Fully Engaging Your Top Talent, Part II

Sep 14, 2005

Joe Santana

So how did you do in last month’s engagement survey? Would you say that based on those results your IT team is currently an “employer of choice for top talent?”

Well the good news is that, regardless of your results, if you are a manager of individual contributors or other managers, you will find the tips contained in this month’s column of value to you in your quest to fully engage your top talent.

While this is by no means an exhaustive list, here are a few specific things you can do to set the foundation for increasing your positive score in each of the key engagement areas:

Strive to paint a true picture of your workplace to candidates and never stop recruiting. Did you know that 40% of turnover happens in the first six months, and that the primary cause is that the job was not what the employee expected when they were hired?

After that, some of the top reasons for talented people leaving an organization after a few years include a sense that they are being taken for granted or that the organization no longer cares.

So first, lets start by focusing on ways to improve the match between what your workplace offers and what new hires expect.

One way to do this is by being very honest in your recruiting process. It is good to sell your company, but make sure that the sell is based on value propositions that you can and plan to deliver.

Remember that your new-hire orientation is an extension of your recruiting effort. While giving your new hire information about your company, make sure that you are also building relationships and reinforcing their decision to join your team. As their manager, you should be personally involved in a large part of the orientation process.

Make sure you circle back to your new hires after 90 days and 180 days to find out if their experience to date matches what they expected. Listen carefully and either adjust the environment or change what you are telling people when you hire them.

Don’t fit people into jobs; instead wrap jobs around talented people. Unfortunately, what some managers do is akin to hiring a chicken, telling them that the goal is to get to the top branch of a tree, pointing to a squirrel as the exemplar employee and asking the chicken to climb to the top like the “star” squirrel.

A better way, is to tell the chicken the goal is to get to the top branch and let the chicken get there through a way that is more aligned with its abilities, (namely flying and hopping).

The bottom line is that as a manager, you do best by focusing on the results you need and providing the employee the freedom to choose how to achieve the results using their natural talents.

Become a more flexible manager. Some managers will boast about how they always manage everyone the same way. This is usually stated so as to convey the fairness and even-handedness of the manager. The fact is, however, that managers are most effective and engaging when they manage employees “situationally.”

For example, under a variety of circumstances, any employee will require the manager to play any one or combination of teacher — someone who provides instruction and/or directions on how to get something done — and/or coach — someone to provide feedback, support and/or encouragement toward higher levels of self-confidence and performance.

Depending on the tasks they are working on and the employee’s level of mastery, a manager needs to adjust her or his “management mix” and style in order to provide each employee with what they need to succeed.

Managers therefore need to master more than one management style and develop the perceptiveness to know when to use which approach.

Find out where your team members want to go with their careers and help them get there. In almost every employee survey conducted, growth and advancement top the list of what employees most want.

The key to responding to this challenge is to expand the career discussion and plan beyond the confines of your organization. In other words if the next most practical move for a person is outside your organization, don’t shy away from that fact. Recognize it and provide them with the opportunity to contribute to your organization while building the skills they need to realize their next role — even if it is outside your company.

Not only will your people continue to be engaged while working for you with a clear view to their future, some of them may return with an even broader portfolio of skills.

Do not let the smallest good deeds go unrecognized or without reward. We humans respond favorably to praise and recognition. Unfortunately, IT managers seem to be a bit stingy with feedback. In a survey I conducted only 40% of the respondents felt they received any form of feedback at all. Of these, only two percent felt strongly positive about the quality of feedback.

Giving reinforcing praise and feedback is a low-cost, high-return practice. With a little effort, we can quickly produce big results.

Focus work activities to produce top results and reduce the fruitless consumption of time. Everyone today feels the crunch of the ever-accelerating business pace. One thing that often adds “insult to injury” is when talent and time are squandered by managers who do not prioritize and thus end up throwing mountains of unprioritized work at employees.

The advice, therefore, is identify profitable actions and create sustainable balanced workloads that enable employees to enjoy both their jobs and personal lives.

Communicate honestly. Not long ago, I entered a posting on my blog that referenced an article by an author who claimed that ethics had no place in the IT organization. In fact the author advocated lying to subordinates if needed in order to produce results.

The outrage in the notes that poured in as responses was clear as a bell. Nothing will disengage people more than the loss of trust and respect that result from the realization (or suspicion) that their managers are lying and/or deceiving them.

The common thread in all of these suggestions is that effective management practice involves managers caring and showing they care about their direct reports, which in turn results in their direct reports caring about the manager and the business.

So, the bottom line is that if you want to get beyond mere retention and get to loyalty, you must first be a truly caring manager. Such simple wisdom provides the most powerful tool for helping us reach success as effective managers.

Joe Santana is an IT organizational development specialist and thought-leader and co-author of "Manage IT." He can be reached at or via his Web site


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