How do small to medium sized enterprises (SMEs) attract the right people, skills and mindset, and then ensure these critical resources are trained, and retained?
Larger organisations have the advantages of brand, prestige, track record and opportunities for career advancement. To compete in the IT skills market, and be a magnet for exceptional talent, IT directors in smaller companies must take specific actions.
Value people. SMEs have the opportunities to involve people in a way that many bigger companies cannot - at the heart of decision-making. Who really understands the key decision-making powers in a larger company any more? However, as your company grows, the trap of introducing layers of process and bureaucracy between ideas and implementation must be avoided.
As you develop, ensure that the innovative mindset you started with remains, and that the structures of your department and company reflect that.
Career advancement and financial reward. Bigger organisations seem like a good option, but how often are they simply a chance to experience the same picture from a different angle, graduate-training style? SMEs have an opportunity to show that career progression goes way beyond grades. Share options and bonuses based on both individual and corporate performance are two ways that you can move the focus from so-called career development to individual and team development.
Provided the basic financial package is reasonably on target, such personal stakes in the company will prove invaluable in securing commitment, personal alignment and loyalty.
New technologies. Every SME worth its weight in future gold is looking to e-business as a route to fast growth. The chance to learn and use e-commerce technologies in mission critical projects is going to be far greater. If your SME is ambitious, it must deploy the latest thinking and techniques - many IT people, graduates in particular, rank this a main consideration. However, it is no good just doing it, make sure people know you are doing it that way you will become a magnet for the right people.
Training and development. In larger companies which area of the budget is always chopped first? Training. While smaller companies may lack vast resources for such investments, people can be encouraged to learn on the job, applying their new-found skills quickly and to greater effect. Constantly review and ensure the personal development of your people, discuss their needs with them, and listen to what they say.
Freedom and flexibility. High achievers crave these, and when treated as trusted free spirits, will respond positively. Provide flexibility for your people, in hours, location, holidays and dress.
Finally, if you are really serious about the long-term growth and prosperity of your company, always strive to recruit people better than yourself.
Small to medium companies are well placed to take advantage of the main reasons people join, and stay in, an organisation. As a new skills crisis approaches, it is up to you to ensure ideas like these are turned into reality, and commercial advantage.
David Taylor is president of the association of IT directors Certus