5 ways to make your company a Best Place

Don't let the growing talent pool fool you. Though unemployment levels are at an all-time high, the war for talent still rages on. Competition in the IT industry for highly skilled workers is as fierce as ever. Companies realize that these "A" players are now, more than ever, critical to the ongoing success of their operations.

So how does a company beat the competition? The key is to create a positive work environment -- the type of atmosphere that motivates and respects employees, rewards and cultivates their skills, and fosters their growth and professional development. More simply put: Become one of the Best Places to Work in IT.

Here are five ways that, even in a down economy, you can create the type of positive work environment that will attract high-level talent, and ensure they'll never want to leave.

1. Be value-driven. Publicizing the core values of your company provides an opportunity for employees to connect with the organization on another level, particularly when company values coincide with the values of the employee.

2. Look outside the office. Organize or participate in community events. It's a great opportunity to give back to your local community and bring employees together in a noncorporate atmosphere. And the effort will demonstrate to employees that the organization is not just about the bottom line.

Better yet, show your employees how much you care about them by asking what charitable organizations are closest to their hearts and then encourage company involvement in those causes. These gestures require little capital investment but have an exceptionally strong multiplier effect in terms of publicity and building your employment brand.

3. Embrace Web 2.0. Generations X and Y are spending less time behind the pages of The Wall Street Journal or USA Today and more time online, scanning blogs, news feeds and social networks for their news. Prove how in tune you are with your employees and join them on the Web.

Drive excitement and promote the company brand by creating corporate Facebook or LinkedIn profiles. To ignore or reject such outlets is a big mistake. The Web is a great equalizer, especially for smaller companies. It's the most cost-effective way to gain eyeballs and create an employment brand on par with the Fortune 100.

4. Communicate. Integral to creating a desirable work environment is communicating with employees to tell them just what a valuable a part of that environment -- and the organization -- they are. As I mentioned earlier, high-impact talent is critical to the success of a company. Let them know it, and make sure they realize they are a vital part of the bigger company vision. If employees feel valued, they'll likely be more enthusiastic, which could translate into higher productivity and improved organizational retention rates.

Don't underestimate the impact of recognizing your employees' accomplishments. Whether you do it via a mention in a company newsletter, a posting on an internal blog or an e-mail to the entire staff, highlighting the achievements of individuals will again prove that they are a valuable asset to the company. Plus, it could motivate others to turn in exceptional performances as well.

5. Don't forget the small stuff. In a down economy, flashy bonuses and pay increases might not be possible. But they're not the only tangible perks you can offer employees. For example, if your company has a corporate box at the local stadium, offer employees the tickets so they can take their families to a game or a concert. Or give them a night on the town -- allow employees to expense an evening out with family or a significant other.

An even more cost-effective option? Give employees a few extra days of vacation to celebrate a major milestone or reward a job well done.

When thinking about the type of employment environment you're trying to cultivate, don't worry too much about pay or benefits. Deciding on a place of work is an emotional decision, not purely a financial one.

Clearly articulate the values and goals of your company, so potential employees can see how their own ideals mesh with those of the organization. If individuals can envision themselves within the corporate culture, you'll have a far greater chance of attracting candidates, retaining high-impact talent and earning your company a coveted spot on Computerworld's Best Places to Work in IT list.

Lawrence is vice president of service delivery at Yoh, a provider of talent and outsourcing services and a unit of Day & Zimmermann. For more information, please visit Yoh.com or the Yoh blog.

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