Guide To Losing Your Best People

Most indications point to the fact that the economy is improving.  More importantly, jobs for IT are picking up again.  Even if you are not looking for a new job, and I’m not suggesting that you should, your co-workers may be enticed by some of the offers by other companies trying to ramp up for the next economic boom.  One way you can prepare for that possibility is to review the salary surveys conducted by many IT groups, magazines, and companies.  Information Week published one such survey just a few months ago.

Perhaps the most interesting part of these types of surveys is not just the salary amounts, but the respondent’s answers to questions like whether they are actively looking for a new job, why they are looking for a new job, and what matters most in a job.

Interestingly, most of the job seekers would actually prefer to stay where they are.  Not entirely surprising since change is not only traumatic, but the uncertainty of exchanging a known set of job related issues for an unknown set of job issues can be frightening.  So perhaps the real question that IT managers need to ask when looking at these surveys is what does it take to keep from losing your best talent.

No one should be surprised that the top reason people are looking for a new job, cited by over 70%, is salary.  With the economy being in a slump for the last several years, companies have been reluctant to offer much in terms of raises.  In fact, many companies have even lowered salaries.  Other companies have used the economy to squeeze more work out of few employees further exasperating the perceived salary shortfall.

Perhaps because many companies have fallen back on maintaining existing systems rather than exploring new systems the survey reports that half of all IT staff and over 40% of the management staff is also looking at new positions as a way to get involved in more interesting work or to gain more personal fulfillment.  Maintaining existing aging systems is not very fulfilling to top IT producers who pride themselves in implementing new solutions.  Greater responsibility and more job satisfaction also rank high as a reason many employees leave.  Of the active job seekers, 41% have a problem with the company’s management or culture.  Considering that corporate culture only made it to 19% in the list of what’s most important to employees, one has to wonder how bad the company culture has become to rank so highly for those looking to change jobs.  Maybe it is telling us that while corporate culture is usually not that important, when an employee finally decides to leave, the reason is often because the corporate culture has changed and not for the better. Perhaps this too is a recent effect caused by the pressures of the poor economy over the last several years.

Many job seekers complain that management does not appear to value their opinions and knowledge.  In fact, respect for the professionalism of the employee appears by the numbers to be more important than pay, work challenge, or company stability.  Perhaps this shift is reflective of the difference in attitudes about work attitudes between the baby boomers who as a whole were more company dedicated and the Gen X and Gen Y employees today that value the social and culture attitudes at work more and who respond more to recognition and appreciation for their work than to pay and benefits.

The problem may be more complex than a single simple answer.  Some staff may be looking to make up for lost time with little or even negative salary gains over the past several years.  Other staff members may be craving the challenge of working with the latest and greatest technology that your organization may just not be able to afford.

As a manager, many of these things are outside of your direct control.  You probably do not have control over salaries and your budget may prevent you from starting some of those interesting new projects that your staff yearns for.  You may be able to work with your HR department on some of these issues.  However, as a manager, there is one thing you do have control over.

Get to know your staff.  Find out what excites them about coming into work.  Praise them for their accomplishments, and not just to them, but also to others within the organization when the staff member is present so they know that you appreciate them.  On the other hand, if something does not work, or a project falls behind schedule, or perhaps must be cancelled, don’t criticize them in front of other staffers.  Remember my discussion on innovation and the statement that the most innovative organizations have an expected failure rate as part of the risk of achieving big successes.

Work with your staff to identify how you can help them reach success in their next project or task.  Try to determine what types of tasks each of your staff members enjoy the most and then try to move assignments around to give each of them tasks that excite them to perform to higher standards.  It may not always be possible to assign each staff member only the tasks they enjoy the most, but your staff will see and appreciate your attempts to do so.

Recognize their input and achievements.  Challenge them to become part of the solution for new projects and tasks rather than just delegating work down to them.  This means getting them involved in design and planning meetings with other departments and teams.  Finally, listen to their opinions.

Even if you do all of these things, there is no guarantee that your staff will always stay with you.  However, failure to do these things may be the best guide to losing your best people.  The choice is yours.

C’ya next time.