We all make mistakes, but there’s no reason we all have to make the same mistakes. In this column, we help you learn from the mistakes many IT professionals make and explain how to avoid them in your own work.
Finding IT talent is one of the toughest problems facing CIOs and other IT managers. Every day in the trade press, you can read about the latest gimmicks HR departments are using to attract new employees: paying off student loans, signing bonuses—even paying the lease to a BMW!

Smart CIOs are starting to devote just as much time to keeping their star employees as they do to hiring new ones. Unfortunately, opinions differ as to the best way to retain talent. For example, are you proactive about giving raises and bonuses, or do you accelerate existing promotion schedules? Do you concentrate on stock options, or the work environment? How important is the corporate culture?

Fortunately, while there’s no consensus on one single way to keep your best employees, there’s little disagreement on how to drive them away. If you want to depress your IT staff’s morale through the cellar, and have your star performers beating down the doors of your competitors, all you have to do is make one or more of these IT mistakes:

  • Punish initiative: There is no better method to discourage innovation and stifle creativity. Are you tired of having to implement the great new ideas that your staff brings to you? Then all you have to do is criticize someone for an idea that doesn’t work out. That’ll slow the flow of innovation to a trickle.
  • Refuse to prioritize: Since almost all IT departments have more work than they can possibly handle, prioritizing is one of the most important jobs you have. By refusing to make clear to your staff what tasks they should focus on, you can easily frustrate and de-motivate your people.
  • Ignore signs of burnout: Most people give clear warning signs when their workload or work environment is unsustainable. According to ComputerWorld’s Jeffrey Zbar, these burnout warning signs include: an increase in turnover, absenteeism, or requests for time off, more time spent “fighting fires” instead of finishing new projects, or a rise in staff complaints and in-fighting. By ignoring these and other classic symptoms of poor morale, you will be well on your way to ridding yourself of the folks who actually get things done.
  • Encourage stagnation: IT professionals not only want to keep their skills current, they want new opportunities to grow. By refusing to provide training or new challenges, you can make your best people question the long-term value of staying with your organization.
  • Discourage mentoring: Most IT professionals need internal role models to help them with career advice and to provide tips on working within the company culture. Mentors, both formal and informal, usually provide this guidance. By ridiculing or discouraging such practices, you can deprive your people of the support they need during difficult times, and eliminate another tie they have to the organization. (Of course, the ultimate way to discourage mentoring is to refuse to play the role yourself.) That way, they’re already halfway out the door when things get difficult!
  • Make compensation appear arbitrary: Surprisingly, money isn’t always the main reason people switch jobs. However, everyone needs to feel that there is some relationship between their performance and their compensation. By making compensation plans and career paths vague, you can frustrate your best employees, who are usually looking for nothing more than to understand how the system works.

Different companies have all sorts of compensation plans, benefits packages, and operating philosophies. How do you keep your staff happy? Send us an e-mail.