Employee Relationship Management
Companies are also adding on non-cash benefits to lure top IT talent, or keep them from roaming. Some companies now offer casual dress policies, flex time and telecommuting options. But some companies are getting more inventive as a result of the widening skills gap. IT workers at the Houghton Mifflin Company, for example, can look forward to birthday parties, Friday afternoon gatherings, spot bonuses and IT incubators that give them the chance to turn their IT projects into revenue-generating products, according to Mark Mooney, HMC's chief technology officer.
Another way companies are battling the shortages is by creating new on-the-job training programs to improve managers' people skills and make them better supervisors. According to the Human Resource Institute, "bad bosses" are cited among the top reasons why IT workers fail to stay on the job. "When companies do exit interviews, tech workers always say they're leaving for more money or a better job, but when we interview them later, they tell us it's because of that 'SOB' boss," says Jay Jamrog, executive director of research at the Human Research Institute at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Fla. At Sabre, a lack of communication skills by supervisors factored among reasons cited for IT worker turnover. "We found most of the people who left weren't necessarily looking to leave Sabre, but when they got another job offer, they didn't really know where they stood at Sabre," says Haefner.
Little wonder, then, that companies are asking more of managers. Sabre, for one, is teaching managers to help their staff set performance objectives and provide feedback, coaching and career planning to employees. Strengthening the supervisor-employee relationship is a way to "re-recruit" existing employees, says Haefner. "Managers are not always able to communicate that total value proposition; they tend to get stuck on one thing like pay or stock options."
Most significantly, though, the widening skills gap and IT worker shortage is spurring many companies to completely rethink the core of their hiring and retention strategies. Consider Haefner's phrase, "total value proposition." Identifying what matters most to each employee and pinpointing how the company can help each get what they want out of their careers over the long-term is the key to successfully grabbing and keeping talent.
James W. Walker, author of Human Resource Planning and Human Resource Strategy, calls this the "value package," and says it must be customized to each individual, particularly for top talent and older employees with fairly complex work-balance issues. "A value package includes continuing learning, career opportunities, flexibility, autonomy, compensation, and the relationship with immediate managers and team members." The "employee value proposition" similar to the customer value proposition used by companies now to lure and retain new customersis "the answer to why the most talented people should work and stay at your company," says Roberson. To put it another way, think of a job as a product you are selling in the technical marketplace, he says. "If large numbers of customers didn't like your product, if you had high customer defection rates, what would you do? Make the product competitive in quality and price point, and put in metrics and tracking systems," Roberson says. Jobs, he says, are the products companies offer technical professionals, "and most companies offer a poor product. The job is boring, the tools are not particularly good, and the leadership and work environment is poor."