The upcoming U.S. holiday of Thanksgiving is one of my
favorite times of the year. Falling at the end of November, it’s toward the end
of fall or the beginning of winter, depending on where you’re located and how
you perceive the seasons. It’s right before the bustle of the December holidays
and year-end, and for many a time to get together with family and friends and
reflect on the closing year from a personal and professional perspective.

With some spurts of life in the economy, and a reinvigorated
technology sector thanks to resurgent consumer technologies, it’s also a great
time to consider how you retain and develop your IT staff. Here are a few
suggestions:

Collaborate on a
vision for the future

This is a great time of year for reflection, and your staff
is likely doing the same. Ask for their input in the process, requesting their
thoughts on technology trends they see impacting your company, capabilities
that are lacking or needed, and how they think each employee’s talents can best
be identified and exercised.

This need not be a major, formalized effort involving survey
teams and HR. I’ve met Fortune 500 CIOs who would take staff to breakfast or lunch
in groups of 5-15, and could rotate through their entire organization in a
matter of months, often hearing interesting and compelling ideas from staff with
whom they would generally not interact. In smaller organizations, a few hours
can get you in front of even the most junior staffers and expose you to new
ideas, while communicating your vision for where your IT organization is
headed.

It’s not all about
the money

Organizational psychologists tell us that salary has the biggest
impact when it’s notably below that of peers, and essentially no impact once it
gets above what the employee perceives as “appropriate.” For high performers in
particular, salary often represents the “scoreboard” for their performance. If
they’re paid better relative to lower performing peers, the amount is often
less important than the simple fact that their higher performance has been
recognized in the form of higher pay.

While it may be more comfortable to plan raises and bonuses
based on some notion of “fairness,” this is generally one of the worst things
you can do to your highest performers. Similarly, seeking zero turnover is a
misguided notion, as it creates a calcified culture resistant to new ideas. I
get just as concerned with organizations that proudly proclaim “we have almost
no turnover” as I do with organizations that change staff on a seemingly daily
basis.

Training =
development, not budget burning

As the year draws to a close, it’s always interesting to
watch managers and staff attempt to “burn” training budgets so they’re not cut
next year. In the worst cases, you’ll find network engineers taking classes on
advanced basket weaving, or that mid-level manager taking a conflict resolution
class that just happens to be in Tahiti.

Try to end the perception of training dollars being “funny
money” to be burned at the end of the year. Consider your staff’s current
skill set and determine where you’ll need more robust capabilities. Ask managers
and staff to incorporate these objectives into their personal development
plans, and highlight these skills and a corresponding training plan that can
help accomplish those goals.

Say thanks

Recognizing accomplishments directly and personally is one of
the most effective and low-cost ways to thank your employees. For those who
truly excelled and made your IT shop a success, some heartfelt words and acknowledgement
of what they did can work wonders. Too often we assume pay, bonus, or mass
communication acknowledge a success, when a sentence or two directly to that
person would do far more.

Between family bonding, delicious meals, and holiday
shopping, take the time to consider how to acknowledge, compensate, develop,
and nurture your IT staff. In a business function that essentially lives or
dies based on the talents of its employees, they’re your most important asset.

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