Keeping Your Best and Brightest

By Joe Santana

(Back to article)

It's 7:00 a.m. when Jim feels his anxiety level rise as he tries to make sense out of the help notes provided by his company's call handling expert support module.

In practice, Jim is suppose to enter every call he handles in this system and utilize it for repair instructions on tough calls, escalation to other engineers as well as a host of other tasks.

In reality, he seldom does this.

For quick answers, he prefers to call people he knows in the company as well as members of his external network. With regards to call escalation, he's learned that by keeping a list of senior engineer's cell phone numbers in his back pocket, he can quickly pass the call on to the appropriate person as opposed to waiting for them to check their call queues.

At the end of the day, Jim simply enters his activity and escalation notes into the corporate system in order to comply with his employer's policies.

Needless to say, Jim is often frustrated by how much of his time and effort is wasted either making the company's tools work or working around them in order to achieve the goals of his job.

To Bill Jensen, author of Work 2.0, Jim's frustration and need to work around the system to get work done is not unusual.

Jensen sees this as a big problem that is about to burst. In fact, according to Jensen, "we are in the midst of a fundamental shift in which frontline workers realize that their talents, time, attention, knowledge, passion, energy and social networks are real currency in a tight economy."

ROT (Return on Talent)

More and more workers want better returns on their personal assets of talent, passion and attention. These people, as Jensen aptly points out, want to work for companies that leverage their abilities to produce the most value for the company in the form of business results and for them as employees in the form of increased marketability.

The bottom-line is that what these employees look for are tools, practices and experiences that are designed to be extremely supportive of their ability to use their talents and energies productively for the company and themselves.

For these workers, competitive salaries, nice teammates, good culture and good benefits, are just "table stakes." They don't want to work for a company that does not offer these, but, by themselves, these factors do not make a company or team a preferred place to work.

For IT, where increasing job confidence threatens to result in many empty cubicles, understanding and embracing this cultural shift presents the single best opportunity for salvaging your staff.

According to the 2004 U.S. Job Recovery and Retention Survey released by CareerJournal.com and Society for Human Resource Management, 75% of all employees are searching for new employment opportunities.

Of those, 35% said they were actively searching, 40% are passively searching, and almost 50% of employed respondents said they will intensify their job seeking efforts as the job market improves.

Given the state of employee morale in most IT organizations (ITO), they are probably the most ready to "vote with their feet" as soon as the opportunity presents itself.

So, instead of competing for vital talent on the usual competitive salary, nice teammates, etc., maybe its time to start thinking about competing on the basis of how the ITO in your company will support your employees optimal business success, while increasing their market value.

What To Do

In order to determine where to start, it is important to understand where you are right now.

To determine the level of work and development support offered by your current tools and practices, here are a few questions you can send out in an anonymous survey to your team in order to unearth your current state of affairs.

Accompanied by a short introductory note, ask all of your team members to reply to the following using a scale like 1-to-5:

  • Is the information you receive from management and the company organized in a way that helps you work smarter and faster?
  • Is it easy for you to use the resources we provide to find the people or facts you need to get your work done?
  • Are the tools made available by the company of the quality needed to get your job done? (Provide a little space and ask the following two questions to probe deeper: If they are, tell us specifically how these tools help you? If not, where do they fall short and how do you get things done despite them?)
  • Do you believe that your personal talents, time and energy are being put to the best use by the company in a manner that produces the best results you are capable of providing?
  • Do you believe that, as a result of working in your current role within our team, you are getting the best return on your investment of your time and effort and that your worth and talents are increasing in value as a result of working on this team?
  • (The above questions were adapted from Jensen's book "Work 2.0.")

    By building a supportive environment that leverages and enhances team- member talent, you can have a very positive impact on your organization; making it a magnet that retains and attracts top talent.

    In next month's installment of this two-part series, we will take a closer look at the causes behind less then optimal tools and practices and outline the steps you can take to quickly address any opportunities for improvement uncovered by the results of the survey.

    Joe Santana is an IT organizational development specialist and thought-leader and co-author of "Manage IT." He can be reached at joesantana2003@cs.com or via his Web site joesantana.com.