If you want to retain top IT talent, ask them what they like and don't like about your organization. And then act on it.
While the offshore outsourcing of IT work may dominate the news in the US presidential election year, savvy CIOs know that the success of their companies continues to depend on top-flight, in-house IT talent. In fact, there is a general consensus among CIOs that finding and keeping motivated and talented IT professionals these days requires as much attention as it did during the height of the technology boom in the late 90s. (For more on this, read "The Vanishing IT Department", CIO July.) Companies had trouble retaining workers during the boom days because IT workers could pick from so many other tempting offers; today they face a different challenge.
Now, IT management has to deal with the fear and uncertainty that many IT professionals are feeling as a result of the stampede toward offshore outsourcing. Even employees who have not lost their jobs thus far are worried about the future. And many of them are leery of continuing to work for a company that outsources. In addition, declining enrolments in computer science programs indicate that it may be harder to recruit entry-level IT workers in the coming years.
Throughout my career, I have found retention and recruitment issues to be a major source of angst for IT organizations. When I was CIO of AMD, a major semiconductor manufacturer, I decided to look at the reasons why members of our IT staff left the company and determine how we could better identify, develop and retain people within IT. The idea for the study emerged from a global conference for the company's IT managers that I had organized to set the overall direction for my organization. Attendees were divided into teams, and each team was assigned a different initiative to pursue. One of the teams was asked to focus on the recruitment, development and retention of world-class IT employees. This team (which consisted of representatives from HR and various IT staff members) was tasked with investigating attrition in IT and developing retention strategies. They suggested a survey of employees would be a worthwhile first step.
Shortly after the conference, this team distributed the first questionnaire in a series to employees who had worked within our IT department, resigned from the company and later returned to AMD to work within IT again (in either the same position or a different one). We wanted to understand the circumstances that led to the employees' resignations and also why they decided to return. In addition, exit data from employees who had left the company was collected and analyzed. The team also examined attrition and retention research from various sources - such as Gartner and IDC - to understand industry trends and to compare our company's IT turnover rate with similar organizations'.
The survey results showed that employees liked the benefits of the company's philosophies and culture (which stress that people come first and profits will follow). This aspect was one of the main drivers in bringing former employees back. However, we learned that many had resigned in the first place because management was not demonstrating adequate leadership - especially when communicating a vision, setting team direction and helping employees understand how they fit into the company's overall goals.
The survey also found that management needed to ensure that employees were enjoying their day-to-day work and were appropriately challenged. (After all, employees who feel underutilized and are not continuously challenged with new projects are likely to look elsewhere for employment.) This meant introducing new and exciting technologies that would give employees opportunities to learn new skills. We also realized that a key factor in retention is reinvigorating relationships between employees and their managers; there must be regular conversations about career development and training to keep employees engaged and challenged.
Rewards and recognition was another area that needed to be addressed, according to the survey results. Providing employees with competitive salaries is essential, though many employees are motivated by things other than money. Managers must determine what form of recognition works best for an employee and use it frequently to reward good performance.
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