People and their achievements are the true hallmarks of the best places to work in IT

Business guru Stephanie Shirley supports the Best Places to Work in IT Awards

Business guru Stephanie Shirley supports the Best Places to Work in IT Awards.

I am delighted by the response to these awards, from both the sponsors and all the IT departments that have volunteered themselves to be the "best place to work".

FI - now Xansa - which I set up in 1962 as one of the UK's first software development companies, embodies the principles of a positive workplace. I took note of the way IT people like to work - especially women IT professionals with family commitments - and strongly encouraged flexible, home-based working. We emphasised people, their work and the results they achieved rather than the money spent.

Performance is vital, and for good performance you need good people. Good people need a "best place" to work, not just a "best-paid place". Money is not the only, or the prime, motivator. A team of 10 motivated staff will outperform 30 staff working for the money.

There are many key factors: from recruiting on the basis of skill not past roles; investing in training; making health and safety a priority; and providing a psychologically comfortable, supportive and motivating workplace.

These awards exemplify those factors. Being a best place to work will not merely keep staff happy and contented, but also help organisational performance. And the impact of this can be massive.

Boards of directors are seldom swayed by sentiment - rather by tangible benefits. They want numbers, real numbers. The high staff retention figures for organisations that provide the best places to work concentrate on the bottom line.

Providing a best place is not a fair-weather issue; in a recession you have to do even more. When you have had to close down divisions - as I have had to do - the way you do so is important.

There is also a lot more for everyone to do in the area of equal opportunities. Having pioneered new ways of working geared to women, my interests have now morphed to support multi-cultural diversity. For example, managers might well be supportive of staff around Christmas time to allow for due celebration and festivity, but do they extend the same attitude to non-Christian festivals such as Divali?

Good leadership is key to making best practice the norm. It is commonplace to say, "People are our greatest asset", but difficult to make that happen in the context of the overall business.

It is not just investment in capital or technology that creates profit, but people who are professional and dedicated to quality. It is people who provide the creative spark and people who make everything flourish. That is why they need a best place to work.

Stephanie Shirley retired as life president of Xansa in 1993. She is a highly successful entrepreneur turned philanthropist. She will deliver the keynote speech at the awards ceremony on 5 February

Award judges give tips on how to be a winner   

How can IT directors ensure that their company is one of the best places to work in IT? 

Karen Price - E Skills UK    It is about balance. If you understand your staff's needs, they will understand yours. If you give an employee time to deal with an issue at home, you will get it back five-fold.  

Bring in technology such as laptops - the company benefits because staff are always available, and it also allows them to work where they want. Try and have an office "drop-in" area to socialise, relax and have informal meetings, as they can sometimes be extraordinarily productive. 

Thank staff when they have done something well. It can go a long way. 

Ceri Diffley - Work Foundation  Give everyone an opportunity to voice their opinions and ideas and ensure they get feedback on the action taken. Have suggestion boxes and give incentives for those taken up.  

Allocate a set time for staff to come and talk to you and support flexible working practices by not holding meetings first or last thing in the day.  

Get people who are not used to each other to work together on projects  - it can help stop cliques forming. Promote effective time management, starting with yourself - go home on time. 

Jane King - editor, Personnel Today    Carry out opinion surveys every six months on what staff think about communication, recognition and innovation, and use them as a barometer for the way staff are feeling.  

Encourage job or team swaps to improve understanding, break down barriers and ensure a more versatile, cohesive team.   Update staff regularly on achievements, staff changes and what is new. Run competitions for ideas on developing or improving work and reward the best ideas. Try and encourage team building social events. 

David Clarke - chief executive, BCS    In today's fast-changing world, it is essential to encourage IT staff to continuously update their skills and knowledge. You should therefore invest in your staff through training and certification of new skills.  

If employees are treated well and you invest in their skills, you can reduce turnover. IT directors and managers also need to refresh their skills with continuous training and further qualifications. It can be a real boost to IT team morale if a director or manager joins a group or individual in studying for a specific skills upgrade. 

Jonathan Exten Wright - DLA    Sensitise managers to give proper consideration to employee requests and grievances. Be careful you do not discriminate against employees by adopting a particular working pattern. Consider the effect on people who have childcare obligations, for example.   

Manage diversity issues proactively and demonstrate your commitment to equal opportunities. Be flexible in terms of working arrangements and requests and be prepared to realign pay and benefits as the goals and objectives change.

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