IT Employment

Talent management: Too important to leave to HR

You can't just forget about staff development, even in bad economic times. Patrick Gray tells you why it's more important than ever to recruit and interview wisely and continue developing your staff with low-cost training and careful evaluations.

With the economy stumbling and layoff numbers the likes of which we haven't seen since the dotcom purge of 2003, in many organizations talent management consists of repeatedly telling staff, "You're lucky to have a job." Developing your staff may seem low on your list of priorities when most employees are hunkered down and fearing being shown the door rather than job surfing, but how your organization manages talent during a recession will pay dividends or be an albatross around your neck when times improve.

Picture two scenarios. In the first, you make heart-wrenching and painstaking decisions on who stays and who goes, watching and waiting for times to improve. Staff development budgets are whacked early on, and any staff requests for development are met with a sad expression and some variation of the famed line: "It's the economy, stupid." No one has time for detailed staff evaluations, so staff are all told they're doing fine, and to "just hold on." When times do improve, you are left with a decimated organization: minimally staffed with people who have developed no new talents, have no idea where their career stands, and have been polishing their resumes and eyeing the door for months.

In the second scenario, a history of detailed and effective evaluations and appropriately ranking employees makes layoffs a bit easier, since those at the bottom of the ranks are aware of where they stand. Despite a nonexistent training budget, low-cost staff development opportunities have kept staff engaged and learning, and people know where their careers should be headed, having their eyes on internal opportunities as times improve and the organization shifts into expansion mode.

We obviously all want to be in the second group, and it is not only possible during a recession, but mandatory unless you want to spend 6-18 months rebuilding your IT talent pool while competitors are taking advantage of new opportunities afforded by better times.  Consider the following three tips to turbocharge talent management in your IT shop:

Guess what, hiring is hard

We've left the dirty deed of hiring new people to HR for too long, and built a culture of certification surfing where we mine resumes for buzzwords rather than seeking people who can learn, communicate, and manage themselves and their tasks. This can only be accomplished by extending your recruiting net outside the "usual suspects" of tech job Web sites, and actually interviewing people rather than keywording resumes. The two job descriptions in Figure A, both for entry level positions, both from companies with universally recognized brands, speak volumes about the problems with buzzword-based IT hiring. While it will cost more to do the appropriate interviewing, vetting of candidates and due diligence in the short term, it will pay vast dividends with adaptable, capable people in the long term, who need not be purged every few years when technology changes or when you need managers and thinkers rather than one-trick doers.

Figure A

Click to enlarge

Cheap staff development

The state of the economy is not an excuse for a dearth of staff development opportunities when there are so many available for little or no cost. While five-day vendor training classes in a far-flung city are likely out of the question, consider the following alternatives:

  • Hire a local trainer that can provide in-house, general business training on everything from public speaking to effective team management. These topics lend themselves to larger audiences, and can be had for hundreds of dollars for a group rather than thousands per individual.
  • Most medium and large cities have IT professional associations that provide monthly speaker sessions and outside experts, coupled with networking opportunities. Annual memberships cost next to nothing and volume rates can often be negotiated. Your local Chamber of Commerce can probably point you in the right direction.
  • Allow staff to allocate some portion of their time to independent research, and then have them present their findings. IT people are going to browse the Web anyway, why not couple it with exposure to presenting ideas in a formal setting and make it a staff development activity?
  • Coupled with the above, let staff form research teams to try off-the-wall or bleeding edge concepts in the corporate environment. See if that staffer with the iPhone can make it talk to SAP, or if the 1970's vintage mainframe application could talk to Twitter. The worst case outcome is that staff have some fun and present a technically interesting "failure"; best case is you find something that could be leveraged across the organization and your people gain experience in a project environment with shifting or unclear objectives, skills applicable anywhere in the organization.

Provide guidance during the evaluation process

There is more to evaluations than doling out raises and bonus money. When there are none of the above due to the economic climate, we tend to give staff evaluations the short shrift. Rather than assuming evaluations have no value when there are no dollars at stake, use evaluations to really focus on an employee's career progression. If someone is struggling, inform them of that fact, detail the observed behaviors that lead you to that assessment, and then provide them with areas to focus on to improve.

