How To Hold On To Your Best IT Workers

Hiring the best workers is just the start, now you have to get them to stay
Hiring the best workers is just the start, now you have to get them to stay
Image Credit: Matt McGee

I guess if you take the time to think about it, being the person with the CIO job is a lot like being the coach of a football team. You think about the players that you need, you interview a lot of people, pick a few of them to join your team, and then the season starts. On top of all of the other things that you need to be worrying about, one thing that you’d like to be able to not have to deal with is the issue of your best and brightest workers leaving your team half-way through the season. What do you need to be doing in order to ensure that this doesn’t happen?

Why The Best Leave

Before we can come up with ways to keep your best workers on your team, we first need to spend some time taking a look at why they might leave your team in the first place. As with so many other things in life, there’s never just one answer to this question. As the person in the CIO position, you need to be aware of all of the things that could cause one of your IT stars to decide that someplace else would be a better place for them to be.

Money is always a primary motivator when a rising IT start decides to jump ship and go work for someone else. However, I have never heard of a situation where someone decides to make the jump to another shop just because of money. Yes, when people ask them they’ll talk about the money; however, if you probe more deeply what you’ll almost always find is that there some other primary motivator that was almost, but not quite, enough to get them to leave. The money was just the sweetener that allowed them to finally say “yes” to the other company.

Another reason that the best often give for switching to another company has to do with technology. The other company is doing something very cool with the latest and greatest technology and for whatever reason your company just is not using that technology yet. You and I both know that once again this is often just another cover story. Yes, the other firm may have made announcements that they are using some new technology, but more often than not their use of it is not nearly as extensive as they’d like everyone to think. Once again, staff who state this as their reason for leaving are generally just using it as a cover story.

How You Can Prevent The Best From Leaving

Knowing why your best IT workers might decide to leave your IT shop is a good first step in understanding why this might happen. However, what’s even more important is what you do next: take steps to convince them to not leave. One of the first things that you need to be doing is allowing their voice to be heard when decisions are being made. Good engineers are almost always highly opinionated and they want to have a say in the way that things are going. No, you don’t need to accept all of their ideas but you should allow them to have a say in the process.

Your time is valuable and if you are like the rest of us, you just simply don’t seem to have enough of it. That’s why when it comes to your IT stars, you need to be very careful to not micromanage them. The last thing that they need or want is you breathing down their necks all the time. Instead, tell them what you want from them – the desired outcome. Then stand back and let them work their magic as they create great IT.

One of the simplest things that a CIO can do in order to retain their top talent is to offer them flexible work hours. As is so often the case, most of us have no idea what is going on in the lives of our top talent and so we don’t know what kind of pressures and concerns they are dealing with. If we give them flexibility in when they need to be doing work for us, this can help to eliminate some of the stress in their personal lives and this will end up making them less willing to leave us.

What All Of This Means For You

Although to the best of my knowledge it’s not written down anywhere, a big part of any CIOs job is working to retain the talent that you’ve been able to attract to your team. This is not something that any of us were taught how to do in school, rather this is something that we all learn via on-the-job-training. Because of the importance of information technology to the company, we need to understand why our best might leave, then we need to take steps to convince them to stay.

There are times that top talent will leave an IT shop (I mean, we got them to leave someone and join us in the first place). Understanding why they do this is key. There is not just one answer to this question. Talent may say that they are leaving because another shop will pay them more money or because someone else is using cutting-edge technology that you are not. Generally these are cover stories for deeper reasons for wanting to leave. To keep your talent, you need to allow them to participate in your IT decision making processes, make sure that you don’t micromanage them, and allow them to keep flexible work hours.

The good news here is that retaining top IT talent is not all that hard to do. Even better, it rarely involves paying them more. What they want is a work environment in which they can feel as though their IT skills are being put to good use. Provide them with this and you’ll have yourself some long-term employees.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: If one of your star IT employees announces that they will be leaving, do you think that you should counteroffer?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

As the person with the CIO job, one of the most expensive decisions that you may ever make will have to do with the decision to build a new data center for your company. For all the talk of the benefits of “the cloud”, most companies still have data and applications that they fell most comfortable running and storing on machines that they own. Deciding to expand the data center that you already have is a big decision. Are you asking the right questions?