With the IT industry making to a steady recovery, businesses need to win staff loyalty by motivating and rewarding, says Dominic Conner.
In terms of managing staff, IT directors have had it easy over the past few years. A slump in the job market has meant that unhappy and unmotivated staff have often been forced to stay put. But with growing evidence, such as this week's SSL/Computer Weekly Survey, that the IT industry is staging a steady recovery, staff are in a position to become more demanding and vote with their feet.
Not many IT directors will have used the economic slowdown to spend time training their staff, but now they have the opportunity to show that they have a few smart ideas.
Devising a training plan will be made harder if your human resources department has become closely involved with the IT department. In my experience, people in IT find dealing with HR demotivating, and believe HR rarely understands the training needs and aspirations of IT staff.
Be selective in the training courses you choose. Classroom lectures are ineffective if the knowledge gained is not applied. Ask your staff to decide whether Linux or Windows is the way forward. For staff, being listened to and having an input into a department's strategy is nearly as effective as a financial reward.
Good staff like to achieve things. If your staff can see that users are happy because of an improved graphical interface for order entry, this will motivate them more than tasks that are 10 times more complex.
IT has not been seen to do useful things lately - or at least that is a common boardroom gripe. IT directors should look for quick wins to combat scepticism over the usefulness of IT.
Get your staff to use new technology. It does not matter which, the aim is to improve skills and attitude. You will also discover what works in your department rather than picking an unfamiliar tool for the next project.
You also need to be more explicit in telling staff what they can gain from completing tasks. For example, once your employees have finished upgrading software, tell them you will book them on a J2EE training course.
Your upturn will happen at the same time as everyone else's, but the recent cuts have meant you are closer to the edge if someone leaves. Do not start to tell your staff about loyalty at this point as only HR people use that tactic.
Staff know they have survived the cuts because you needed them, not loved them. As salaries are increasing slowly, if you do lose an employee, you will need to increase that pay with recruitment fees on top. Make a case for pay rises to the board. Even if you do not succeed, you need to protect the department when critical people leave.
You are also going to have to be more cheerful in front of your staff, as they will be influenced by your mood. If you sound excited about the future, so will they.
What do you think?
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Dominic Connor is head of IT at bond broker King & Shaxson
This was first published in February 2004