Retention: Your Most Important Recruitment Activity?

By Tony Kontzer  |  Posted 08-28-2009 Print Email
Recruiting top IT talent is a challenge, but keeping your best workers is an equally tough task.

With the hiring market such a potential minefield of unknown risks, many CIOs are finding that one of their best recruitment strategies is to hold on to their most treasured current employees.

As any CIO can tell you, this isn't a great time for staff morale. Bonuses and perks that once were commonplace are almost unheard of, replaced by meager raises and forced furloughs. That's leaving IT executives with little choice but to do whatever they can to provide employees with the warm and fuzzy moments they need. It's an important consideration if a company hopes to emerge from the recession stronger than the competition.

At printing press maker Goss International, CIO Bill Rogers' efforts to keep his treasured staff members happy have included traditional methods such as allowing telecommuting and providing pizza lunches. But his most effective employee-retention tool has been simple communication, he says. The downturn has given him the capacity to meet more frequently with his team of managers, and a series of breakfasts he's been hosting have given rotating groups of rank-and-file employees from different areas of the IT operation the chance to be heard. At these occasional Friday morning gatherings, employees can share their thoughts on such things as what the department is doing well or what could stand improvement.

Rogers says the breakfasts have helped him collect useful feedback, such as how to improve the collection of equipment from departing employees and ways to improve onerous Sarbanes-Oxley Act procedures. Perhaps more importantly, they've given his employees much-needed reminders that they're important members of a team.

Such acknowledgment, says Mike Hedges, CIO of Medtronic, is the best thing a company can give its employees in the absence of bonuses and other financial rewards. Hedges has taken a similar step by having lunch one-on-one with an employee three days a week. He also makes sure IT workers visit Medtronic's customers whenever possible so they can see the impact their work is having. "What most employees want to know is that they're respected for the work they do, and even in these tough times when salaries may be low and bonuses may be nonexistent, that they still have a job," he says.

Ensuring the happiness of current employees during a downturn isn't just a good idea--it's a veritable survival tactic, says John Challenger, CEO of recruiting giant Challenger, Gray & Christmas. "People who haven't been treated well are more likely to look, or be recruited away," he says. "Times like these are when you forge that long-term bond."

In other words, give your best people as many reasons as possible to stay on board, or when the economy improves, you may find yourself captaining a sinking ship, which will only make your recruitment efforts that much harder.

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