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The People IT Needs Don't Want to Work in IT

by Bruce Skaistis

Enterprise IT is under pressure to become more focused on business and competitiveness issues and less focused on technology - and now is a perfect time for IT to begin rebuilding itself.

IT is going to have significant staff turnover in the next few years to replace baby boomers who are reaching retirement age and middle aged ITers who are exiting for careers outside IT. By filling these openings with the same bright young people who would be good fits in business, marketing, financial and operational functions, enterprise IT can significantly improve its business and financial skills.

It's a great opportunity for IT, but there's one problem. The talented young people who are looking for careers in business, marketing, financial and operational functions don't want to work in IT. If you ask a young person looking at a career in other functions if they would consider a career in IT, you will probably get a response something like, "Are you crazy? I wouldn't work in IT for any amount of money."

Their perception of enterprise IT is long hours, repetitive work, little recognition and no fun. It's hard to counter their perception, because, in many organizations, the reality of life in IT is long hours, repetitive work, little recognition and no fun.

Even though it doesn't receive much attention, I think the challenge of hiring talented people is a major driver in the continued growth of outsourcing. It's easier to let outsourcer worry about attracting and retaining talented people. Unfortunately, the same people who don't want to work in enterprise IT don't want to work for outsourcers either.

I recently saw an article outlining ten ways to attract and retain IT talent. I was excited when I saw the title of the article because I thought it might provide some insight on making IT a more attractive career option. It didn't. The article addressed the effectiveness of things like tuition reimbursement, flexible work schedules, retirement benefits, bonuses and training. All of these suggestions are basically band-aids and do not address the real problem - people do not want to work in IT.

Solution

Enterprise IT - and outsourcers - can still attract hard-core computer nerds because working with computers and technology is all the fun they need - at least for a few years. I have nothing against computer nerds, but having too many computer nerds in IT is one of the main reasons why many enterprises think IT is not doing a good job of supporting their business and competitive initiatives.

If enterprise IT wants to attract and hold onto more non-nerds, it is going to have to make some fundamental changes in its work environment. Here are four action items I stress when I conduct workshops on making enterprise IT a more attractive career option.

Develop Technical Skills
Way back when I completed my MBA, I joined Arthur Andersen. I had a strong background in finance and economics - but I had only limited computer experience. Arthur Andersen put me through intensive computer and systems development training. After completing the training, I was very effective as an analyst and then as a project leader because I had a strong business and technical background. I could speak business and I could speak technical.

With an influx of more non-technical talent, enterprise IT is going to have to put more focus on developing basic technical skills. This technical training needs to be tied to a clearly defined advancement path for people with strong business and operational backgrounds.

Create Better Balance between Work and Life
Just like everyone else, the enterprise IT team has a life outside work. Balancing work requirements with personal and family requirements is increasingly important to ITers - so helping them maintain a better balance between work and life is a critical step in making enterprise IT a better place to work. Whenever they can, IT leaders need to stress the importance of life outside of work.

You should give your team comp time off when they have been putting in long hours. You should also offer incentives team members can share with their families and friends, such as tickets with special privileges at sporting events, shows, museums and amusement parks. I also recommend holding special events to recognize the important role family and friends play in the success of the enterprise IT organization.

Unshackle Creativity
After countless reviews and audits, enterprise IT has become very risk averse and procedures oriented. As a result, many IT activities have become very regimented - and very boring.

It's time to take some of the shackles off and start encouraging creativity again. You obviously can't scrap all the rules, but you can make sure the rules are realistic and don't put unnecessary restrictions on your people. Whenever possible, give your people some room to try new approaches and techniques. If nothing else, give your people opportunities to rethink or reevaluate existing processes or the technology being used. This type of creative thinking can produce positive benefits in terms of results and employee morale.

Lighten Up
In my workshops, I focus on the importance of making enterprise IT more fun, but making IT more fun isn't easy. Most CIOs and IT leaders are pretty serious people. I'm not suggesting CIOs and IT leaders become standup comics - but I am suggesting they make a conscious effort to lighten up the atmosphere in IT.

It begins by not taking everything so seriously - and not taking themselves too seriously. IT leaders need to do a better job of keeping things in perspective and they have to learn to laugh. They also need to encourage fun activities at work and outside work. The trick is to create activities that are as inclusive as possible.

I have seen organizations try to lighten up by copying Southwest Airlines approach of creating humorous job and functional titles. Forget it. It doesn't work. It can be downright embarrassing when people who still aren't having much fun have to explain why they have a silly job title or work in a department with a nonsensical name.

There are a lot of other things that need to be done to make enterprise a more attractive career option, but these four suggestions are a good place to start.

Moral of the Story

It's time for enterprise IT to take positive steps to make IT an attractive career option for all the talented people who are going into business, marketing, financial and operational functions - and are avoiding IT like the plague. Otherwise, the chasm between IT and the rest of the enterprise is going to grow even wider in the future.


About the Author

Bruce Skaistis is the founder of Skaistis Consulting. He began his career as a consultant with Arthur Andersen and was CIO of a large bank group before forming his own management services firm. Skaistis Consulting provides specialized support to help organizations successfully complete critical business and IT initiatives, optimize outsourced functions and maximize enterprise IT value. You can find out more about Skaistis Consulting at www.skaistis.com.

© Copyright 2008 Skaistis Consulting. All rights reserved.

 
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