Winning the New War for IT Talent

Jul 8, 2010

Theresa Welbourne

Instead of an outright war, smaller less conspicuous battles will be waged for a new class of people -- the neglected warriors of the recession. These people are likely to be recruited away and quickly conferred with the hero status they so richly deserve by their new bosses. These newly minted heroes will help their new organizations thrive as the pace of change continues to escalate; all to your chagrin.

Neglected warriors are people who harnessed their internal energy to successfully drive many initiatives forward during the recession. However, with their good deeds came little or no recognition and IT is full of them. As a leaders you can either sit by and watch as neglected warriors are poached away, or you can be proactive and try to keep them. My Leadership Pulse research shows that being proactive now requires good data and processes to find the neglected warriors and take action before it’s too late.

The subset of neglected warriors was discovered through employee engagement research and numerous case studies. Neglected warriors are employees with a high sense of urgency and are compelled to move forward. The diagnostic tool (called Valour) used in the winter 2010 Leadership Pulse study provides an estimate of the prevalence of neglected warriors.

The questions used for the Valour survey were derived from a large-scale multi-year research study on the factors that predict long-term stock price growth, earnings growth, and firm survival. The original question set was 200 questions and, via numerous validation studies, the number of items was reduced to 15. I use Valour as an acronym that defines the key parts of the survey. The definition of the word valour is: “Strength of mind and spirit that allows one to conquer danger with firmness.”

The four major components of the Valour survey are:

  • Val = value, that employees feel valued by their manager and peers;
  • O = sense of ownership in the job and organization;
  • U = sense of urgency; and
  • R = rewards, that they are fair and related to performance.

Valour focuses on the “engaged in what” question by diagnosing the percent of employees moving the company forward or keeping it “standing still.” This is done via the interaction effect predicting performance, which tells the story about the “conditions under which” improving scores is good or bad for performance.

The 2 x 2 matrix in Figure 1 plots the results of the interaction effect (see arrows for direction of intervention needed to improve performance). Improving only the Val-O-R scores for the entitled makes them even more entitled without simultaneously increasing their sense of urgency. It is much harder to instill a sense of urgency than it is to influence value, ownership and rewards. In order to move the entitled group, they need to know that their current performance level is not rewarded (thus moving them down on value, ownership and reward). If successful, moving these groups down on Val-O-R will increase their sense of urgency and allow for positive progression.

The neglected warrior class, however, is different. They have a high sense of urgency, they are moving forward, but they need to be appreciated. Our work finds that small efforts can move these individuals from neglected warrior to hero (or fully engaged) status.

How are managers and leaders doing today? In order to answer this question, we ran the Valour survey with the Leadership Pulse sample. The results for the 470 people (primarily in senior management and leadership roles) who took the winter 2010 survey are in Figure 2 below:

Figure 2 shows that six percent of the sample reported being in the entitled group, 55% are fully engaged (or heroes), 17% are disengaged and 22% are the neglected warriors. These employees at high risk of being poached because they have no good reason to stay. Looking specifically at the information industry sample we find the results in Figure 3 and in Figure 4:

Battle lines

When examining these subgroups, it becomes clear that the being in an IT position increases the probability of being in the neglected warrior class. Thus, as the economy picks up, these are the people at higher risk of being poached or recruited away.

The key to winning the battle neglected warriors is to find them and quickly recognize them for their efforts. Recognition for these self-motivated people does not necessarily mean that you have to pay large sums of money or orchestrate public appreciation efforts. Listening to them, giving them more influence over their departments, engaging them in discussions with the leadership team, and efforts focused on creating more of a sense of ownership around their job, department and company are highly powerful interventions.

These employees represent an organization’s best opportunity for quick talent wins. They are people who need just a little recognition to convert them to hero status. We suggest starting your own efforts to win the war for talent with the neglected warriors, not with the entitled and disengaged. Those latter two groups are the ones that usually get the most attention from HR but they do not represent the fastest path to performance. In fact, it may be better for many of the people in the entitled and disengaged groups to seek career opportunities elsewhere.

In the new war for talent speed is critical. Waiting as your highest potential talent walk out the door is not a winning strategy for today's high-change business environment.

Theresa Welbourne is the founder, president, and CEO of eePulse, an employee engagement consultancy. She is also a research professor at the Center for Effective Organizations, Marshall School of Business, USC; an adjunct professor of Executive Education at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan Business School; and the founder and lead researcher for the Leadership Pulse initiative. She also is editor-in-chief of Human Resource Management, the Journal.

Tags: great recession, employee retention, IT staffing, morale, eePulse,

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