A winning team is easily recognized: it’s winning after all. But what does it take to build and keep a winning team? In business, engaged IT employees are key. And research shows that when companies can pair engaged employees with engaged customers, outcome-oriented business performance increases by 240 percent over companies with neither group engaged.
Retaining IT employees that are at the top of their game also helps your bottom line. A study by the Center for American Progress found that “very highly paid jobs and those at the senior or executive levels tend to have disproportionately high turnover costs as a percentage of salary (up to 213 percent!).”1 Replacing highly paid people is expensive, not to mention the negative impact of turnover on production, training and employee morale.
How big of an issue is employee retention in the IT industry? Based on LinkedIn member data from 2017, there is a worldwide turnover rate of 10.9 percent; the tech sector (software, not hardware) showing the most volatility with 13.2 percent turnover rate.
“The computer games (15.5 percent), Internet (14.9 percent), and computer software industries (13.3 percent) drove tech turnover the most — but those rates pale in comparison to the churn you see within particular occupations,” according to Michael Booz, writing for the LinkedIn Talent Blog. “User experience designers had extremely high turnover at 23.3 percent (they’re also extremely in-demand), with both data analysts and embedded software engineers at 21.7 percent.”2
Clearly, keeping great employees is a major challenge in the current IT environment. But there’s plenty you can do to get your people engaged, excited and committed to staying with your group or organization. Following the guidelines in this paper will help retain IT employees and encourage your people to (1) willingly promote the organization’s interests, (2) commit discretionary effort toward its improvement, and (3) stay with the organization for the long term.
Retaining IT employees requires give and take, and a clear understanding of what a committed employ looks like.
Understand company goals
Support and embody company values
Feel challenged by their work
Use a broad range of skills
Practice autonomous problem solving and decision making
Take responsibility for whole processes
Receive clear and consistent feedback
“They also have managers who focus on their strengths. In fact, more than 60 percent of employees with supervisors who focus on their individual strengths are deeply committed to their work; double the 30 percent engagement rate of U.S. workers nationwide.”3
IT leaders cannot demand that employees care deeply, of course, but we can profoundly influence the workplace and create an atmosphere that encourages deep satisfaction. That’s what this Intertech Executive Brief is all about. There’s no magic formula, but these common sense strategies – applied consistently and in good faith – might be just what your IT organization needs to turn employees into committed team members you can count on for years to come.
Compared to companies in the bottom quartile, those in the top quartile of employee engagement experience:4
by Tom Salonek
Intentionally Cultivate Culture
Culture: A blend of the values, beliefs, taboos, symbols, rituals and myths all companies develop over time.5
A Healthy Culture
Values and culture are two legs of the proverbial stool (along with mission) in a healthy, engaged IT workplace. Ignoring your culture results in employee disengagement. According to the 2015 Gallup State of the Global Workplace Report, a whopping “85% of employees worldwide are not engaged or are actively disengaged in their job.”6 An earlier Gallup report estimated that “the lower productivity of actively disengaged workers penalizes U.S. economic performance by about $300 billion.7
The cost of ignoring values and culture is high. Fortunately, paying attention to them does not need to be expensive or complicated. It’s as easy as identifying the values that truly make your IT organization different (and better) than your competitors. Try the Mars Group exercise recommended by Jim Collins8 if you need a values checkup.
Proactively promote values that define your IT organization. Develop creative ways to build them into the fabric of your culture through regular recognition of employees living the values and visual tools that remind employees what your organization is truly about. And keep it succinct. If you can’t easily state your values, don’t expect your people to embody them.
Align Employees with Your Mission
Jim Collins and Jerry Porras with the Stanford Graduate School of Business define an organization’s mission as “a statement of why the organization exists, at the most meaningful level.”9
Alignment With Mission
Collins and Porras may be correct, yet, if employees are not in alignment, your mission doesn’t matter. How do you get from lofty mission to meaning on the ground? Begin with an annual organization-wide goal that moves your department or organization closer to the mission, then make it come alive with a theme.
