Are You Ready for the IT Talent War?

By Joe Santana

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According to all the indicators, IT worker demand is rapidly increasing. In fact a number of surveys show that the demand for IT talent will surpass supply by the publishing of this column or shortly thereafter.

When you couple this information with the fact that many experts tell us unhappy and frustrated IT staffers are ready to bolt out the door as opportunities open up elsewhere, it becomes clear that IT leaders need to spruce up their recruiting strategies.

If you’re thinking you might quell the unrest and increase your retention power by installing a couple of new ping-pong tables, organizing a softball team and/or giving away a few under $20 trinkets with a nice speech, I would urge you to think again.

The bottom-line here is you should take real steps to retain your current talent by becoming the kind of employer they want to work for. You should also, however, build a recruiting strategy that is well designed for this talent war—under the realistic expectation that your IT turnover rates are bound to go up.

Managing the Impact

With all the shelved projects now getting dusted off and new competitive investments in IT on the horizon, you simply cannot afford to just “hope that the talent you currently have will stick around.”

What are the possible consequences of not having a solid “talent-war grade” recruiting strategy? Well, the loss of just one or two people at the wrong time can have a major impact. For example, recently, Jim Mulkey, Vice President, Research & Development, BMC Software related to me how his company lost a couple of resources during the critical phase of a project.

“Their departure and the time it took to replace them led to potential delays in our project,” said Mulkey. Instead of delaying the project, BMC saved the schedule by offering the rest of the team a bonus for bringing the project in on time.

In BMC’s case, this was a rare event. However, for too many companies this type of extra squeezing of people, even when compensated, is an all too common occurrence which can lead to more employee dissatisfaction and more departures. As one anonymous source at another company, who left shortly after raking in a “windfall” in extra-effort bonuses recently told me: “The money was nice, but I could not nor did I want to keep working at that level for a long time."

Mulkey also said that prior to BMC he found himself in situations where budgeted positions that could not be filled quickly were reallocated to other parts of the organization to support other projects or lost during cost cutting exercises.

The net effect is IT teams—already constrained and facing mountains of work—can very quickly become even more constrained if they take too long to fill an open slot due to the shift in supply and demand.

So, at this point, you may be wondering, “Hmmm, how vulnerable am I?” To help you answer that question, I invite you to assess the strength of your current recruiting strategy using the survey provided below.

To find out how ready you are to fight the talent war respond to the each of the following ten questions:

1= Strongly disagree, 2=Disagree, 3=Slightly disagree, 4 Slightly agree, 5=Agree or 6=Strongly Agree

  • We know the exact type of person we need to meet our company’s requirements. We can objectively describe this person in terms of talents, passions, experience, background, etc. We also know the key work environment preferences of our target workforce candidates and have specifically created the environment that supports them personally and professionally.
  • We know exactly where to look for our ideal job candidates.
  • We have access to and regularly cultivate a huge pool of passive candidates (People working in other companies that meet our needs profile). A number of these people are ready to come over and work for us as soon as an opportunity opens.
  • We have a pool of successors that can step in to fill all of our critical jobs. We have identified short-term, mid-term and long-term career opportunities for our employees and we know exactly who call fill in for a key person that leaves.
  • We have a clear idea of the foundational talents that are at the core of the people who develop into our top employees and we have programs for developing them into top producers. We have a clearly defined process for bringing in these apprentices and developing them.
  • We have excellent relationships with professional recruiters. Our recruiters are reputable, reliable and know exactly what competencies we need in this organization.
  • Our recruiters and hiring managers mirror the diversity dimensions of the people we seek to hire. When candidates interview with us for a position, they see many other people like themselves in the recruiting and hiring management ranks.
  • We have a clearly articulated employer brand that attracts the people we want to our company. If we were to meet with a potential candidate in an elevator, we could articulate, in a two minute elevator speech, who we are and why they should want to work for us.
  • Our ideal job candidates prefer us over our competitors. They want to work for us.
  • Our recruiters and hiring managers have been carefully trained and have demonstrated a high degree of competency in finding and securing the most highly successful candidates for our job openings.
  • After you are done with the survey, add up the ratings for each category. If your total score is 30 or less, you are extremely unprepared for an IT talent war. If you scored a perfect 60, don’t rest too easy, but at least know that you are prepared to fight in this war. Any score in between these middle and bottom levels indicates an opportunity for improvement in one or more key areas.

    Next month, I will share ideas you can use to raise you score on each of the key areas you need to address in order to compete for top talent in 2006 and beyond.

    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.