we still need more people of different backgrounds, especially women of color, involved in development. We as a people don’t move forward unless all genders, races, and creeds get involved in the tool making process – that’s how we get the tools we need to move forward.)

A manager I worked with once was a first-generation immigrant from an Eastern European country and definitely viewed men and women differently. On top of that, he ascribed to the what-I-consider-outdated loyalty concept.

The loyalty concept is the general concept in the US that you should just be thankful to have a job.

When times are tough and the economy is bad, bad employers really lean into the loyalty concept to get through to people who aren’t producing as much as they’d like, saying things like “you should be happy to have this job and be getting paid what you’re paid.”

On the flip side of the coin is people checking the job market to see their worth, compare salaries, check out who’s hiring, and even try to make a move. In this case, one of this manager’s employees was interviewing for a job at another department.

There was no room for upward movement in his current department, and he wanted more responsibilities and a bump in pay. This was seen as disloyal by the manager, and the guy got blackballed when he didn’t get the other position. His manager thought he was disloyal, and lost trust in him.

But to me, it smacks of hypocrisy that some consider it disloyal to know your worth and want to move forward.

A lot of employers pay lip service to the idea that “we want you to be proactive, we want you to be actively working to move up in the company, and we want you showing us you can do the responsibilities of the job you want before you get it.”

But when you do those things and want to be compensated for them and progress, it’s considered bad.

It’s important to me to make sure my people know I’ll never stop them from trying to advance and trying to make more money. I’m going to do my damndest to keep them if I can, but if they’re given an offer they can’t refuse that I can’t meet because of my budget, I’m going to be happy for them. I’m going to go out of my way to give them a glowing review. I’m going to give them recommendations. I’m not going to be angry.

And who knows? They may even come back later with more skills I couldn’t teach them because I didn’t have those positions available in my company at the time. Sometimes you need to move laterally to move up and then move back in. Like a colleague at IBM told me back at my first job out of college, “this company is the best first and third job you’ll ever have.”

The truth is, some company’s cultures just aren’t designed to allow you to move through the ranks so you have to leave those places and gain more skills elsewhere to come back to that company in a higher position. That’s a terrible culture.

We want to be crystal clear with our employees: what your job responsibilities are, your title, what your title means, the actual key performance indicators (KPIs) you’re graded against, and more. A lot of companies are terrible at this, but a clear path for advancement should be part of every culture. You should know what you need to do for advancement, the KPIs you’re measured against that let you advance, and any blockages to advancement there are- like people in positions you want or other ways to get skills – so you can go on the career path you want without leaving.

I’m going through this exercise with a couple of clients right now, and the first thing we do on the ground is create an organizational plan. The plan shares actual titles, grades, and responsibilities, and includes talking through a performance plan for each position and areas of advancement.

That’s how you get your people more engaged.

Most importantly, loyalty is a two-way street.

The best way to show loyalty to employees is to be very clear on everything I laid out above. They need to know that the culture they’re in supports them growing. Be transparent and show them how they can grow if they want to, and remember that it’s not disloyal for your employees to check the market to see their worth, interview for other things, and move out if they’re blocked.

It’s well within their rights and not disloyal to do so. Also, you’re a sh!thead if you berate your employees for being disloyal to them.

What does all this have to do with tech? Well, the tools we build and put in place for a business are irrelevant if the business isn’t working right in the first place.

So, if you want to replace the outdated concept of loyalty with healthy strategies for your business and people, clearer organizational structure, good coaching on how your managers can most effectively manage their people, and to build and integrate tools that allow you to do this in a more data-informed way, reach out to us here.