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Risks of Not Training IT Workers

By Gary Perman  |  Posted 08-13-2008 Print

Risks of Not Training IT Workers

If succession management is not implemented, especially in many small to mid-sized companies, what do companies have to lose?

Death of a company leader or the CEO/founder decides to depart the company. PermanTech recently interviewed a Denver-based IT manager who had been with the same high-tech manufacturer for the past 11 years. The president of the company decided to step down last year--giving six months notice--to pursue other interests. During those six months, no successors were chosen. He left anyway, leaving a gap of knowledge and no leadership in place. Then three of the firm's five vice presidents decided to leave the company at the same time to pursue other interests. Eventually, a new executive team was recruited, bringing with them new philosophies, new cultures, and a new environment foreign to the remaining leadership. This IT manager is no longer happy in the new culture and is actively looking for a new position--as are other remaining staffers.
Lack of vision at the top executive level. This covers a gamut of misconceptions, fables and misnomers such as:
- "If every employee is trained to advance, companies would run out of the little guys..." 
- "Professional development is the responsibility of the employee, not the company..."
- "We are now turning into an economy of free agents so if you are not branding yourself and managing your own career, it's easy to get left behind..."
- "It's not my job--that's the job of the HR department."
When executives rely on such misconceptions, rather than reality, they leave themselves open to serious jeopardy.

The fear of replacement. Executives and managers who fear that training subordinates will produce competitors within the company demonstrates a basic insecurity in themselves and their company. Yet a corporate culture that does not encourage succession management means those potential competitors will eventually leave the company for competitive endeavors.

"Many executives and managers live in fear these days that they are one e-mail away from being replaced," says Gary Feather, vice president for consumer systems and technology at Sharp Laboratories of America. "They want the perception to exist that what they know and who they know is their security blanket that they must be retained, even in very hard times. They focus on getting ahead and holding their ground at all costs. If a replacement is identified, trained, qualified and certified, then how can they feel safe?"

Company short-sightedness. Many companies labor under short-sighted attitudes, finding comfort in the day-to-day stability of their IT operations to the point where they delay initiating succession programs. "Mid-level people in IT watch for leadership, strength, and guidance from our executives. When we don't find it, we leave," says Noah Murphy, senior systems engineer at U.S. Digital. "Not caring for the needs of mid-level IT is short sighted." Murphy says he's worked for several IT leaders with a short-sighted perspective throughout his career, and has seen many IT pros come and go as a result. 

"IT operates from two perspectives of corporate executives: a driver perspective and a support perspective," says Arthur Langer, director of the technology management master's program at Columbia University in New York. "Most senior executives view IT as a support role to the company rather than a driver. If you have a supporter mentality, you are more reactive, governed more by reactivity versus a long-term planning perspective. Succession management is a strategic behavior."

If succession planning is a low priority, Langer says, executives will take the support view of IT. If it's a high priority, they'll have the driver perspective, which has the added bonus of less turnover challenges.

Changing employment climate. Skilled talent is becoming more difficult to find. Many executives believe that employees, especially in IT, are disposable and can be replaced at a moment's notice. This is the furthest thing from the truth: according to the U.S. Department of Labor--and assuming only half their numbers are correct, which is unlikely--the skilled employment gap will continue to widen, creating ever-growing stress on companies to recruit talent and implement succession management strategies to retain the top talent they have. As Baby Boomers retire, creating further gaps in skilled talent, succession management will become even more critical as employers discover finding and recruiting talent is becoming increasingly challenging and costly. Expect the future to bring longer periods for search and recruitment as well as increased costs in talent acquisition, not to mention lost revenues from delays in innovation, production and down time. The fact is that as soon as an employee discovers that a company lacks a succession management plan, they believe their chances to advance in their career are left to a minimum, and they will leave and try to advance somewhere else.

If companies are to be successful in their growth and profitability, even as a small or mid-sized company, succession management will need to become a top priority among the company's board of directors and top leadership.

Gary Perman is a certified recruiting professional and owner PermanTech, which specializes in recruiting technology executives, managers and engineers. He also hosts a technology employment blog.



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