A company I worked for a while ago had a novel approach to managing "indispensable" staff.
"It's better for them to leave on our terms rather than theirs," one of the senior personnel managers enthused. "You never know when they might leave, and it could be at the worst possible time for the company, so better to just let them go during a quiet spell".
Well, every department has a lynch pin, a person who can deliver to clients with consistency and who can be relied upon when the chips are down. Surely, firing them can't possibly be the answer?
Isn't it is better to identify key members of staff, understanding their strengths, weaknesses and the skill sets which define what makes them invaluable to the organisation?
We have to accept that sooner or later, these key players will eventually leave their current role, and every good manager understands the necessity of succession planning to ensure the least possible disruption should that time come more quickly than anticipated, or even at the "worst possible moment for the company".
Time and money is spent with other members of staff - on training, personal development, mentoring, cross skilling, job rotation - to make sure that, should the worst happen, impact is minimised.
But is the same thing ever done with business critical systems and software? Sure, we have contingency plans if things stop working, but that isn't looking to and planning for the future.
Over time, job functions change and we use HR techniques to analyse the performance of our employees, identifying new areas of weakness as their jobs change and they require training in new skills. Is the same true of our software systems? In a great many cases, software is created to fill a functional gap in the organisation, or to allow a particular area of the business to work with greater efficacy. The systems often outlive their stakeholders and developers, and even the sponsors who sought to have those systems created.
Business evolves, changes direction, has new priorities, objectives and ambitions. The business systems which support them need to be reviewed, just as we do with our employees, or we start creating more legacy systems. We wouldn't consider retaining a member of staff in perpetuity, employing others to fill in the gaps in their performance - yet we do that with systems all the time.
Succession Planning is as necessary in IT as it is in HR, but to be able to achieve it we must be able to articulate the functions performed by the software - it's job description, how it supports the business, the service it delivers.
And that's the difficulty, especially in an outsourced environment where business needs to not only understanding how third party staff support key business systems, but also how IT business services operate to contribute to the business's bottom line.
With employees, the HR departments have used tried and tested techniques for doing this for many years and these techniques are now built into software applications like PeopleSoft.
We need a new breed of software which enables us to capture how IT supports the business in order to create those job specs for our systems, to manage our business assets in the way we manage our staff.
Having visibility of how IT assets support the business is essential, and without it our documentation will never allow us to perform succession planning with the professionalism which IT needs to promote to the business.
Incidentally, those same managers I mentioned at the start of this article recently elected to roll out PeopleSoft Human Capital Management across the company...so business really can evolve, change direction, have new priorities, objectives and ambitions.
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