Finding the right skills via a myriad of agencies, contacts and social media is one thing, but what about retention? It is the companies which provide their workers with a staff to lean on and an opportunity to grow, both as a team member and as an individual stand to benefit from its greatest asset: 'Peoplecare',
Imagine that you have developed a computer system that fully understands the needs of your business wherever it is deployed, is 100 per cent flexible during critical business processing periods, and which can be upgraded with new technical information without impacting live services. Is this possible? What's it worth - maybe millions of pounds? Well, it has always been there - it's your staff.
Despite the fact that thousands of people are moving into the IT industry there is still a great shortage of staff who can exploit IT - therefore they are a quantifiable business benefit.
Technical skills are only part of the answer, it’s the individual’s understanding of the business area they are working in, internal or external customer needs, which will be paramount in driving any customer service forward.
This makes it more critical than ever to manage the most important resource of any organisation which uses its IT staff, the people, who day in day out, deliver and operate your key systems and services.
At the end of the day it is these people who make IT work, not beautiful pieces of software or hardware. They will only work to their fullest capacity if they are properly managed.
I have spent the last 20 years within the IT industry and three areas stagger me, in what I term 'Peoplecare' management within organisations. These are recruitment, support and empowerment.
In my early years within IT management I conducted interviews and asked questions which I considered to be technical. I led the candidate down the path until I was given a suitably technical answer. The 'right answer' equated to a job offer, the 'wrong answer' led to a phone call to the agency with me, very nicely and calmly, stating that they had wasted my time.
I bet this sounds familiar to many of you, managers and applicants alike. Well, I was wrong. Years later I was running much larger teams when I could no longer put on the front of a technical guru, unless it was for their amusement.
A comfortable fit
My starting point was different, as technical expertise is a 'given', which could easily be verified by one of my team members, I focused on reviewing the 'space' within my teams to fill them with people who I felt I could work with, who I felt could work well with people already within the team, and who could develop themselves to meet their personal aspirations and those of the organisation.
You can give the average IT technician more technical skills and support. It is far harder to provide them with 'team' skills and very nearly impossible to turn an unpleasant person into a nice one.
The main benefit in following this approach is that you end up with an employee who will fit into the framework of your team and company.
Colleagues will be able to relate to them and therefore they will be at ease within their new environment. They will subsequently be quickly focused on the work you have employed them to carry out.
When I talk about support I refer to the environment within which new employees find themselves. For instance, I am quite sure that when most of us joined new organisations we soon realised that we were employed for a set of skills we possessed, but could not 'deliver the goods' because attainable, quantifiable deliverable targets had not been set; or the management who employed us failed to offer any feedback.
Support for people means spending time, or should I say investing the right amount of time, with people. This will vary depending on the task and must leave scope for ideas to be developed and built on by team members so that they feel real ownership.
Support also means actively introducing people into their new environment, not just pointing out where the toilets and exits are situated. A well prepared induction programme means meeting real colleagues, real customers and getting to know the whole organisation and where the new team member fits in.
It also means saying 'thank you' - and meaning it. We expect this from anyone who delivers or receives a service from us during our everyday lives, yet we forget to treat the people working within our teams and delivering quality work in the same way. By adopting this approach you are showing an employee how much you genuinely value them as a member of your team, both technically and as a person. This will evolve into a framework where support is given both ways, from you and to you and the company.
Empowerment has become a much-abused word over the last 10 years. This is a shame as it is a powerful concept. It's intent is to move some elements of management to the people who actually deliver the products and services of the organisation.
We give them the authority and responsibility for this delivery so that decisions are made as close to the 'action' as possible. Thus, the role of management changes so that, again, it is there to provide support to the people who deliver the goods. We have all been in the situation when we have answers to problems which are well understood and for which there are industry standards and practices.
‘Stick in the mud’ ideas
However, due to internal politics or because there is a 'this is not the way we do things around here attitude' we cannot act effectively, and on occasions we find ourselves completely stifled.
It is the role of management and organisations to create environments that allow employees to function and grow. Not every decision has to be made by senior management, this is ineffective and also inappropriate, and I cannot see many premier league football managers having much success in putting the ball in the back of a net on a Saturday.
I once asked a manager who reported to me what he expected from me and the company. His response was: ‘Give me direction in which to work; and be the umbrella to keep the muck out of the way to allow me to function.’ He was right. It was my role to set an IT strategy and targets against pre-defined business goals and to create the right environment for my teams. If I did not he could not deliver what I had employed him to do, he would not enjoy his role and eventually he would seek opportunities elsewhere.
What a waste of time and money. Today it is a seller's market and people now recognise that 'jobs for life' are few and far between. People are more flexible and mobile, and those with skills will look beyond money and seek jobs where they can flourish in organisations that nurture and respect their abilities.
I have worked in two or three places that have seen 100 per cent attrition in 12 months, and I have seen these change to 10-20 per cent attrition and I know which is more fun to work in and I know which have seen more success.
Peoplecare - recruitment, support and empowerment - are critical to this and are the key to any business if it wants to be able to deliver quality IT.