What does it take to prevent your IT team members from departing for greener pastures?
So, the day after the long weekend, the head of your IT group shows up in your office and tells you she is leaving. Happy Tuesday!
Totally blindsided, and having just given her a raise, you sit there wondering what you’re going to do. Sure, there are a couple of people who work with her, but none are ready to be point-person for your IT group.
You are not alone. Execs and business owners in varied industries are learning that many IT people have far more allegiance to their bank accounts and work they consider interesting than to their employer. According to Dan Roberts, CEO of consulting firm Oullette & Associates, a recent survey by Blind, the anonymous social network favored by tech workers, found that about half of its users (49%) plan to find and land a new position this year. Sure, the study was not limited to IT people, but most of the software engineers I know seem to be constantly on the move. One says, “Code is code. What I get to do is what matters.”
What can a dealer who expanded his IT operation do in this scenario? There is no fast answer, evidenced by the copier-printer dealers with IT operations who declined to be interviewed for this story. But as my software engineer friend noted, what one gets to do is important. And like most employees, most IT people need to see a path forward.
The shift to remote working offers potential for IT departments and for dealers whose customers have more people working remotely, a fact of business life that seems unlikely to change. I know several people whose employers (like many across the U.S.) have no plan for bringing employees back into the office. This presents an opportunity for dealers with an IT team.
For example, as customers become committed to remote operations, your IT team can help ensure their networks remain secure while they train customers for the new processes involved. Start by having your team develop and implement customized data and communications security plans for each. This gives IT staff ownership of the relationship, placing responsibility on them to ensure customers’ networks are secure and its workers are sufficiently trained. This means ensuring that all the scanners, printers, MFPs, and laptops on a customer’s network are secure. Such complex jobs are the kind some IT people relish: responsibility, measurable metrics, customer-facing activities, and more. It is a badge of honor to many IT folks to create and support an infrastructure that does not fail.
Start by learning what your customers need—and expect—from your IT team. This way, you can build a crew that can anticipate a customer’s needs, identify problems, and advise on solutions, so your company can become the first call when customers encounter problems that may have an IT solution.
This admittedly only considers one aspect of IT. More broadly, there are other ways that can help your IT staff stay around. Dr. Beverly Kaye, a speaker, thought leader, and author of several books on employee talent, engagement, and career mobility, suggests several strategies to help keep IT staff on board.
Employee engagement: Any dealer with an IT operation knows other dealers and businesses will poach their talent and that employees will walk out the door. It’s just business. To mitigate such losses, business owners, says Kaye, can set the stage for employee engagement. Leaders should:
- Make sure their people, IT and otherwise, are better and more capable.
- Focus on building relationships with employees because relationships breed loyalty. Basically, show that you care.
- Pay attention to culture. You probably don’t think about this, but even fully remote organizations have a culture. If any of your staff work remotely, you need to ensure they remain engaged and are not left out of your company’s mainstream. At the same time, both you and your IT team need to be aware of the culture in your customers’ businesses, especially when portions of their operations are remote.
Speaking of culture, make sure people want to work in your organization. Make it fun, challenging, and engaging so team members will think long and hard about leaving. It’s not just about benefits and perks, but about how your organization feels. I have talked with many dealers with low employee turnover simply because their place is a good place to work. Culture matters!
Dr. Kaye’s research found that people will often move on if they are not learning and growing in their careers. Business owners need to recognize that the age of employees spending a lifetime in a single company is long gone. Today, career growth is less about climbing a ladder than it is about doing more things, so an individual becomes more broadly skilled and valuable.
In the case of IT staff, this may mean moving into management roles, which are decidedly not for everyone. When an IT tech turns into a manager and can’t stand it, they may decide to look outside your dealership for their next opportunity.
The key here is to foster growth, for which Dr. Kaye suggests using the word LEVER:
- Lateral: How might they move across instead of up?
- Enrichment: Can something be added to their current job to help them feel they are either growing vertically or adding to existing skills?
- Vertical: What are the good and bad aspects of a vertical move?
- Exploratory: Can an employee take on a short-term project to understand whether a different opportunity is right for them?
- Realignment: There’s a lot of talent hoarding in IT but keeping your best people from opportunities won’t keep them with you, at least not for long. Remember: IT staff are smart and know they can do more.
All these points are opportunities for two-way conversations that benefit your dealership and employees.
Don’t Be That Guy!
Dr. Kaye notes an adage that still holds true: People don’t leave bad jobs; they leave bad managers. And that means you, as the person leading your dealership, can make a big difference in keeping the entire staff around. Okay, it’s not all on you because every employee engages differently, expects different things from an employer, and should advocate for their own needs.
But they don’t. It may seem obvious, but many employees depart because they can’t stand their boss or the business owner. Dr. Kaye’s research showed that talented IT people were frustrated that despite coming to a job with a broad set of skills, managers and business owners were not interested in their ideas or were resistant to changes or suggestions for improvement. Dr. Kaye said many simply didn’t feel valued for their contributions or recognized for their accomplishments. And they moved on.
A Bigger Thought: Be Engagement-Focused
Many companies—including some of your customers—are thinking about how to turn remote work into a differentiator. You should too. And no matter how good your business may be, waiting out the downturn and hoping your best people stay on is not a strategy. Instead, proactively engage your top IT talent, and leverage their skills—with your customers in mind— to keep your IT team ready and able to deliver greater value.
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