When evaluating your "rock stars" provide them with suggestions on how to maximize their innate talents. Detail what the next step in their career progression should be, whether that is tackling a leadership role in IT, heading to a project team, or even considering a role outside IT in a business unit. Providing detailed feedback lets people know where they stand, demonstrates that their success is important to you, and keeps them focused on their development within your organization, rather than sprinting for the exits as soon as the economy improves.

While it's easy to "outsource" your talent management duties to HR, or ignore them altogether under the hackneyed excuses of the economy or lack of time, you do so at your organization's peril. IT is all about knowledge, and the abilities of your people will always do far more to help or harm your organization than any other of its technical components.

TechRepublic's  IT Leadership newsletter, delivered Tuesday and Thursday, features articles, downloads, white papers, and discussions important to IT managers. These resources will help you keep business support systems running smoothly with advice on staffing, morale, and dealing with day-to-day challenges. Automatically sign up today!

About

Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. He has spent ...

31 comments
parthiv_13
parthiv_13

This topic is real and FACT for current scenario of Financial Melt Down....

jmarkovic32
jmarkovic32

Everytime I browse the classifieds it's like "Job Descriptions Gone Wild". Some of the requirments are idiotic, unrealistic and downright laughable. Thanks to clueless HR folks and an industry that so vendor-focused, this problem has come to a head.

williaa6
williaa6

.... the job ad talks about "Endeavour" instead of "Endevor". That straight away shouts at me "Warning Will Robinson!!"

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

If payrises are tied to performance appraisals and you can't afford a payrise, anyone who can, will steal your best performing people. It's not the ones who make a mad dash for the exits when things perk up that should worry you, but the ones who are/did while everything was/is crap. If you can't be rewarded for good performance, then there is only one possible reason for an appraisal. Dress it up how you like, no one with two brain cells in close proximity will believe a word of it. Us modern day techies do understand business....

Nobscotter
Nobscotter

Did it not occur to you that perhaps having a conversation with HR to tell them what you are looking for in a candidate might help? We are trained for this job. You are not. We cannot hire the people you are looking for if you don't communicate to us, accurately, what your needs are. Perhaps the information that we have been given is old and we are not aware of that. Not every HR department does keyword mining. If you have a problem with the recruiting software, say something, heck offer to tweak it. We don't know a problem exists until you tell us. I challenge you to spend one day in the office of the HR department for your company. Look at the reality of the candidates that walk in the door, call, fax, email, respond in other ways. Sit in on the initial interviews and see that quite a large number 1. don't show up, 2. show up late, 3. bring family members with them to the interview, 4. falsified their resume, etc. HR is not the enemy. We are a partner. I encourage involvement in the process, not circumvention.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Its a perfectly acceptable spelling in British and Commonwealth countries. James

kenr
kenr

If you can't afford to reward your best performing people, you will lose them - true. However payrises aren't the only reward and, once you get beyond the junior or probation positions, not necessarily the best one either. One useful trick that I've found in tightening budget times, is time. If someone excels (ie deserves a reward) - either by going beyond the call of duty, or because they are exceptionally competent, allocate them some time for self-improvement or mentoring within your group. In any group you will have a pool of skills that others in the group want to learn (even if it's only because they want your job). Allocating time to both people to mentor as a reward, is effective. The companion trick I use, when the budget is tightened is to point out that, while you acknowledge the necessity for the budget cut, it WILL cause a drop in quality of service. "It's like cutting half your sales force and expecting the same level of sales - it can't happen". Oh, and when they say "but sales bring in the business", point out that "IT *IS* the business". To prove it, ask what they do without the fruits of IT's labour. Remember "coffee with the client" is arranged over the VOIP phone, booked with Outlook, confirmed via email, sent to their Blackberry, etc. You get the idea. That way you can defend the short-term business "cost" of the reward. My $0.02 worth

F4A6Pilot
F4A6Pilot

At best HR is a willing partner. Normally I can train a junior candidate with the right attitude. I can not work with people who have the wrong attitude for long. Their attitude and understanding of the job is paramount. The best people for the job may not pass HR's pretty person test. Since We must have clearable people, HR sends me only cleared people, but many of them have not the willingness to actually do the job. After we hire them and they start the oncall rotation, they quit normally within three months. When IT finds a person, they seem to stay for years. Is this coincidence? I think not. HR claims IT over pays, But paying more for the right person is better than paying anything for the people HR has been sending us for years...

