How To Build A High-Performance IT Team

In a tight job market, CIOs and other tech employers need to rethink their recruiting, training, and retention practices.

Jim Ditmore, Contributor

September 20, 2012

5 Min Read

Despite a national unemployment rate of more than 8%, the IT job market remains tight, with less than 4% unemployment. The jobless rates for IT specialties such as networking, security, and database management are even lower. Meantime, IT pros are less likely to switch companies than they once were, making it all the more difficult for employers to fill open positions and find new talent. So how do you build or sustain your high-performance IT team?

Let's focus first on acquiring talent. You must put your company in a position to acquire talented people when they first consider looking for a position. That is, you must move to a "persistent" recruiting mode. If your group opens positions only after someone leaves or funding is approved, you likely won't acquire the staff in time to meet your needs, nor will you consistently be on the market when candidates are seeking employment.

Look instead to do "pipeline" recruiting. That is, for those common positions you know you'll need to fill over the next 12 months, set up an enduring position and have your HR team persistently recruit for those positions. Good examples are Java experts, mobile developers, project managers, and network engineers. Constantly recruit and interview for such positions, and when you find A-caliber candidates, hire them--whether you have the exact position open or not.

[ Want more advice? Read 6 Recruitment Rules For HR, IT. ]

Because you eventually will need that talent, hire them and put them on the next appropriate project. Not only will you have the talent sourced and available when you need it, but you will also develop a reputation as a place that seeks talent, giving your company an edge when those "A" players who rarely switch jobs decide to seek a new opportunity.

Another key tactic is to extend your pipeline recruiting to interns and recent graduates. Too many companies look only for experienced candidates. Newly minted engineers, for example, often can contribute much more than most managers give them credit for, especially if your company has strong on-boarding, training, and education programs.

I have seen uplifting results when legacy teams bring in bright, enthusiastic, talented people and combine them with their experienced engineers. Everyone's performance lifts. They will bring energy to your shop. And though it will take seven to 15 years for them to become the senior engineers and leaders of tomorrow, they will be at your company, not someone else's. If you don't start, you will never have them.

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The investment in robust training and education will pay off for your current staff as well, in higher productivity, engagement, and retention. Spell out for your people the competencies and capabilities of both their current position and their next career step. And provide a training program to enable them to advance. In a tight job market, career clarity and training investment will help your company stand out in the crowd.

Another tactic is to recruit talent in other locations. Don't limit your search to one or two metropolitan areas. You can use additional locations to tap entirely new sources of talent at potentially lower costs. Consider opening a location in Rustbelt cities with top universities, or in cities such as Charlotte, N.C., and Columbus, Ohio, that have a legacy of IT work from previous industry peaks and populations loyal to the locale.

Such second-tier cities can harbor surprisingly strong IT populations that require lower salaries, and are easier to retain than those in Silicon Valley, Boston, or New York. The same is true of second-tier locations in Europe and India, where costs are likely to be 20% to 40% less than in headline locations, with lower attrition rates.

Look to tap the global IT workforce to gain advantage through diverse talent: "follow the sun" coverage; and optimized costs and capacity. Wherever you go, though, you'll need a minimum critical mass in each site, and robust audioconferencing, videoconferencing, collaboration, and configuration management tools. Avoid just shipping over low-end tasks. To attract the best people and to be the most productive, implement full activities with leadership roles in your global locations. For large companies, such a global workforce is mandatory to achieve competitive IT capabilities.

Don't forget to review your recruiting approach as well. Apply a metrics-based improvement approach. What is the candidate yield on each recruiting method? Where are your best candidates coming from? Having analyzed recruiting results for many years, I find that the best source for strong candidates is referrals and the weakest are search firms and broad-sweep advertisements. With these kinds of investments, you will be able to build and sustain a high-performance IT team even in the tightest of markets.

For more details on how to choose and build second-tier sites, read my post. I know this is a bit like revealing my favorite fishing spot, but it benefits us all to share this kind of information. What other techniques has your organization applied successfully?

About the Author(s)

Jim Ditmore


Jim Ditmore recently completed 5+ years in Europe as COO, leading IT and Operations for Danske Banke. He has worked in IT for more than 30 years and enabled technology to become a competitive advantage at both large and medium shops. You can read more of Jim's views on IT at Recipes for IT.

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