Taming Turnover

By Katherine Spencer Lee

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As the job market improves and employee retention becomes a growing concern, technology executives are looking for tactics to keep staff on board without breaking the budget.

One way to do this is to promote from within. By offering advancement opportunities to your best people, you send the message to all employees that you value and reward hard work.

At first glance, this may seem like a simple process: select an exceptional member of the team for recognition and offer him or her the next rung on the career ladder.

However, if you make promotions without a clear strategy in place, you risk undermining your retention efforts. Employees must understand the requirements for advancement to minimize the potential for misunderstandings or bruised egos.

Be open minded when considering candidates for promotions. Individuals who may seem like obvious choices due to their tenure with the organization or technical expertise may not always be the right match for more senior roles. A database administrator may be a whiz with Oracle 10g and relational database theory but lack the interpersonal and communication skills necessary to supervise others.

Technology professionals assuming leadership roles will need a broad range of abilities, including a strategic mindset, motivational skills and an understanding of how to handle issues and people diplomatically.

Training can sometimes help candidates with minor weaknesses rise to the challenge. A class in public speaking, for example, might give an employee the confidence and guidance required to direct meetings and make presentations as an IT manager.

However, be sure to draw the line between significant flaws and potential. An extremely shy person may never feel comfortable speaking before a group, while someone who only has marginal problems addressing a crowd may excel after attending one class.

Focus on Roles

When announcing your intentions to staff members, be careful not to focus too much on the pay raise or new job title associated with the advancement opportunity. Instead, talk about the position's responsibilities and how the role might further the person's career goals.

You want to make sure people really want to perform all of the new job duties day in and day out.

Allow employees time to consider the prospect before deciding whether to accept a promotion. Meet with reluctant candidates to address their concerns, but don't press too hard for someone to reconsider if he or she rejects the offer.

Advancement is only valuable as a retention and motivation tool if staff members consider the opportunities meaningful. You may find that some people are happy remaining in their current positions and would prefer instead to expand or alter their responsibilities.

In these cases, it's still possible to demonstrate your desire to help workers reach their career goals. For instance, you might redesign a network engineer job so that it includes more involvement with security strategy to suit an employee's interests.

Now What?

Existing staff who receive promotions may be familiar with company policies and procedures, but they also will require time to acclimate to their new responsibilities in the same way as people from outside the firm.

Allow plenty of transition time before he or she must meet critical objectives. If you expect a newly promoted project manager to resolve significant problems with an existing team within the first week on the job, you may be setting up the employee for failure.

Consider pairing the new manager with a mentor who works in a similar role within the company. People are more likely to admit they're facing challenges and seek advice from individuals who are not their direct supervisors.

As with any new hire, be sure to give them plenty of feedback during the initial weeks and months so just-promoted employees can succeed in their positions. The more information they have about what they are doing right and wrong, the easier it will be for them to make changes and better meet expectations.

Promoting from within isn't always the easiest choice, but it is one that can yield many rewards. You'll help to retain your best IT professionals while filling senior roles within your group. By opening new doors for employees you'll help close the door on turnover.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology, a provider of IT professionals for initiatives ranging from e-business development and multi-platform systems integration to network engineering and technical support. Robert Half Technology has more than 100 locations in the North America and Europe.