Face it, your best talent will move on

Here’s a novel approach to trying to retain hot-shot programmers: just give up.

Superstar information technology employees are going to job-hop no matter what perks you throw at them, so it’s best you accept them as transitional employees and get the most out of them.

So say veteran CIOs who spoke candidly about the issue at The CIO Forum, a conference for 400-plus financial services IT executives that was held recently.

“We’re going to have a class of employees who are going to leave after a project,” said Jonathan Nareff, vice-president of IT at Fleet Capital Inc. in Glastonbury, Conn. “If you treat the company like a commodity, we’ll treat you like a commodity,” he added.

Besides, if a job isn’t challenging enough, IT professionals — especially younger ones who aren’t rooted — will move on, said Helen J. O’Connor, director of IT management services at First Albany Corp. in Albany, N.Y.

Nicole Vanderbilt is a prime example. Upon graduating from Princeton University in 1995 with an engineering degree, Vanderbilt joined Deloitte & Touche LLP as an IT consultant. She wanted to work on “exciting” technology projects but was assigned to mundane year 2000 and systems management jobs.

The frustrated twenty-something systems engineer bolted after less than two years for a substantial pay cut to join New York-based Jupiter Communications Inc., where she analyses consumer behaviour on the Internet. “Being on the cutting edge was far more appealing to me” than money, she said.

Because employees aren’t nearly as loyal to the companies they work at as they were, say, 30 years ago, CIOs have had to change their approach to managing them. “If I can get someone to stay for two years, that’s terrific. It would be ludicrous to think that someone’s going to stay with the company for 20 years,” said Bernard Lachner, a director at Trident Data Systems in Los Angeles.

Still, IT management may be overlooking some of the factors that keep employees onboard. For example, IT employees “want a feeling of belonging, ownership of a job or a team pursuit,” said David Foote, managing partner at Cromwell Foote Partners LLC in Stamford, Conn. They also want internal mobility, constant skills refreshment and career advancement opportunities, he added.

However, treating one set of employees like superstars can alienate others. “We’ve had tremendous backlash from [non-star] employees who didn’t get a 15 per cent to 20 per cent salary bump,” said Carol Teasley, vice-president of systems integration at Fannie Mae in Washington.