Retain Your IT Staff by Doing These 3 Things

Your team relies on you, their IT leader, to help them manage their careers. If you’re not doing it, someone else will do it for you. At another company.

Guest Commentary, Guest Commentary

July 5, 2019

5 Min Read

It doesn’t matter what your title is, if you hire IT workers, you know the job market is tight. You also need to develop the right strategy to retain your staff. They should feel fulfilled in their roles, have opportunities to grow in their careers, and play a key part in meeting business goals, which is increasingly important in this tight job market. Your competition could even be trying radical measures to persuade your team members away: Last November, The Wall Street Journal reported that some digital businesses are hiring seasoned tech pros based on a single phone call -- with no follow-up interviews of any kind. If that person has marketable skills, they’re employed.

Given that kind of competition, a logical measure is to grow your own.  That is, train your IT workers to rise to a higher level so they can fulfill much-needed tasks. In theory, this is an excellent solution: It aids employee morale and it gives your business a stable, consistent culture made up of people you know.

Except for this: According to a finding from the latest SolarWinds IT Trends Report: Skills for Tech Pros of Tomorrow, this measure often doesn’t work. That’s because, while tech pros want to develop their careers, 79% say their day-to-day IT tasks extend into time earmarked for career development. Even worse, 25% say this always happens.

In effect, IT leaders are shortchanging themselves when they don’t give their staff the required time to learn new things. So, how can your business get smarter about acquiring and maintaining IT employees? Start with these three steps:

1. Ask, don’t presume

Good IT leaders don’t have to be the best technologists in the room. There’s an argument it may not even be an advisable asset for them to have, because they can get caught up in the details when their mission is to keep their eyes focused on the horizon.

Good tech leaders never presume to know the best IT approach, and they’re never defensive when an idea gets shot down. Instead, they consult with their employees and ask them for the best measures to reach stated business goals.

Those who adopt a rote, unimaginative approach, with equivalent five-year plans and accompanying metrics thrown together on some Excel spreadsheet will fail. Instead, trust your staff -- after all, you hired them.

This sounds simple, but I see people fail at it every day. Let me repeat: Tell your staff the results you need, and then ask them for the best measures to adopt to reach those goals.

Of course, you’ll have other business factors to consider before you make your final decision, but when you trust your staff, you’re more likely to get buy-in. If they say they’ll need to get trained in an area, believe them. And then get out of the way and give your staff the time it takes to learn those new skills.

2. Understand each person learns differently

Ask your staff how they’d like to learn their new skills. Never tell them they’ll be taking a two-hour class, with no other available option. Instead, state your goal and ask them to honestly respond with the best measures on how they can up-level their skillsets to meet those goals. Some workers will prefer self-study with a stack of books. Others will want to take long-form night classes. Still more will prefer intensive, short-form classwork, followed up with drive-alongs with knowledgeable coworkers.

Believe your staff when they tell you what measures to take. Meanwhile, keep the floors clean: By that, I mean keep all obstacles out of the way. That means you should understand that everyone has two jobs -- their work and their home life. Even if that home life seems to consist of just a cat, lots of empty cupboards, and a single jar of peanut butter, that’s their other job and it needs your respect. When you ask workers to seek training, you’re asking them to take on a third job. Therefore, give your staff the time it takes for them to learn.

3. Realize the training doesn’t stop at the classroom

If you are committed to training, understand that’s a budget item. You can’t stop the training halfway through, nor can you expect instant results. It takes time to assimilate new skills. When you took Spanish in high school, did you come away with fluency in just a few days? Let me say I doubt it.

Our IT Trends Report found 70% of all tech pros surveyed are not “completely confident” in having all the necessary skills to successfully manage their IT environments over the next three to five years. And that’s even though 98% have worked to develop a skill over the past 12 months.

A number that large indicates a great deal of waste. There are many factors that could lead to an IT worker not feeling confident about their new skills. For example, the class could have been constructed in a manner that’s too concentrated on areas that don’t apply to what’s needed. Perhaps there wasn’t enough practical application of the new skill for it to be truly understood. Another factor starts with employers not allowing their newly trained employees to absorb the information they just received. In other words: Your job of keeping the floors clean lasts longer than the class itself.

Students of all stripes require reinforcement. They may need a ride-along with someone highly skilled in the area they’re learning. Or they may need to take that class once (or even twice) more. Some skills require repetition before they’re understood.

In the end, your IT staff rely on their tech leaders to help them manage their careers. This isn’t optional. If you’re not managing careers and maintaining your team, someone else will do it for you. And they’ll do it with a single phone call, and no in-person interview.

Leon Adato’s 30 years of network and systems management and monitoring experience spans the financial, healthcare, food and beverage, and other industries, with 20 years focused specifically on monitoring and management. Before he was a SolarWinds Head Geek, Adato was a SolarWinds software user for over a decade. He launched his IT career in 1989 and his expertise led him through roles as a classroom instructor, courseware designer, desktop support tech, server support engineer, and software distribution expert. His career includes key roles at Rockwell Automation, Nestlé, PNC, and Cardinal Health, providing server standardization, support, and network management and monitoring.


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Guest Commentary

Guest Commentary

The InformationWeek community brings together IT practitioners and industry experts with IT advice, education, and opinions. We strive to highlight technology executives and subject matter experts and use their knowledge and experiences to help our audience of IT professionals in a meaningful way. We publish Guest Commentaries from IT practitioners, industry analysts, technology evangelists, and researchers in the field. We are focusing on four main topics: cloud computing; DevOps; data and analytics; and IT leadership and career development. We aim to offer objective, practical advice to our audience on those topics from people who have deep experience in these topics and know the ropes. Guest Commentaries must be vendor neutral. We don't publish articles that promote the writer's company or product.

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