IT Managers, Would You Work for Your Company? (Time to Build a Culture That Engages and Retains Top IT Talent)

IT Managers Would You Work for Your CompanyThe IT market’s hot, and that’s bad news for IT managers:

  • Over the last 12 months, the IT job market has added more than 130,000 new positions (according to a review of the United States Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) data by Janco Associates, Inc.).
  • 43% of U.S. IT companies report being understaffed in technical positions, according to CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2015.
  • This growth is due to accelerate—43% of IT managers polled for Computerworld’s 2015 IT Salary Survey expect to increase head count this year (up from 38% in 2014).

Why should you be worried?

  • BLS statistics also report the “quits” rate—which measures resignations as a percentage of total jobs—has been on the rise. Right now the “quits” rate sits around 1.9%, just below the pre-2007 rate of 2.0%.
  • A 2015 Gallup poll indicates fewer than 33% of professional service employees (including IT) are actually engaged in their jobs.

IT people are generally unhappy and quitting their jobs at an increasing rate—and when they do, plenty of new jobs are waiting for them.

Hot IT Markets Spell Trouble for IT Managers

How many open positions do you have right now?

How hard has it been to fill them?

68% of IT firms reported a challenging hiring environment for technical positions (CompTIA’s IT Industry Outlook 2015). And this percentage rises up to 83% if you’re a company with fewer than 500 employees.

In today’s market, IT professionals have their pick of jobs, and that makes it all the more challenging to fill your roles.

And—because of this hot market—it’s even harder to keep your existing talent.

IT professionals are less likely to stick around in a role, or at a company, or under a manager, they feel lukewarm about.

If you’re going to keep your existing talent—and attract new talent—in today’s hot, highly competitive IT market, you’re going to need to create an environment that engages people at every level.

Morale Is Not the Same as Engagement

Chances are, you already deploy some tactics to engage your employees.

But are they enough?

Let’s separate morale and general team-building from engagement: General attempts to build morale and foster team spirit can be effective short-term. But without also cultivating employee commitment on a deeper, foundational level, that pretty banner you put up in the lobby thanking your people for their hard work will fall flat.

To engage your employees on a level that’s relevant and competitive in today’s IT market, you need to do more than cheerlead.

You need to get involved —personally and professionally.

What an Authentic Culture of Employee Engagement Looks Like

In today’s competitive IT market, it isn’t enough to treat employee engagement as just a set of surface-level mandates from HR—what I call “forced fun.” Nobody really wants to go bowling when their inbox is overflowing and they’ll have to work late tomorrow to make up for the time out of the office.

IT Managers Would You Work for Your CompanyYou have to know what “engagement” really is, and what it requires.

And if you have any doubt about what level of engagement is required these days—and how your current culture of employee engagement measures up—ask yourself the following questions, and consider the following examples of what other managers are doing to create a culture of engagement that retains their people and attracts new talent.

1. “Do I walk the talk?”

You can’t delegate this—you have to get involved. Celebrate successes—not just a Town Hall shout-out, but a personal phone call or email. Encourage innovation on a particular issue. Host a regular forum with two to five indirect reports and get to know their personal and professional milestones.

2. “Do I put people first?”

When individuals and teams connect, they engage. Sure, your quarterly newsletter is important for sharing news—but that’s top-down messaging. Informal gatherings that encourage managers and employees to get to know each other go a long way.

For example, every Monday, Southwest Airlines hosts a “Deck Party” for employees to mingle and relax at their Dallas Love Field headquarters. It’s not a one-off—it happens regularly and is voluntary. There’s no agenda and it’s an informal atmosphere. These connections win in the long term.

3. “Do I play favorites?”

You should. Not all IT roles are created equal. Identify what functional jobs are business-critical to your organization and tailor your actions accordingly.

When Cisco wanted to drive innovation within their product lines, they created the “Builders of Tomorrow” campaign. It highlights engineers who create breakthrough products and technologies, but its underlying goal is attracting and retaining top talent.

One of my clients took focused action with front-line IT service roles and project managers because they were the main point of contact for stakeholders and directly impacted how IT was perceived (and funded). Their annual, internal survey improved 20% in one year and employee satisfaction rose 12%. The senior executives sat up and took notice, just in time to get a major IT service project approved.