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

The bottom line is that you are not qualified to do, or judge, anything or anyone IT related. That's why you're HR.

boxfiddler
boxfiddler

Human resources. Objectification, both.

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

We are trained for this job. You are not. We cannot create the system you are looking for if you don't communicate to us, accurately, what your needs are. Perhaps the information that we have been given is old and we are not aware of that. I challenge you to spend one day in the office of the IT department for your company. Look at the reality of the systems in the office, call, fax, email, systems that use in use using other ways and methods.

jmgarvin
jmgarvin

* It seems you do not fall in this category, but the vast majority of HR departments do...you are an island of sanity in an ocean of diarrhea. I mean, look at the image (http://content.techrepublic.com.com/2347-10878_11-263392-290495.html?seq=39) in the article. It is obvious that IT people know IT people, but HR people don't. A lot of times good candidates are thrown out because they don't match certain key words or they don't have 297594875 years of experience in Java++ Gold Ultimate Server 2008, even though it isn't even release yet. What really drives me nuts is that as an IT person, I have to know my stuff or I'll be fired in an instant. My colleagues would ensure that my time at the company would be short. So, the interview process is to make sure I know what I say I know, make sure I'm a good fit, and make sure I can learn. HR thinks I have to know everything (including custom in house apps) or I couldn't possible figure it out...well...that's my job.

LocoLobo
LocoLobo

were paper pushers. They were more concerned with HOW you filled out your paperwork than the quality of the people you get. They would second guess your hiring/training decisions. If they did manage to "persuade" you into following their advice the consequences were never their fault. As an example, we have a tuition reimbursement program overseen by HR. Years ago I was the first person to attempt to use it. I filled out the paperwork, received permission and took a college course. After completing the course I filled out more paperwork showing my grades, receipts, etc. They sent it back saying I didn't fill out this or that box correctly. No problem, I corrected it, and resubmitted. Next, the forms have changed. I needed to fill out the correct form. I did. This went on for more than a year. Finally my boss called me into his office and said he was giving up on the process. I laughed and said OK. It only takes a few experiences like this to sour one's attitude. Imagine when they do the same thing to your hiring process.

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

prevalent though. Why? I don't care how well trained you are in HR, you are no more capable of judging whether I am qualified for an IT role than I am to judge whether you are for yours. All you have to do is know something about IT, and then look down the job adverts on Monster. Either HR have left some complete eejits in hiring positions, or they are stepping well outside the bounds of their knowledge. Either way, a failure. I do interview what candidates sucessfully negotiate the recruiter and HR hurdles. Given the number of those that are wholly unsuitable after all that effort, one has to wonder, was it misdirected....

KSoniat
KSoniat

Ive seen good ones and I've seen bad ones - unfortunately the bad have outnumbered the good. You sound like you are open to communication and would fit on the "good" side. Before returning to full time work as a systems analyst I was office manager for a 3 person training/recruitment firm. I was actually the person who searched resumes on Monster, typed up the behavioral interviews, scheduled and printed the assessments, scheduled airfare and hotels for on-site interviews. I get it - Two final candidates for Plant Manager were flying to Canada for additional interviews at the "home office" before a decision was made. I called who would get it based on the pack of gum on the expense report while waiting at the airport from one candidate (who was NOT hired). The other candidate did not even have a passport at the time, and was proactive enough to fly into Buffalo, NY and drive over the border. (still allowed at that point )- and by the time he got home his passport was waiting for him ready for the next time.

williaa6
williaa6

Not when they're interviewing for an Endevor Administrator. "Endevor" is a mainframe software management tool. "Endeavour" is what you do when you are trying to spell it correctly. :-)

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

is money. Non-monetary rewards have value, but when all is said and done the first piority is food on the table. If that isn't there, or you can have fillet steak instead on roadkill, they won't mean crap. Worth trying where you are in a position, or as a differeentiator, but they are not a replacement, which was my basic thrust.

JamesRL
JamesRL

My HR group does some filtering, but only based on the criteria I give them. If they present me candidates I don't like, its my responsibility to go back to them and tell them why, and what is lacking in the candidates, so they can tighten up their search criteria. Of course, I can't tell ya how to chage your HR department, sounds like they need a shakeup. If I don't get what I need, my boss talks to the HR director and things happen. James

The 'G-Man.'
The 'G-Man.'

