Get Image-Conscious

The competition for skilled IT professionals, already intense, is set to get fierce. Just look at the companies on this years Best Places to Work in IT list: 64% said they plan to increase their U.S.-based IT staffs this year, by 7% on average. And more than one in six (17%) of more than 1,400 CIOs surveyed for the quarterly Robert Half Technology IT Hiring Index and Skills Report said they plan to add full-time IT staffers in this years third quarter, while only 2% said they anticipate personnel reductions.

In the current competitive landscape, smart businesses recognize that to recruit and retain the best IT workers, they must go beyond standard compensation and benefits. A way to do that thats sometimes overlooked is to establish and maintain a strong organizational identity.

Businesses that have set themselves up as employers of choice that is, companies whose names alone immediately evoke terms such as innovative, prestigious or cutting-edge have a much easier time bringing top talent on board.

Workers who value those or similar attributes tend to think of these employers first when considering a career move. A positive reputation also helps maintain loyalty among existing employees, who enjoy the feeling of being envied by peers at other companies. Perhaps most important, efforts to reinforce company identity when theyre executed consistently and clearly have a tendency to snowball, requiring less deliberate effort from above.

For the vast majority of companies, it isnt easy to create and sustain an attractive workplace image, and it doesnt happen by simply stating that your company is a good place to work. Instead, promoting your organizations identity requires deliberate, overt efforts, as well as an adjustment of day-to-day management habits. Here are some things to keep in mind:

Keep it clear. Businesses often feel that there are many qualities that distinguish them from their peers. Your company, for example, might have an industry-leading compensation policy, allow IT professionals to work with the latest technologies and also maintain a start-up mentality. While all of these aspects of the company culture make your organization unique, it may be wise to keep your communication to current and prospective workers focused on just one or two key characteristics.

Walk the walk. Your companys image must be backed up by company practices. For example, if you want the organization to become known as a great place for IT professionals to advance their skills and careers, you must continue to invest in new training courses and methods, provide tuition reimbursement, offer flexible scheduling options to accommodate development opportunities, promote from within and so on. Consistency is key to building upon the identity your firm has established.

Link internal and external messages. Similarly, its important to tie internal benefits to the companys external mission. In the previous example, the combined message might be, Providing professional development to keep employees at the forefront of the industry helps us develop innovative products. By making this connection, you create a simple, coherent organizational identity thats more likely to have legs and resonate with workers.

Brag to others. Your communication effort around your organizational identity will be most effective if it is also aimed at the outside world. For example, your company may pride itself on its eco-friendly policies. Sponsoring a beach cleanup day or issuing a media statement when the company lowers its carbon footprint by a pre-established amount can help build a coherent corporate image that resonates with prospective employees.

Make sure the message is getting through. Efforts to communicate an image that doesnt match your workers experiences with or perceptions of the company are bound to breed alienation, not pride. Say, for example, that your firm has many international locations and publicizes the fact that employees have the ability to explore new positions around the world. If most staff members see the openings as available to senior-level employees only, building an identity around your firms global opportunities will do little to engender loyalty. So touch base with workers on occasion to ensure that the message you mean to send is clear.

IT professionals who clearly get the company message are more likely to spread that message among not only talented friends at other companies but also the new hires who are so important for your organization to retain.

Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology (www.rht.com), a provider of IT professionals on a project and full-time basis.

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Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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