5 Ways To Lose Your Best IT Talent - InformationWeek
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12/9/2015
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5 Ways To Lose Your Best IT Talent

Knowing what drives away your best IT workers offers clues about how to retain them.

8 Apps, Gadgets To Keep IT Pros Awake On The Job
8 Apps, Gadgets To Keep IT Pros Awake On The Job
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The old saw goes: Nobody gets a job between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day. That's because hiring managers are busy taking time off. But, it is equally true that your best employees think the most about leaving their jobs when they have time off, during the holiday season and otherwise. 

It's time for supervising IT managers to think long and hard about talent retention. There's no better way to do that then to do the opposite of the things that make your best IT employees quit.

Make no mistake. You want your low-range employees to look elsewhere. But what your low-performing IT employees want is very different from what your high-performing IT employees want.

The following five tactics are almost guaranteed to please your low performers and drive your high performers crazy. Let's take a look at the differences, and how you can stop the IT brain drain.

1. Increase bureaucracy.

Your low performers want things to go slowly. They don't particularly want to invest their time or move particularly quickly.

Your high performers are VERY frustrated with how slow things go in a massive bureaucracy. 

Don't be deluded by the fact that you may work for private industry and therefore you have no massive bureaucracy. Ask anyone who has worked for both government and large corporations (like me) and they'll assure you that large private industry can be equally slow-moving and nitpicky when it comes to process and paperwork. 

In short: Minimize bureaucracy if you want to keep your high performers.

[For more ways to drive your best employees crazy, see 3 Traps New IT Leaders Need to Avoid.]

2. Avoid innovation.

Your low performers don't particularly want to participate in innovation opportunities. In fact, they want to stay well away from innovation. That sounds like work. That sounds like risk.

In stark, stark contrast, your best performers get super frustrated by a lack of innovation opportunities. To them, a lack of innovation opportunities translates into a lack of aspirational work. These are the folks with higher aspirations. If you deny them the opportunity to reach higher and do interesting work that perhaps not a lot of other people can or will do, this will frustrate them to the point of insanity, and they will leave.

The lesson: Provide opportunities for aspirational work if you want to keep your high performers.

3. Focus on routine maintenance.

Related to innovation, your low performers delight in routine IT maintenance. Hey, it's (usually) easy. It's predictable. It doesn't require a lot of thinking. Predictably, they also love manual operations, as opposed to automated operations. Who wants all of this automation, anyway? It's scary.

Automated ops and proactive automated maintenance are not scary to your high performers. But a culture that insists on manual ops IS scary to them. It's the moral equivalent to saying to them, "Hi, please live in the most boring world possible and occupy yourself with tedium." Your highest performers, when faced with too much of this, will want to escape, tout de suite

In sum: Remove cultural and systemic barriers to automation if you want to keep your high performers.

4. Keep dumb funding priorities.

Your low performers have a codependent relationship with short-sighted budget and executive management: The lower the resourcing for IT, the more they can complain and exhibit a learned helplessness.

(Image: michaeljung/iStockphoto)

(Image: michaeljung/iStockphoto)

Contrast this with your highest performers. They can't even believe that after they've just saved finance the equivalent of a full-time employee, nobody's approving a one-time $5,000 expenditure to make it easier to roll out more labor-saving apps or reports. Your highest performers are smart. They totally get that they've saved finance (or the CEO's office, or manufacturing) at least $40K, if not $80K, on a yearly basis. Now someone won't fund a reasonable one-time expense with fewer zeros on it? Does it really have to be this hard?

Your highest performers understand when something is hard because it's a tricky code or configuration. But they don't understand why people don't understand their value and why people won't invest in them when they've proven again and again that investments have payoffs. Again, a strong call to an exit strategy.

The takeaway: Make it easier to get funding for reasonable expenses if you want to keep your high performers.

5. Run the no-fun police.

Generally, low performers love to have fun … as long as it has nothing to do with work. Cat photos, water cooler inanities, fantasy football … low performers love to waste time, and lots of it.

Some IT managers react to this by canceling all fun and by creating blanket policies that restrict employee freedom and choice.

Bzzt! Wrong answer!

Your highest performers love to have fun, too, but they generally have a great time when they're working. There is incredible fun in solving a tough problem, or putting the last piece of a project in place. They also get annoyed when they get the same restrictions on them that other, lower-performing employees get.

Learn from this: Don't cancel all fun because of a few bad apples. Judge people by their quality and quantity of work, and by the way they meet objectives. Avoid universal restrictions.

