Treat staff royally in down times

The core of your IT operations is people. You’re to be forgiven if you’ve occasionally imagined that integration efforts, data centres, storage, Web services or even software held first place in the hierarchy of what makes or breaks IT performance. After all, that’s what has gotten most of your attention.

It’s critical, however, that you don’t lose sight of your core, especially when we’re in an economic slump, during which IT professionals have watched colleagues depart, projects get dumped and companies retrench.

These are the times that will test your true talents as an IT leader. “Managers forget in down times they need to look at the workforce that is left,” says Milan Moravec, CEO of Moravec and Associates, a business consulting firm. “Most managers think once they have laid people off and cut the budget, they can wash their hands of the situation and breathe a sigh of relief.”

That would be a big mistake, says Moravec, because most employees don’t view layoffs as part of some larger economic cycle. “The employees who are left remember the pain of their colleagues and want to blame management for pink slips and the poor business decisions made during heady times,” he says.

Indeed, while many managers assume that the employees still on the payroll will remain loyal and grateful, a better economy could encourage many survivors to jump at the first new opportunities elsewhere.

To forestall these problems, managers should do three things: make themselves available to current employees, articulate ways IT can support business units and introduce basic features to save their employees time and money.

“Before and after cutbacks, managers tend to disappear,” says Moravec. “That’s the wrong thing to do.” He also recommends cutting your travel to be close to workers. “You need to be willing to listen and show courage during times of corporate stress,” he says.

To hold on to current personnel, you should introduce ways to make life better for survivors. This is seldom easy, especially when budgets are crimped. But there are some simple programs that make good business sense and will make life better for people in your downsized organization.

For example, Cisco Systems put employee relationship management applications on the desktop to automate expense reporting for its workers in 28 countries. Based on business policies, about 25,000 expense reports are filled out using a Java thin client every month. Employees are reimbursed via direct deposit. Managers save time, trust is built, and employees no longer loan money to the company by procrastinating on filing paper reports.

This way, at least all the memories won’t be horrible.

Pimm Fox is Computerworld (US)’s West Coast bureau chief. Contact him