As the economy begins to slow, it is easy for many IT staff to become demoralised, particularly if there is not enough work for them.
The other IT directors and I find that one of the basics of maintaining and motivating IT staff is to keep them focused on the progress of the business as a whole. We provide regular updates of the performance of all parts of the business to illustrate areas of success - there is always a positive story somewhere out there.
Another important consideration has been the way in which staff are hired in the first place and how their progress is reviewed. Staff at Capital One are hired on the basis of whether they would fit into the culture of the business, as well as their IT skills base. The company looks for those who are flexible, interested in getting involved in diverse projects and those who thrive in honest, open, changing environments.
All companies have their cultures and it is important that these are conveyed to would-be recruits to minimise mismatches.
IT staff who ask for a specific job specification at an interview are rarely the right people for Capital One. The company can, however, give them a precise understanding for the softer skills they will need to progress in the organisation. These may be issues such as how to interact effectively with a manager or how to delegate work to a fellow team member. IT staff need to know what is expected of them at every stage of their careers. Without this they may lose direction and motivation.
The company conducts six-monthly "360¡" reviews of all IT staff so that recruits get feedback from managers, fellow team members and other staff they interface with. They are also encouraged to provide honest feedback. By giving and receiving honest feedback the air remains clear and IT staff have a clear view of what they need to do to keep succeeding.
Finally, the company gives IT staff an opportunity to get involved in areas which they might regard as outside their expertise, but which they think they would enjoy. At Capital One some IT staff contribute to the in-house newsletter while others work a few hours a week on local charity projects.
My five tips for retaining IT staff are:
- Ensure that non-IT project issues such as communications are planned in to avoid failure and keep motivation high
- Request volunteers for projects. Staff who volunteer will be more motivated and interested to achieve than those selected because they did well on certain projects in the past or happen to be available
- It is important that the company you work for puts technology high up the pecking order and wants to exploit its benefits to gain an edge on the competition. The less seriously the company takes IT, the worse will be the prospects of the IT job there
- Foster dynamism within the organisation by focusing on positive successes that have been enabled by IT
- Celebrate success: ensure that major achievements and milestones for the business are celebrated. Make time in busy schedules to stick your head over the desk and say well done. We do this in overt ways by dressing up and making a splash in reception so that messages about business successes get through.
Ray Scotter is IT services delivery director for database services at Capital One