Gamify the theme and shine a light on employees, and encourage them to recognize each other, for living your values. For example, if hiring IT personnel
is your top goal for the year, consider a theme where hires are publicly tracked, individuals who provide referrals receive a bonus, and if your department or organization hits its overall goal, everyone is rewarded with a year-end celebration. Gamify it by using a visual tracker, such as a Monopoly board. Key openings could occupy each square with the “rent” being a bonus to the employee who provides the referral, with harder referrals getting a higher dollar amount. In the center could be the dollar amount for a year-end outing or party, which you could show increasing as more-and-more personnel are hired.
Shine a light on the game. For your IT group, make the “Monopoly” board digital and the first thing your people see when logging into their account or portal. Include progress updates in your employee newsletter, and during department or organization-wide meetings.
“Talent wins games, but teamwork and intelligence win championships.” —Michael Jordan
Trust and Teamwork
Building teamwork begins with building trust among co-workers. The best way to make that happen is by creating an environment where it’s ok to be wrong. IT leaders who admit to mistakes let employees know they can make mistakes without shifting blame onto colleagues, which destroys trust and teamwork.
A highly functioning team has disagreements without questioning intent. Work to build trust among your executive team so you can authentically model this value for employees. Spend quality time with your colleagues, ideally away from daily work demands, to get to know each other as people.
Find ways to celebrate your people, giving them opportunities to get to know each other beyond their work interactions. Celebrate big wins, of course, but also life events like birthdays and child births. Let employees know they’re free to organize their own events too. And use technology—Yammer, Slack, Uber Conference and Evernote—to help IT team members connect.
Set Clear Expectations
“A highly paid, highly motivated employee who is not allowed to work with his full potential is like a Ferrari that is not allowed out of the garage.” —Charbel Tadros
Set Clear Expectations
Keeping your IT employees motivated begins with setting clear expectations. You obviously want your people to perform at the highest level of their abilities. Work with each team member to set clear annual performance expectations, leaving “stretch room” for growth.
The best people working in IT today want to keep learning and developing their skills. Support their innate curiosity and drive to learn by having each set an annual learning goal—then support the learning by doing things like providing time to attend a workshop or subscribe to an online courseware library.
Check out Dale Carnegie’s recommendations for establishing Key Result Areas (KRAs)10 for each person on your team. Meet one-on-one with each employee regularly to ask how they’re progressing against their annual KRAs. Provide direction and support when necessary. Remember the KRAs are meant to be guideposts to drive accomplishment, not whipping tools.
Hire Great People
The IT industry is thriving. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, IT jobs are expected to be among the fastest growing industry segment between 2015-2025.
The Good And Bad
Emerging technologies— artificial intelligence, automation, virtual reality, cryptocurrency and more—will drive many of the in-demand jobs in 2019 according to job search site Glassdoor. That’s the good news. But, as an IT leader, you already know the other side of the coin: there’s tremendous competition to hire and retain the best tech people today.
Avoid the temptation to hire quickly. While quick hires may address today’s backlog, finding employees who are a solid fit with your organizational values and who have outstanding technical expertise is key to building and retaining a great team.
Use a proven hiring process that includes the following steps:
Take time to thoroughly vet your candidates. If you’re wowed by someone’s technical prowess but concerned about his or her honesty or attitude, don’t risk it.
Consistently ask all candidates the same questions
To ensure the best hiring result, use consistent questions that all candidates must answer. You’ll find it will be much easier to compare candidates if you have an apples-to-apples set of responses.
Vary the setting
Vary the setting when interviewing candidates multiple times. For example, if the potential employee will have substantial client contact or need to interact with top management, take him or her to lunch to observe social skills and table manners.
Involve multiple people from your organization
At Intertech, the final in-person interview includes meeting with two-to-four of our employees for a team interview. We also carefully listen to what those teammates have to say when the interview is over.
