Give thanks for your tech employees

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

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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By Patrick Gray

Patrick Gray works for a leading global professional services firm, where he helps companies rapidly invent and launch new businesses. He is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companio...