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SmartAdvice: Strategic Value, Employee Retention

Here's what The Advisory Council recommends you look at in three key areas of business technology: proving IT's strategic value; what to do about SCO's lawsuit involving Linux; and IT employee retention
Topic C: The economy seems to be picking up. Looking ahead, how do I retain good IT people in the face of an improving IT market while my budget remains under pressure?

Our Advice: Research shows IT employees remain with a company for at least three reasons:

  • Significant friendships with fellow employees;
  • Opportunities for personal and professional growth that increase their future marketability; and
  • Respect for their IT and business-management leaders.

Your employee-retention strategy should target and address these three key areas.

1. Significant friendships with fellow employees.
Real camaraderie and high morale is great glue for holding an IT department together. But esprit de corps and relationship-building don't happen when employees never leave their cubbies, or when they interact with only a few members of a team. For this reason, create departmental activities during which employees can get a chance to rub shoulders with all levels of the department in a social and business setting.


Sources

Bennis, Warren G., On Becoming A Leader, Perseus Publishing, 1994.

Useem, Michael, Warren G. Bennis, The Leadership Moment: Nine True Stories of Triumph and Disaster and Their Lessons for Us All, Times Books, 1999.

Lovell, Jim, Jeffrey Kluger, Apollo 13, Pocket Books, 1996.


To populate these activities, you'll need a strong, two-way internal communications program that promotes them. Strong communications also serve to dispel damaging rumors and help manage expectations.

You can create other opportunities for employees to build relationships while advancing the work of your department by involving them in various internal IT initiatives, some of which may shade into professional growth:

Initiate a program designed to promote greater business involvement by your staff. Or have them:

  • Reinvent your IT organization, e.g., visions, missions, values, processes, etc.;
  • Prepare a portfolio-readiness assessment identifying the critical projects needed to support growth;
  • Institute a program to evaluate current systems' usage and recommend additional opportunities to leverage existing functionality;
  • Brainstorm short-term tactics to help the business improve its profitability; and
  • Reach out to the community with mentoring programs, as well as instructional opportunities for IT staff at local schools.

2. Opportunities for personal and professional growth.
Depending on the size of the IT organization, create various task forces (for larger groups) or use the key IT staff members (for smaller groups) to design and implement creative, internal programs costing no or very little money. These could include:

  • Training programs where employees can improve their technical skills and knowledge, and upgrade their certifications;
  • Mentoring program teaming business managers/leaders with key IT people;
  • Distributing books or conducting video discussions on leadership, such as "On Becoming a Leader," "Leadership Moment," or "Apollo 13";
  • Self-improvement and personal-development programs facilitated by fellow employees, for example, interpersonal skills, business awareness, project and change management, new technologies, or personal experiences with technology; and
  • Technology-education workshops for business management.

3. Respect for their IT and business-management leaders.
The leadership skills of both IT and business management are the critical success factor in making this work. The key is to change the focus of the IT employees from the "half-empty" to the "half-full" by making them part of the solution, and challenging their creativity in something other than just technical projects.

Someone once said, "It's not what I do for work that matters, but who I do it for." If you sincerely perform even one quarter of the above, and take pains to do it properly, you'll gain not only your employees' respect but their loyalty.

-- Bart Bolton


Alan Guibord, TAC chairman, CEO, and founder, has more than 25 years of experience leading IT organizations as CIO with both Fortune 100 companies and small-to-midsize businesses. Guibord has served as VP and CIO of Fort James Corp., VP of information technology at R.R. Donnelley & Sons, CIO of PictureTel, and VP of MIS and administrative services at Timeplex.

Peter Schay, TAC executive VP and chief operating officer, has 30 years of experience as a senior IT executive in both IT vendor and research industries. He was most recently VP and chief technology officer of SiteShell Corp. Previously at Gartner, he was group VP of global research infrastructure and support and launched coverage of client/server computing in the early 1990s.

Bart Bolton, TAC Thought Leader, has been developing and facilitating leadership development programs, with more than 400 graduates, for various clients for the past 10 years. He is a multifaceted information systems executive with more than 35 years' experience in the field of information systems management.