Use LinkedIn to learn more about any candidates that you may be seriously considering. This is a good way to find common connections, which may help you learn more about candidates from people you already know and trust.
Always check references and ask open-ended questions
It’s easy to let emotions, especially positive ones, tempt you to skip your due diligence before offering a job to someone who appears ideal. Don’t yield to this temptation. Always call the candidates’ three or four most recent employers or clients and ask questions that get the real story.
Provide Challenges and Learning Opportunities
“Find a job you enjoy doing and you will never have to work a day in your life.” —Mark Twain
Set Clear Expectations
Many surveys are conducted each year to explore the mystery of what keeps people satisfied at work. But it’s not mysterious at all, at least in the IT industry. As previously noted, outstanding IT professionals crave challenges and the opportunity to continuously learn. Provide those opportunities and you’ll be far ahead of the crowd in attracting and retaining great employees who do great work!
There are seven primary factors that impact job satisfaction. They’re listed below starting with most to least important:
Stimulating and challenging work
Explicit career paths
Fair rewards and recognition
There are spheres of job satisfaction. To focus on building a work culture that makes people want to stay, start from the inside and work outward.
It’s Not (Just) About Money
“According to a recent survey of over 20,000 community members by Experts Exchange, the leading network of technology professionals, a vast majority of tech workers are satisfied with their jobs.”12
More Important Than Money
Your first assumption might be, “Of course tech workers are happy – they make tons of money!” But guess what? Money was not even mentioned by respondents in this massive survey. Instead, the following four factors were given as the top reasons tech workers are happy at work:
1st – Ability to be creative
2nd – Family-friendly workplace
3rd – Feelings of belonging
4th – Career alignment with passion and purpose
When talking with a serious candidate, find out what’s most important to him or her by asking up front—is it time off, telecommuting, money, or something else? Take that into consideration when you make your offer. Of course, salaries must be competitive. But assuming you’re in the ballpark of what a candidate can earn elsewhere, money typically is not the make-or-break factor in whether or not your offer is accepted.
When you’ve found a top-performing candidate whose skills, personality, and values fit with your organization, it’s time to negotiate an offer. In this exchange, follow the guidance from the book First, Break All the Rules, and treat people candidly.”
Contact Intertech To Find How We Help Our Consulting Customers Hire Stellar Employees And Build Their Team.
Provide Meaningful Benefits
“The 2018 Global Talent Trends study found that 51% of employees wish their company offered more flexible work options. No matter the industry, flexibility is incredibly important to employees and job seekers across the nation.” —Forbes
Benefits That Don’t Cost You A Dime
At the risk of stating the obvious, benefits only are meaningful if employees actually value them. And, increasingly, flexibility is one of the benefits employees value most. In fact, helping employees achieve healthy work-like balance is one of the most important benefits you can offer people today.
Giving employees the option to work from home is a great way to increase flexibility within your IT department. Since so much of an IT employee’s work is done solo on a computer, working from home part of the time is a no brainer. Intertech also offers other benefits, such paid sabbaticals and all-inclusive local and international trips, that reward long-term employees and increase the odds they’ll continue to feel valued at our firm.
Whether it’s the flexibility to work from home or something else, offer benefits that make a meaningful difference to employees. Not sure what they care about? Ask them!
“A conversation is a dance that requires partners to be in sync—it’s a mutual push-and-pull that unfolds over time. Just as the way we ask questions can facilitate trust and the sharing of information—so, too, can the way we answer them.” —Harvard Business Review
Benefits That Don’t Cost You A Dime
Some IT leaders incorrectly assume “communications” is something that only people in corporate communications or human resources should be concerned with. In fact, communicating effectively15 is crucial to working with your employees and key stakeholders throughout your organization, which will allow you to:
Unlock hidden value
Spur learning and the exchange of information
Fuel innovation and better performance
Build trust among team members
Mitigate risk by uncovering unseen pitfalls and hazards
Albert Einstein apparently once said, “question everything.” To that we add, “answer questions as completely and honestly as you possibly can.” Communication is a two-way street. Keeping information “close to the vest” is a mistake.
