The Focal Point Blog // Business Strategy // Dave Annis // April 21, 2022

5 Ways Digital Leaders Can Motivate Their Teams, Driving Strong Cultures AND Business Results

Business leaders don’t need to look very far for commentary on the great resignation.

Competition for talent, dwindling retention, and increasing burnout can have a significant impact on a digital consultancy’s ability to scale, grow, and succeed. So it’s not too surprising to see many shops making knee-jerk decisions or sweeping policy changes like four-day workweeks or reduced billable expectations to keep their teams happy, motivated, and in place. They’re trading time for value instead of looking for ways to make work a more valuable and fulfilling experience for their teams.

I believe that leaders shouldn’t get caught up in the hype frenzy about the latest workplace trend, and instead think about the larger opportunities to build lasting culture and engagement. But the questions remain: How do I protect my business from the great resignation while motivating my team? Is cutting time from my workweek the best solution? Will decisions to preserve culture impact my bottom line? 

It’s undeniable that a global pandemic and two-plus years of work-life disruption have accelerated these challenges, but they were a long time coming as employees continually seek more value – and more meaning – from their work.

Instead of a great resignation, maybe it’s what my friend Carl Smith from the Bureau of Digital has called the great realization: the idea that organizations have a business imperative to lead and motivate their teams and to create stronger cultures and more tangible values. It’s critical to meet the needs of employees while nurturing their curiosity for growth and self actualization. Plus, it’s well proven that more engaged employees are more committed and connected to an organization, which leads to better business performance. This is especially true in professional services.

The business imperative of building strong cultures and motivating your team

At Parallax, we believe that organizations succeed when they unlock the potential of their people. And that potential is realized when people are learning through practice, know the value of their impact, believe there is a path forward, and can align personal ambitions with the ambitions of the business. (Read more about how we developed our beliefs and values here).

If you’re struggling with team engagement or considering organizational changes to address burnout issues, read on for our point of view on how digital leaders can motivate – and retain – their teams.

1. Pay with confidence

It’s time to bring compensation conversations out of the shadows! Leaders should be confident about what they’re paying and stand behind their wages. After all, people take a job expecting to be paid fairly for their talents, and there are plenty of sources that publish and compare salary data. Your current and prospective employees are looking at sites like Glassdoor or Fishbowl (which, TBH, are generally incomplete or inaccurate), but it’s important you understand the public perception on your pay as a baseline. Then, make sure you’re confident in your compensation against your competitors and the market in general. Most of all, it’s important to be transparent and talk about how salaries are set, how your team can advance, and the overall economics of running a digital consultancy. If money isn’t such a taboo topic for managers and leaders to discuss, it’ll become easier to talk about individual compensation and what companies need to do in order to invest in higher salaries, bonuses, or other perks.

2. Set (and track) clear goals

Small and mid-size digital shops generally look for smart, talented, and ambitious people to solve big problems for clients. Sounds obvious, right? But it’s important to help these people see and understand their personal impact and how they contribute to business success. Help your team know what good looks like and how each individual person is contributing to a greater mission. At Parallax, we use the OKRs model to set and track clear goals for our teams and our business. In order to make sure progress against individual and business goals is actually tangible, it’s important to make sure you also have the right tools – and operational habits – to track performance. We can help with that 😉

3. Reinforce your value and purpose — often and boldly

Think about your organization’s values. Do people embrace them (let alone know them)? Do they live by them? Are there tangible artifacts of your values?

A huge ripple effect in the “great realization” is that employees are calling BS on flimsy values that exist purely as lip service. Now more than ever! It’s especially important for digital services firms to establish and promote their values, but they also need to be repeated, reinforced, or even updated – regularly. Values should feel like part of the pulse of your organization and team. They should be used to recognize, challenge, and reward people. Your values should align with the people you want to hire and retain and vice versa. If they’re just static words painted on the wall, it might be time to dig in and bring these values to life. Need some inspiration? Here’s our values framework.

4. Keep track of and share how value is created in your business

Econ 101: The most fundamental part of any business is the balance of supply and demand. In our world, however, it’s sometimes difficult for leaders to have true confidence in the balance between the work they’re selling, the work they’re executing, and the work that is most repeatable and profitable. It’s important to understand the profit centers for your business, but also the risks of commoditization if that’s the only work you execute. We’re big fans of McKinsey’s Three Horizons model to help businesses stay profitable and innovative. It’s a balance between doing work to pay the bills, work to stay relevant and fresh, and work that’s on the bleeding edge of innovation. From a cultural perspective, make sure you’re transparent about the multiple horizons for your business. Give people a sense of where their skills are contributing value today and how those skills can evolve to create value tomorrow. It’ll go a long way in solidifying pride and commitment among your team.

Learn from your people

We’re fortunate that digital consultancies tend to attract smart, talented, and driven people who are doing really cool work. This is especially true in tech! Find out what tools or apps your engineers or designers are experimenting with. Make space to highlight these and give people a platform to talk about what they think is cool. But don’t stop there. Find ways to leverage and sell these tools and techniques, and integrate them into the more aspirational and innovative work you want to sell (the 2nd and 3rd horizon, per McKinsey). We’re in a business where people will drive the success of anything we do. Our teams are on the forefront of trends, tech, and culture. Learn from them, and bring their smart ideas and tools into the next horizon of your work.

The Parallax perspective

In the face of major shakeups in where, how, and when talented people want to work, it’s easy to see why many business leaders are rethinking their cultures and making big organizational changes to attract and retain their team. Our advice: don’t purely react or blindly follow others without first understanding the intention of these choices. Have a clear sense of the business case for making them. This is exactly why we built Parallax. We founded the company on a mission to help organizations get more visibility into their operations – from sales to delivery and everything in between. But we also want to champion and enable good organizational habits and help build strong and values-led cultures that unlock the potential of creative teams. These are not mutually exclusive concepts either. They can, and should, work together.

With visibility into supply and demand for your skills and services; visibility into margin, utilization, and profitability for different offerings, Parallax provides context into not only critical business decisions (can I afford to raise salaries?) and also cultural ones (can I implement a four-day workweek without sacrificing revenue?) It can provide the critical information needed on business performance to answer the cultural questions and identify areas of success, growth, or improvement.

If you’re curious how Parallax can answer both the business question and provide visibility into your supply and demand – or how it can unlock the potential of your people and help you foster a strong and engaged team, reach out! We love having this conversation and we believe that bringing data together and helping people reach their full potential is the right recipe for digital shops to truly thrive.