4. “Do I use lack of budget as an excuse to ignore my people?”

In the absence of a big budgets and a formal HR program, creativity can prevail. IT managers can devise their own mini-programs to motivate staff.

Becky Blalock, former CIO of Southern Company, had no HR budget so she hosted monthly lunches for her executive team to meet and mingle with top talent. During her tenure, Southern Company was recognized as one of the 100 Best Places to Work in IT by Computerworld magazine. No budget, no problem.

5. “Am I paying special attention to my best people?”

I was stunned to see a recent poll conducted by CEB, a best practices company. They revealed that only one out of three companies has a data-driven approach for identifying and proactively grooming High-Performance (HiPo) candidates. These are the people who will either be your future IT executives or find opportunity elsewhere. I recommend you figure out quantitatively who they are and how to keep them.

A common method adopted by Procter & Gamble, American Express, and others is the McKinsey nine-box tool for rating and proactively managing talent. This method evaluates not only employees’ current performance, but also their potential for growth and contribution to the organization. It’s simple to use and creates honest conversations about your talent gaps and opportunities. There are numerous free case studies and templates online, if you want to explore further.

Use tools like this to find out who these people are and give them a pat on the back or some special attention that lets them know they are valued and appreciated. It will cascade throughout your organization that you are looking out for your people’s future.

6. “Do I track the metrics that matter?”

If you measure employee engagement—and goal managers against it—engagement will increase. So will retention. Internal metrics such as attrition levels, average employee tenure, and employee satisfaction all gauge how engaged your employees are. If you’re a manager looking to get ahead, this is an important step in your development—many senior executives have a measure of employee engagement in their KPI’s.

This approach is pervasive at Disney, where senior leaders are goaled on “Creating Your Legacy”: the company tasks managers to proactively develop future leaders of the company.

A quick and dirty alternative to developing new metrics is to take a peek at your Glassdoor ratings. At Glassdoor, employees self-report satisfaction, telling you what your employees really think but would never communicate to you.

7. “Do I have the right managers in place to retain talent?”

People don’t leave companies, they leave managers. A recent Gallup poll revealed that 50% of 7200 adults surveyed left a job at some point in their careers “to get away from their manager.” If your managers aren’t truly leading and engaging the people below them, you can’t expect your people to feel valued and invested in their work. They will leave.

8. “Do I enable others?”

This isn’t only about you and your leadership team. Are you encouraging and enabling your team to pay it forward?

In addition to traditional portals, newsletters, and top-down communications, many companies have embraced a social, crowd-sourced approach to employee recognition. There are multiple software solutions —like Recognise_D, used by Telefónica—that allow global employees to instantly acknowledge colleagues who exemplify values aligned with the company’s strategy. Gartner predicts that by 2018, social recognition software will reach early mainstream adoption. We can see the benefits early adopters enjoy now: Software company Symantec boasted a 14% increase in employee engagement as a result of its employee recognition program using Globoforce.

IT Managers: How to Create an Employee-Engaging Culture

IT Managers Would You Work for Your CompanyDon’t worry if you don’t like how you measure up today.

Employee engagement is an ongoing, fluid conversation. You are never done with it. It takes time.

However, there is one approach to employee engagement that doesn’t change over time—always give your people what they want. Not what you think they want, but what they’re asking for. Meet their needs, make sure they feel they are getting out of their career what they want out of their career, and your people will not only be engaged—they’ll be loyal.

Now, identifying what your people specifically want from their career alone can take time. But there are shortcuts you can take—broader trends of wants and needs in the IT marketplace you can start addressing today.

To identify these broader trends, we regularly survey the larger IT community about what they most want from their careers.

We just released the results and analysis of our most recent “What IT Pros Most Want” survey.

To grab your free copy—and to find your shortcut to engaging and retaining your people—click here.


What IT Pros WantIf you want to jump-start your engagement efforts, grab our new report “What IT Pros Most Want”. It goes deep into this question of what your people really want from their careers. Give them that, and they’ll never leave.

Click here for your free copy of “What IT Pros Most Want”


The IT market is hot, and your best people are ready to leave. How will you engage them to make them stay?

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