Use vision to keep IT’s best and brightest

In a market where competition for highly skilled IT professionals is intense, companies need cutting-edge strategies to attract and retain staff, according to Simon Hayward, U.S.-based vice president and research director of Gartner Inc.

To attract and retain the best and brightest, IT leaders must create a culture that supports their “high maintenance” needs, Hayward said, adding it is difficult to build such a culture, but worth it.

And a large paycheque is not necessarily going to clinch the deal, according to the outcome of People3 research, in which respondents rated salary as fourth on the list of must haves in their ideal job, Hayward said at the Gartner Symposium ITXpo 2002 in Sydney held earlier in November.

Respondents to the 2002 People3 IT Market Compensation Study said that, provided the package is competitive, career advancing opportunities, use of new technology and challenging work rate ahead of a salary package.

While IT professionals change employers for various reasons, two of the top three relate to career development: 63 per cent leave to take a more senior role in another company; 52 per cent switch because of a significant salary increase; 47 per cent leave due to lack of career opportunity. More than a third (35 per cent) leave because of dissatisfaction with their supervisor.

“Strong IT leadership means having a mission, vision, values and strategy that is communicated and understood by all,” Hayward said.

Hayward said a great way to retain IT professionals is to prepare them with competencies and knowledge, but IT leaders and hiring managers must understand the difference between skills and competencies.

“A skill is an ability gained through practice. Skills are easy to identify and easy to develop in employees.

“Competencies are harder to identify and harder to develop because they rest deeper in the psyche of the individual, from their traits and motives,” he said.

Hayward said while IT departments will continue to need some purely technical skills, the most necessary competencies and knowledge domains will reflect a synthesis of business, management, behavioural and technical competencies.

“In other words, the bulk of emerging competencies and domains of knowledge will not come from pre-engineered classes or courses. You can get a new employee to learn a new programming language but you can’t teach them communications and leadership skills.

“So the emerging competencies will come from new roles, situations, projects, outcomes and multidiscipline experiences.

“IT departments must expand beyond their traditional disciplines into disciplines that fuel business integration, work redesign, collaboration, virtual workspaces and enterprise financial management,” Hayward said.

Reorientation programs, feedback sessions and business education programs will equip IT professionals to understand and support business decisions, he said.

“CIOs and IT managers are caught between a rock and a hard place. Investments in technical and product training have limited business value, yet if CIOs pull back training, they send a negative message to staff members and weaken their own credibility.

Many CIOs solve the dilemma by extending the learning portfolio beyond content-based product and technical skills to context-rich business and IT education, using “reorientation” programs as a primary medium,” he said.

Benchmarking employee turnover with that of peer companies lets organizations identify what types of employees they are losing and why, Hayward said.