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Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human ... View Full Bio
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SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
12/30/2015 | 8:40:22 AM
Re: Scheduled tedium, canceled fun.
It sounds like the experiment ended and there wasn't much communication about its success so there probably wasn't much good that came out of it. Technical roles are often hard to measure so it really is no wonder that companies take chances with seemingly crazy methods of doing so.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
12/29/2015 | 6:56:32 PM
Re: Scheduled tedium, canceled fun.
@SaneIT it was awful. We tracked time like this for at least 2 years. Everyone grew sick of this method very quickly. I don't know if the data yeilded any new insights. 
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
12/22/2015 | 11:09:30 AM
Gotta get outta here buttons
I think these managed to hit all the major 'gotta get outta here' buttons. Someone I know just recently switched jobs and his old company had it all, the bureaucracy, the no fun (as in we don't trust anyone so no one can telecommute, ever), the routine maintenance, perpetual lack of budget, lack of innovation (as in training, we don't need training.) He loves the people at his job but the job was no longer challenging. Anyone else got a way to lose your IT talent? For me i think micromanaging is a big one.
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/14/2015 | 11:27:05 PM
Re: making all employees high performers
vnewman, I once worked in a satellite office, and there definitely was a sense from the parent office of distrust. I know we can't generalize the whole relationship across organizations --- I was working in a small midsize family-run company with only a handful of offices --- but I can say that it led to some idiotic rules being perpetrated by the parent office on us.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
12/14/2015 | 4:32:30 PM
Re: making all employees high performers
@vnewman2,

I can relate.... I'm a consultant working at a client site, and many times I have to go through the same hoops and ladders and duplicate tasks (different systems, differente email sets) to get one thing done. I know that my parent company tries to be as efficient as possible, but the client site is a little bit archaic at times... but their staff doesn't complaint since this is all the know (many have 20-30+ years with the company) so they can't make out the forest from the trees.
vnewman2
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vnewman2,
User Rank: Ninja
12/14/2015 | 3:14:56 PM
Re: making all employees high performers
I can completely relate to the bureaucracy item: Bog people down with so many administrative tasks that they do not have time to do actual work. When I come in every day, I have to go to a different floor where our receptionist sits and fill out a sign in sheet as to when I arrive - this is supposedly so that if there is a fire or other disaster, HR knows who is in the building, but the mangers don't have to sign in every day. HMMMM. So that's the paper time sheet, but then I have to fill in an electronic time sheet in order to get paid. If I want to take time off, I have to first fill out a paper form, get it signed by my manager, even it is for an hour, interoffice it to HR, then schedule it on a department calendar in a color coded to my LAN ID. I have a second boss, so I have to do the same on her team's shared calendar as well. Then, the day before, I have to send a list of pending items, along with a reminder to the team that I will be out. Then I record the time off in the electronic timesheet. If I give someone a loaner laptop, I have to mark it down on a white board, fill out paperwork saying which one they were given, make them sign it, then record it into a calendar. These are just examples of how EVERYTHING operates where I work - we are a satellite office and I feel as if they don't trust us, frankly.
mejiac
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mejiac,
User Rank: Ninja
12/14/2015 | 12:52:40 PM
Re: making all employees high performers
@Pedro Gonazles,

To add to your comment, what I've been able to experiment is that for low performers they hold positionst that are mostly taylored to them (usually related to task and ticket management). It's predictable and requires no "thinking" effort aside from doing the same task 1001 times.

What also happens is that folks that start out in does roles quickly move on to better things, and this is very notable, since you'll see them ask the question "why can't we try doing things this way?"

I've also seen what happens when low performance coast in there sits...their entire department gets laid off.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
12/13/2015 | 10:31:22 PM
Re: making all employees high performers
For a company, it's important to keep 20%, 70% and 10% distribution. Managing out low-performers is necessary if they do not improve. In this way the company can upgrade the team continuously.
jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
12/13/2015 | 2:52:39 PM
Re: Why People Leave, Why People Stay
@broadway -- good point -- people have to be happy in their group/have friends/people they like in order to dig in and stay -- 
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
12/13/2015 | 2:50:24 PM
Re: Why People Leave, Why People Stay
@jastroff, you are correct in that there are factors beyond an employer's control. One big one, for instance, is whether someone has friends at work. If they do, they would be hesitant to leave. It's a simplification, sure. But it would take more to get someone to leave than if someone was a little lonelier at work.
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