Keep best staff by offering training and career development

A proactive approach to development and training is key to getting best staff, says George Cox, chairman of the Design Council.

A proactive approach to development and training is key to getting best staff, says George Cox, chairman of the Design Council.

Employers need to be proactive about training their staff, developing their careers, and ensuring a healthy work/life balance if they want to remain competitive and attract the best people.

That was the message from Cox, IT industry veteran, former director general of the Institute of Directors, ex-managing director of Unisys, and chairman of the Design Council, to attendees at Computer Weekly's Best Places to Work in IT Awards ceremony earlier this month.

As IT spending picks up and demand for skilled IT professionals increases, employers that do not take time to understand what makes a good working environment risk losing out to those organisations that do when trying to attract the best staff, Cox said.

Senior managers should set an example to the rest of the staff by working regular hours and making sure they have a healthy work/life balance.

Tackling the long-hours culture is important if employers want their workforce to be productive, said Cox.

Long hours and employees regularly taking work home can often be counterproductive, he warned. Proof of this came during the oil crises of the 1970s, when statistics showed that the productivity of the UK did not suffer when firms were forced to work a three day week, Cox said.

"If you cannot take work home with you, you will be forced to do it during the day, or to delegate," he said.

Employers should be prepared to invest in training and career development of their staff, said Cox. "This will lead obviously to losing a few people [who get skilled up and move on]. But this is a small price to pay," he said.

Organisations that invest in their staff will attract good people. And when people leave they are more likely to sing the praises of the organisation they have left, rather than give it a bad name. This will encourage other skilled IT professionals to consider applying for positions with the company.

Cox said too many organisations do not recognise the potential of their employees, or take steps to stretch them and grow their skills. "Someone goes somewhere else and does a bigger job. Why? We are too slow to recognise ability," he said.

He argued that money alone does not motivate people. There are plenty of disgruntled people in the City of London earning £500,000 every year, he said. It is much more important to reward people according to their efforts in a transparent way, and to recognise their achievements.

From an employee's point of view, Cox said staff should ask themselves key questions about their current job. "Are you actually learning from it? If you can do this job for another year, will you have learned anything more? When you wake up each morning, do you want to do it? If you don't, you really need to question it," he said.

Cox's tips for creating a good place to work

  • Employers need to tie reward to effort in a transparent way
  • Managers need to win the trust of their workforce
  • Staff need to have a good work/life balance
  • Employees should be engaged in company objectives
  • Managers should recognise the potential of employees
  • Try to have a diverse workforce made up of different ages and backgrounds
  • Stretch employees and build up their skills through training and career development.

Lessons from a business leader
When director general at the Institute of Directors, George Cox noticed an annual dip in productivity during the first few months of the year. Cox reasoned that the dip was linked to the institute's policy of offering bonuses based on the organisation's annual performance. He changed the reward system to match quarterly performance and productivity improved dramatically.

Cox was given the responsibility of running a factory early in his career. He was regularly taking work home in the evenings and at weekends, until his boss banned him from bringing a briefcase into the office. This forced him to either get the work done in work hours or to delegate to other people. The change improved his performance.

This experience helped when the Inland Revenue was working to address a long-hours culture. After several meetings, Cox, who was on the management board, told the directors, "The biggest problem is you. You are role models. When you work long hours, you set the standard for the whole organisation."

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