Communicating strategically is a skill that can be learned. Take time to learn these skills— books, articles, webinars and other learning opportunities abound.
Get Out of the Echo Chamber
As an IT leader, it’s easy to get out of touch with what’s really happening in your group or organization.
Candid Feedback Wins The Day
People tend to tell leaders what they think we want to hear. While that might feel like positive affirmations in the moment, over time it can seem as though you’re working in an echo chamber where only your own thoughts come back to you. Avoid the echo chamber effect by creating regular opportunities to gain candid feedback from your people.
When seeking feedback, ask people “start/stop/continue” questions:
What is something we can start doing to improve how we run our organization?
What’s something we should stop doing that’s a waste of time?
What should we continue doing?
Another way to get feedback is to participate in “Best Places to Work” competitions and purchase the aggregated, anonymous feedback. If the feedback is unclear, ask your employees to tell you more. Try to implement as many of their ideas as possible. When you can’t, go to great lengths to explain why those ideas are not feasible within your budget or other limitations.
IT employees who are highly satisfied are much more likely to stay with your organization and recommend it to others. This said, there are some troubling trends outlined in a Bain & Company study of 200,000 employees across 40 companies in 60 countries:
Engagement scores decline with employee tenure, meaning that employees with the deepest knowledge of the company, typically are the least engaged.
Engagement scores decline as you go down the org chart, so highly engaged senior executives are likely to underestimate the discontent on the front lines.”16
What’s an IT leader to do?
Keep your eye on the prize. Retaining employees is well worth all the time, expense and effort. Not only will you spend less time and money replacing lost employees, you can expect “increased performance, better productivity, higher employee morale and improved quality of work” says the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM). Begin with the guidelines in this Intertech Executive Brief to get you moving in the right direction – and be sure to talk with, and listen to, your employees all along the way.
Author: Tom Salonek, Founder and CEO, Intertech, Inc.
Tom Salonek is the founder and CEO of Intertech, a technology consulting and training ﬁrm. Intertech has won more than 50 awards for growth, innovation, including being named one of the Top 30 Places to Work in Tech by Fortune magazine. He has an undergraduate degree in Quantitative Methods from the University of St. Thomas where he was also an instructor at the Graduate School of Business Management Center and has completed executive education at the Harvard School of Business and MIT.
About Intertech Executive Brief
Intertech publishes original articles, reports and periodicals that provide insights for business leaders. Our goal is to draw upon research and experience from throughout our professional services organization, to include consulting and training, as well as coauthors in academia and business throughout the world, to advance the understanding of important principles of interest to executives throughout the IT world.
(1) There Are Significant Business – Costs to Replacing Employees By Heather Boushey and Sarah Jane Glynn November 16, 2012
(2) These 3 Industries Have the Highest Talent Turnover Rates – Michael Booz March 15, 2018
(3) How Employees’ Strengths Make Your Company Stronger – Gallup
(4) How Employee Engagement Drives Growth – Gallup
(5) Corporate Culture – Entrepreneur
(6) State of the Global Workplace – Gallup
(7) What Your Disaffected Workers Cost – Gallup
(8) Getting Your Core Values Right – Jim Collins
(9) Mission, Vision & Values Facilitation – Stanford Business
(10) KRA Performance Standard Example – Tom Salonek – The 100
(11) 5 Facts About Working as a Software Engineer – Transparent Career
(12) Why Are Tech Workers So Satisfied With Their Jobs? – Forbes
(13) What Employees Really Want At Work – Forbes
(14 & 15) “Managing Yourself” by Alison Wood Brooks and Leslie K. John, Harvard Business Review, 2018 May/June issue
(16) The Four Secrets to Employee Engagement – Harvard Business Review
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