Four Winning Talent Strategies for the New IT

Strategy #1: Maximize Retention

For the last couple of years, employers have been able to make workers more productive without incurring demands for increased benefits or salaries. As growth returns and hiring expands, we believe you must be prepared to begin compensating employees for their loyalty, sacrifice, and performance during a time of extreme economic retrenchment.

Even if across-the-board salary increases are not possible, you should begin awarding targeted raises to individuals in key positions within IT. While staffing is under a microscope, we also recommend using confidential surveys to find out how employees feel about working at your company. Using these responses, you can identify areas of strength (and weakness) and begin implementing policies, practices, or benefits to improve your firm’s profile as a desirable place to work.

Relatively low-cost changes such as implementing flexible work hours and telecommuting arrangements, offering funds for continuing education and certifications, upgrading onsite facilities, and sponsoring programs geared to community involvement may help with retention—and enable you to reduce the disruption associated with high levels of employee turnover. Enhancing your corporate persona will also help to attract new talent by positioning your firm as a great place to work.

Strategy #2: Streamline the Hiring Process

Even as you tune up retention, you should also improve your new-hire process with a special emphasis on reducing the average time for completing a search. During the Great Recession, hiring at many organizations evolved into a months-long ordeal as market conditions discouraged hiring and management concluded there was little downside to dragging out the selection process.

While these assumptions may have been reasonable during an economic crisis, several technology-focused surveys are forecasting much stronger hiring in the months ahead. Consequently, we believe conditions are changing and that well-qualified candidates will be in high demand as the economy continues to improve.

You can begin by changing how you market vacancies. In our experience, most organizations fail to take full advantage of social media, professional societies, resume databases, and specialized staffing firms to get the word out to qualified job seekers. Using all these channels will increase your marketplace exposure and help to ensure that you receive the largest possible response from qualified candidates.

As you tweet, blog, network, and recruit for resources, consider broadening your search pool even further by offering current employees referral bonuses. It’s likely that your employees know individuals who are available or, while not actively seeking a new position, open to being recruited.

While evaluating your requirements, we also suggest identifying and prioritizing the skills, certifications, and capabilities that will be desirable in new hires. Consider the difficulty of relocating in the current real estate market, and determine if a home-office arrangement is possible. Many jobs, such as technology sales and support, can be performed quite well from a home-based office (with significantly lower overhead for the employer). By building detailed profiles for high-value positions, you can quickly screen for the most promising candidates to contact for in-person interviews.

When it’s time to interview, be sure to include all the stakeholders who need to weigh in on the hiring decision. Equally important, make sure you can extend a job offer as soon as the best resource is identified. The last thing you want is to lose your number one choice because an ultimate decision maker doesn’t share your sense of urgency.

Strategy #3: Target Soft Skills

As you interview your short list of promising candidates, we suggest looking for individuals who embrace an “it’s not my fault but it’s my problem” approach to work. Even when you are able to add staff, your firm is likely to continue operating with a smaller headcount. While it might seem obvious, recruiting individuals who are not only technically competent but also instilled with a positive, can-do attitude will be invaluable when timelines are short and the challenges seem insurmountable.

It will be equally important to recruit individuals who are able to assess and solve business problems. As Computerworld magazine notes in a recent article, the high-tech industry is full of one-dimensional specialists. While these individuals play an important role in ensuring system and infrastructure availability, companies also need technical generalists who understand how to use technology to create new products and services and solve real-world business problems.

Workers of this type usually have a job title like business systems analyst or business solutions consultant. They not only offer technical knowledge but also great business, communication, and analytical skills. They have a solid understanding of emerging technologies but not necessarily the knowledge of someone who specializes in network engineering or security, for example.

Now is the time to allocate funds for hiring this type of worker. Every company is different, but we think most firms will need fewer technical specialists to maintain core systems. Instead, they will need more individuals who understand how to combine and use technologies to meet employer and customer needs.

Strategy #4: Invest in Training

One legacy of the Great Recession is that many companies have scaled back if not eliminated training and professional development activities. We strongly advise our clients to reverse these cutbacks and begin setting aside new funds for improving staff skills. Training can actually represent a lower expense than recruiting a new employee, which human resources experts calculate can cost as much as 1.5 times the departing employee’s salary.

You may even want to adopt a “pipeline” approach to staffing similar to the one employed by Zappos, one of the world’s most successful online retailers. The Zappos philosophy, which is detailed in CEO Tony Hsieh’s “Delivering Happiness,” is to build a pipeline of people with varying levels of skills and experience to meet the needs of each of its departments. By keeping the pipeline full and continuously offering training to all employees, they are able to constantly transition highly qualified individuals to more senior and demanding roles.

This strategy means the company is never exposed if a key individual moves on. At its core, the pipeline philosophy emphasizes recruiting individuals who are a good fit for the company’s culture and its ongoing commitment to employee training and development.

With the current scarcity of “ideal” candidates, we advise our clients to consider a more long-term approach to nurturing the employee through training. Priority should go to valued employees, of course. Individuals who are challenged by their work (while also seeing their professional marketability improved through ongoing training) are more likely to maintain loyalty to an organization even as other firms are trying to recruit them away.

We also recommend providing advanced technical and business analytics training for new employees on a case-by-case basis. As organizations compete for talent, we think it will become much more difficult to identify “ideal” candidates for an increasing number of job titles. In some cases, it may make sense to hire the most promising individual and then use intensive training to bridge shortfall in skills or knowledge.

IT Hiring