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Now having gotten your "mind right," as Strother Martin might say, wishing isn't going to make it so. Instead let me throw out some concrete suggestions:
- Grab The Talent When you have an opening, the talented person you met a month is either not going to be available or not interested in working for your company. One of the most successful CEOs I have ever known worked on this premise. Whenever I found a skilled person who fit his company's profile, he wanted to know about it firsthand. In most cases he would say, "I don't need anyone today, but I will sooner or later and this person won't be around." One word of advice on this subject: for best results, realign your relationship with staffing firms. Select them with care and then treat them as partners, not vendors.
- Hire For Attitude, Train For Skills Carefully determine your absolute "must-haves" (and there are never 10 or 12 of them; usually two or three). Now select the candidate who has those basics and also exhibits the attitude that typically makes a person a success within your enterprise, not the most highly-skilled candidate without respect to how he will affect the chemistry of the group. Sometime a bright kid out of school is a much better long-term investment than the "Pro from Dover." It may be inexpensive to let your vendors train this "green bean" than to go through what a seasoned veteran who changes jobs every couple of years may put you through. I have seen and heard a lot of horror stories and every time I ask a manager, "Why do you let this go on?" the answer is the same: "What choice do we have? He is the only one that can tune this database." Malarkey. Realize that it took you six months or longer to find and hire this problem child, during which time some bright person could have been given a lot of intensive training. A health care organization on the West Coast with whom I work has determined that in order to meet the mandated level of patient care, this is the only model that works. (At Geoweb Staffing we want people who share our common values. If they do, they will quickly acquire the needed skills; it they don't, they never will).
- Keep What You Have Employee retention must be one of the highest priorities in an organization and it requires involvement from 'C' level on down to line managers. It is this simple: the growing crisis means that over the next 10 years it may become virtually impossible to replace those you lose by attrition; don't aggravate the problem by "running off" talent. This subject has recently gotten a lot of attention and there is a common misconception that it is pricey and requires some program with banners and slogans and then nothing substantive. That's wrong on all counts. There is also the theory that in order to retain people, they have to be given a raise every time they tender a notice. Wrong again. Counter-offers never work for either side and you can't "bid for talent" (assuming your salary structure is reasonable to begin with). People always say they are leaving for more money and it is true that a job change will garner a raise, but something else was going on in the first place or they would not have been assessing the market in the first place. If you address it with a raise, the root cause still exists and will continue to fester.
- Know your people and their talents, their goals, their job. That sounds obvious, however my writing partner, Fred Stawitz, has done a lot of research in this area and pounds home a recurring theme. Managers know that it is cheaper to retain an employee than to replace them. That was the first thing you learned in Management 101. What Fred has discovered is that part of this stems from the fact that when an employee walks, no one had ever maintained an accurate inventory of that employee's skills and duties. Management knew what the job description said; what they didn't know was what the employee could do as well as all the "little things" outside of the job description that the employee took on without thinking about it.
- Recognize your people. Some years back I heard a sports broadcaster talking about the fact that in his "Star of the Game" interviews, he would give some token gift from a local retailer as a way of thanking the player for appearing. His point was how funny it was to see some filthy rich athlete wearing all kinds of bling going all over the clubhouse proudly showing off his 30 dollar radio. The lesson is that people want recognition. Recently while interviewing a candidate for a management position, she asked the question, "What kind of budget do they have for employee recognition?" Instantly I knew I had a winner. Whether it is an occasional lunch on the boss, a gift certificate, or just a gold star or paper badge that says "Hero" or All- Star" on it, employees respond to recognition. It has no impact at all on the departmental budget to take a few moments to say, "Thanks for your help. You did a good job."
- Reward your people. The sad reality that is painfully obvious to most IT pros is that the enterprise regards them as a cost, not a value. In the average law firm, for example, a first-year associate is treated badly but compensated well. It only gets better from there as that associate generates fees and sees the bonuses increase. Meanwhile, the IT people who at least help make that law firm tick are treated as a necessary evil. Hey, they drain resources, without generating revenue, so what can they expect? Plenty when it comes time for them, out of frustration, to speak with a recruiter and see who is out that will actually reward them for their contribution. We see it all over the place. In supporting a commodities trade floor, I was astounded at the cavalier and cruel manor in which traders would flaunt their bonuses while the people who kept their feeds running were paid like peons. What degree of loyalty do you think is generated when they are aware that the trader's bonus exceeds their annual income? Do I think they ought to be paid the same as traders? No, because a trader's income is based both on income generated and on the fact that the risk is such that the trader usually has his neck stuck out a mile. It is going to become painfully obvious, however, that employers need to reach some type of parity if they are to keep support people.