Staffing, Retention in the Dot-Bomb Era

About this time last year, I was telling a colleague that trying to hire and retain top IT talent was making me crazy.

About this time last year, I was telling a colleague that trying to hire and retain top IT talent was making me crazy. In the midst of dot-com mania and corporate IT growth, the market supply of IT technical experts was unbelievably low, costs for consultants had skyrocketed and my IT staff was always—politely—wondering what I was going to do, financially and emotionally, to make sure they were kept happy.

What a difference a year makes. Though not quite an employer-centric recruiting market, it sure has gotten easier. The dot-bomb environment has put quite a bit of skilled technology talent onto the job market. Many Internet consulting companies have collapsed like a bad soufflé. People who still have their IT jobs have stopped their daily calculations of stock option increases and have focused, in many cases, on keeping the jobs they have.

So what does this swing in IT job market economics mean to tech managers? There are some HR opportunities on which to act—and some strategies to maintain. Here are a few to ponder:

  • Insourcing. Twelve months ago, people like me were turning to outside consultants to tackle IT projects we simply couldnt find, hire or afford the staff to handle. Yet even before the current implosion, there were the consulting burnouts—those wonderfully educated and Big 5 company-trained techies who wanted more quality of life and less travel. Despite the excitement of great pay and interesting projects, they would eventually tire of airplanes, hotel rooms and Taco Bell.

Since the implosion, I have received many résumés from such people, looking not only for stability but simply a job. I focused on this group for years and was very lucky to get some of the best project managers and IT directors I have ever had a chance to work with. Be careful, though—your consulting agreements will likely penalize you if you recruit talent from current engagements.

  • Change IT retention strategies. Not a chance. I dont care if there are 50 people available to fill each IT job you have. If youve got good talent today, work to keep it. Its cheaper and more productive by a long shot. My retention focus continues to be on training and new technology; rewarding specific IT staffers who show proactive and customer-centric traits; and, lastly, the standard practice of active employee communication.
  • Differentiate yourself as an employer of choice. Having visited many dot-com offices in Silicon Valley, I have learned that an exciting corporate culture and comfortable work environment are equal in weight to every stock option granted and merit increase given. If your starched-shirt or -blouse colleagues have resisted casual dress codes, neon signs above cubicles, foosball games in the lunch room or roller hockey in the parking lot, push the envelope. Take some risks. As Guy Kawasaki used to say when he was at Apple (and probably still does), "Ask forgiveness, not permission!"

Even though the market is certainly different from a year ago, it is clear that the demand for technology professionals will continue to grow. My advice is to leverage the benefits in this job market where you can ... but not at the expense of those great people youve already got.