Creative Ways to Fight Talent Wars

The results of Computerworld's 2010 Salary Survey should serve as a warning. As the U.S. economy gains momentum, the IT industry will experience a talent war, the likes of which we haven't seen since the dawn of the dot-com era.

While salaries have remained flat, individual responsibilities and work hours have increased. The question now for IT managers is whether the fear of not being able to find another job is the only factor keeping employees on board.

Consider this anecdote: In December, I found myself on the West Coast talking with senior leadership of a large (and well-known) media company. One particular division is oriented toward the development and deployment of a certain (equally well-known) social media tool. The senior vice president of human resources for that division clearly articulated that while economic conditions are certainly affecting the business, they are having almost no impact on overall retention rates. He still has to pay top dollar for hard-to-find talent, and he has to work creatively to keep the necessary mix of technical skills in-house. It's a reality, he said, that keeps him awake at night and makes him wary of the eventual recovery. Those challenges will grow even more daunting as the job market warms up.

So how do you stem the talent exodus? To improve job satisfaction, consider taking these steps, which will lay the foundation for aggressive recruiting and retention strategies when the talent wars return.

1. Offer creative alternative benefits. Evaluate the demographics of your IT staff to identify alternative benefits that could boost your employees' job satisfaction. For instance, 401(k) contributions or extensive health insurance coverage might not be important to younger employees. But those staffers might be interested in credits toward technology purchases, opportunities to pursue technical training, fitness club memberships and so on.

2. Implement internship-style staffing rotations. Consider adopting a rotating schedule that, every few months, moves teams across disciplines. This lets employees experience new situations, expand their skill sets and avoid monotony. If you challenge employees and give them new opportunities, it shows that you're invested in their professional development.

3. Share budgeting responsibilities. Constricted budgets don't have to be an obstacle to improving employee satisfaction and retention. Try sharing budgeting responsibilities across the entire staff. Instead of handing down the spending commandments and the "thou shalt nots" of corporate finance, clearly articulate your organization's cost containment objectives. Then offer incentives to employees who can find creative ways to achieve those goals while preserving speed and quality of delivery. This requires strong communication, but it will help your staff feel connected to the budgeting process rather than seeing spending restrictions as dire impositions handed down from upper management.

4. Promote personal branding. Educate employees on how to improve their personal brands and employability. Help them increase their personal search engine optimization. Assist employees in leveraging social media tools to define their work success. Give them incentives for speaking at trade shows or contributing to IT blogs. While this might seem risky, since it would bring your staffers' talents to the attention of other employers, it could foster a sense of loyalty within the ranks.

Such strategies might not be easy to implement, and they most certainly require deep collaboration with HR. But since job satisfaction rates are so low these days, it would almost be negligent of you not to explore new ways to improve morale.

Joel Capperella is senior vice president of client solutions at Yoh, a talent and outsourcing services provider. For more information, please visit or

Next: Salaries stall, workloads rise, and IT gets squeezed

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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