What You Can Do to Keep Them
The good news for CIOs is that taking the pulse of your staff is a matter of common sense not rocket science. One method Herman suggests is to poll your IT department as if you're conducting an internal focus group. Ask your employees what they like about their jobs, what they need in terms of training, mentoring and the like that they aren't getting, and where they envision their careers going. There should be no repercussions for honesty, no matter how brutal. To avoid turning the exercise into one big gripe session, encourage employees to suggest solutions to the issues they bring to light. As Herman points out, employees are more supportive of initiatives that they help create.
Long-term employees may need a bit more care and feeding. Rather than a focus group approach, CIOs need to put veterans through a reorientation process. With super funds decimated, being completely vested in a stock plan is not much of a motivating factor to stick around any more. In addition, the corporate mission may have changed markedly since they first joined, and no one has bothered to let them in on where the company's going and why they should stick around to help it get there.
The general principle behind both internal focus groups and reorientation is the same. Think of them as PR efforts aimed to win back the hearts and minds of your employees.
Another approach in the same vein is to reach out to other departments. This only works for CIOs who don't operate in a vacuum, and ideally every CIO should fit in that category. The premise: Build relationships with other departments in the organisation so that you can establish your IT employees as a resource to which they can easily turn. Again, this can be another exercise in internal PR, but one that should focus on how the IT group helps customers throughout the organisation. This combats that sinking feeling among IT folks that no one outside their department knows or cares about what they do. It also gives your IT people insight into how their work helps the company achieve its strategy. That, in turn, can generate motivation.
Above all, says Herman, CIOs with a warm-chair attrition problem need to avoid the temptation to appease their workforce with platitudes or a "pity poor us, ain't it awful" kind of message. Everyone knows things are tough and that most companies aren't living high off the hog any more. What employees want to know is why they should keep showing up to work each day. Is the company actively looking to emerge from tough times, or is it content to remain as stagnant as most employees' real wages? That's the issue CIOs need to address.
A lot of the stuff CIOs need to do to combat warm-chair attrition falls into the touchy-feely category of assuaging fears and untangling uncertainties, something some CIOs are not too comfortable doing. But they'll have to get comfortable real quick unless they want to get blindsided by a flurry of resignations when the business outlook does pick up.
Even in down times, you need to work to keep your employees around, if not literally, then at least figuratively. As a CIO, you don't want your employees to stay with you simply because they've got nowhere else to go.
Join the CIO Australia group on LinkedIn. The group is open to CIOs, IT Directors, COOs, CTOs and senior IT managers.