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12/9/2015
08:06 AM
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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
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

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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jastroff
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jastroff,
User Rank: Ninja
12/13/2015 | 11:22:35 AM
Why People Leave, Why People Stay
Taking a 360 degree view, I suspect people leave or stay based on a variety of personal factors including salary, job choice, family needs, age, and mobility, just to mention a few.

At the mid-to top of the IT food chain, people often have many choices other than where they currently are working. And at times, there's little the employer can do to keep IT talent from leaving.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
12/10/2015 | 8:28:47 AM
Re: Scheduled tedium, canceled fun.
That sounds like a very short sighted plan.  The lower performers will just work slower nearly crawling then take the full 10 minutes before getting on to the next task.  Your high performers will work until they need a break then feel rushed to get back to work rather than feel like they have the time to reset.  I have never tried to time myself between tasks but I know I spend most of the day switching from task to task and take breaks a regular times to fill up a cup, have lunch, etc.   I think slower workers have their place too, at some point you need someone who is OK spending hours poring over a really boring task.  Most of your high performers want to get those tiresome tasks over with and move on to something they enjoy working on.  
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2015 | 8:07:19 PM
Re: Scheduled tedium, canceled fun.

This was great advice for keeping IT Talent.  I also agree with the notion that fun must be a part of the picture. 

Some people will be more productive when there is a balance of fun and work and some will of course take advantage of it, those who do should be managed very carefully and while I do not support letting people go in this economy, it may very well be needed for those who think the entire day is made for play.

jagibbons
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jagibbons,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2015 | 3:53:59 PM
Re: making all employees high performers
Agreed on several counts. Routine maintenance is important, but it shouldn't be the goal or, as the article states, the "focus." We do it because it's the right thing to do and in the best interest of all involved. If our shop becomes all about maintenance, the top performers, the MVPs are going to leave.

As to helping poor performers grow, don't bother. All people deserve a chance. If they have demonstrated on more than one occasion that they aren't going to take the chance offered, look for a way to move them out. The top performers who bring value to the company shouldn't have to put up with peers who are just riding coat tails.
TerryB
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TerryB,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2015 | 1:12:38 PM
Re: making all employees high performers
@Pedro, do you really think Mark Sanchez is suddenly going to turn into Aaron Rodgers and win the NFL's MVP award? Ever?

Just like you can't fix stupid, you can't teach talent. Some things are just God given.

I'm sure you are trying to make point that every employee should have opportunity to learn, especially if just coming in at entry levels. But that's not what article was talking about.
zerox203
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zerox203,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2015 | 12:37:41 PM
5 Ways To Lose Your Best IT Talent
Good advice in itself (look for the opposite of the status quo to satisfy good employees), but in some places a bit too broad for my tastes. Everyone hates bureacracy when it gets in their way (low-level employees would say management are the ones who love it!) Everyone thinks they're a good employee, and confirmation bias is bound to kick in when your expense isn't funded (the other guy's is dumb!) Like it or not, some time that routine maintenance does have to get done, and if the same innovation-lover from number two volunteers to do it with gumption when that time comes, that may prove he's all the more valuable.  In other words, many of these seem subjective or not mutually exclusive. Plus, Plenty of orgs may be mandated by compliance or security reasons to avoid these rules, and while there's culture advice to be taken to heart, they also have to judge their employees by unique standards.
PedroGonzales
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PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2015 | 12:30:13 PM
making all employees high performers
I think this is difficult because companies since they must tailor to two types of employees, high and low performance.  It would be interesting to know whether low performance employees have the potential to become high performance. High performance can add value to the companies while low performance seem to work to just keep the wheel running.
Michelle
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Michelle,
User Rank: Ninja
12/9/2015 | 11:36:02 AM
Scheduled tedium, canceled fun.
This is great advice! I have worked in a place that decided the best way to cut costs was to track every second spent on everything. They thought all departments must be wasting a lot of time and resources so it made sense to management at the time. This tactic effectively cancelled all fun since there was to be no more than a 10 minute gap between tasks...
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