Motivate workers with salary, skills and strategy

Everyone cares about compensation, and almost everyone feels they deserve to earn more than they make. So what happens if your company can't afford to entice new talent with significant raises or high-dollar salaries?

TEKsystems speaks with more than 100,000 IT professionals every week, and we conduct quarterly research as well. According to our findings, IT professionals rank career development as their top priority -- even higher than compensation.

They want to get involved with the latest trends and the greatest projects -- which is incongruous when you consider that more than 80% of IT's time is devoted to keeping the lights on (KTLO).

Fortunately, there are steps you can take to narrow the gap between what IT shops have to do and what employees want to do. And those steps can boost your IT organization's appeal to prospective employees while elevating its performance and business value.

Set a long-term vision with the business. IT professionals want to be connected to initiatives that the business cares about most. But if they're always bogged down in the mire of KTLO operations, it's unlikely they'll be able to take on strategic initiatives with much success. To break that cycle, IT leaders must build relationships with the business that position them to know the strategic vision as far out as possible. From there, you can start a conversation around important trade-offs between KTLO and strategic IT initiatives.

Conduct strategic workforce planning. Since the economic downturn, many IT professionals feel like they've been asked to do it all. They're fatigued, and many resent the drain on their professional and personal lives. A thoughtfully crafted workforce plan can alleviate bandwidth issues and allow your IT departments to perform work at a lower cost without sacrificing quality.

Before signing up for more work, smart IT leaders carefully consider which tasks can be handled in-house (by current staffers or new hires, or through training) and which should be handled via alternative-delivery mechanisms (staff augmentation, managed services, project services or outsourcing).

Appropriate use of the latter will free your staff from commoditized tasks so they can focus on the most strategic, interesting and rewarding work.

Skill-build toward the future. IT professionals know that in order to be productive and have strategic impact, they need more than technical competence; they need to understand business operations and goals, process management and interpersonal communication. If you tap into this desire, you can limit resentment over compensation and maximize the business value achieved by your IT team.

By taking a skills inventory and comparing it with the competencies your organization needs to achieve its long-term strategy, you can begin to craft development plans for your IT staff that offer relevant returns for the business. Employees will feel more committed to your organization if you not only give them a vision of the future, but also make an investment in their ability to help the organization get there.

In short, to attract the brightest new hires and keep your top performers around for the long haul, compensate them, yes, but also offer the thrill of breaking new ground and contributing to the grandest business priorities.

Next: Opinion: Stop searching for that elusive 'purple squirrel'

Rachel Russell oversees research at TEKsystems, an IT staffing, IT talent management and IT services provider. Visit www.teksystems.com or follow @TEKsystems on Twitter.

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