How can somebody say "We are trained for this job. You are not" Then spend all their days trying to evaluate other peoples jobs they are not trained for or know nothing about themself. The mind boggles on that one.

KSoniat
KSoniat

I've always wondered how IT was put in charge of everything that plugs in - phones, copy machines etc. I guess they figured if we could understand computers we could get the rest. I even was the "voice" on the voicemail system for a startup company as I was the only one on-site without a southern/Japanese?German accent. It was weird to call in and get my own voice offering to help!

eohrnberger
eohrnberger

that required 15 years of Java experience. Java's only been around since '95. Needless to say, I didn't both with that posting. I've also read job postings where it was clear that they were rolling two or more technical positions into a single position (you can tell just based on the technologies involved like mainframe COBOL, JCL, and CICS, as well as shell, C, C++, UNIX / Linux, HTML, PHP, Java, CCNA and networking, and then finally OS/2 development in C and Windows development in C++ - the range is just too far. It'd take nearly an entire lifetime to become competent at all those things. Doesn't anyone in these companies realize how foolish they look when they post openings like that? It further surprises me that they get resumes that have all of those wide ranging things on them, but I'd be seriously suspect about them, where as it seems that they are not suspect at all. The state of how HR and IT work together leaves a lot to be desired. A lot of valuable old hands are being turned away for no real good reason. They end up in other fields to do other things. Is this one of the reasons why we (the US) graduate and retain so few engineers and technical people? The very people corporations are begging for?

Nobscotter
Nobscotter

I do sympathize with your story. I have worked for employers like that as well. I hated every minute of it and moved on as quickly as possible. I acknowledge that many bad apples exist, but I have to believe they are not the norm. I HAVE to believe that. In business, communication is always the key. I feel for those of you who have to try to communicate with a brick wall (I know they exist), but don't give up and don't assume all HR depts behave in that manner. That's all. I really appreciate it when the hiring managers give me input. Thanks for listening to the other side of the fence.

JamesRL
JamesRL

Oh and I get it, someone stupid enough to expense a pack of gum has the wrong mentality for a plant manager. I work with my HR team on a daily basis. They aren't as bad as many describe here, and for that I am thankful. James

Tony Hopkinson
Tony Hopkinson

incapable of picking up new skills. :p Got to stay up to date in our cut throat market, HR are always whinging about how so few people have the skills they need. :( Can't fill that vacancy, have a H1B slave instead...

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

Now I'm looking at a job ad wanting Sharepoint 2010 experience. I'm certain no IT person would craft something like that.

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

HR also fluffs the salary of the position, or is misleading about the benefits, gets the work location wrong, ........

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

1. What IT sent to HR -- Web developer with database experience. Must have 10 years total experience and at least 5 years experience developing web-based front ends for MSSQL. Java or PHP experience a plus. 2. What HR published -- Experienced web developer. Must have 10 years experience with .NET 3, Java, PHP, and MS SQL 2008. 3. How it happened -- HR "knows" that IT is just geeks who can't write job descriptions or work requirements, so they do a little research, get the most current versions of any software listed in the requirement, throw in some other stuff that they've seen in other [similarly-modified] job postings, then edit the original requirement to make it sound like IT had no actual input into the job posting.

eohrnberger
eohrnberger

I think that HR should be involved, but a knowledgable IT manager should have the final say as to requirements and wording. My experience has been that HR doesn't take IT's input in the process.

Kam Guerra
Kam Guerra

I see postings like that every single day. Unless you're a member of the green team you probably won't have 15 years experience in Java. Or others that want 10 years experience in .Net, or 10 years in Sharepoint, throw in another 5 years with Windows Server 2008. Just examples of why HR should stay out of the recruiting process unless they're looking for replacement for themselves.

KSoniat
KSoniat

Amazing how a positive for an accountant was a red flag for a plant manager. Good point! :)

NickNielsen
NickNielsen

Everything on a business trip gets expensed. Most of them were more concerned with getting their expenses right than getting the job done. I suspect the gum-chewer would have gotten the job were it in an accounting firm... ;)