The talent to deliver

The talent to deliver

The skills crisis is hitting home, and you are looking at creative ways of shoring up your IT team. How do you attract the staff you need?

The skills crisis is hitting home, and you are looking at creative ways of shoring up your IT team. How do you attract the staff you

need? We ask CIOs to share their strategies.


Staff numbers are critical to meeting deadlines on any IT assignment,

but finding good employees - let alone retaining them - can become a

project's biggest problem when, as at present, there is a skills

shortage hungrily eating into the available stock of talent. So, we

asked our respondents: where and how do you start looking? Or,

alternatively, how do you counter the threat of being short-handed

when it starts to affect your current workload?

Mandy Ross

Chief information officer,

Stalking students at graduation ceremonies, staging "bring a developer

friend to work with you" days, poaching competitors' staff by hanging

out in nearby coffee shops - and we've also considered, as a

recruitment method, shamelessly mentioning the fact that we're

currently recruiting developers in opinion pieces published by MIS (sister publication of CIO NZ).

But experience has taught us that the best way to attract and retain

high-quality staff is by providing them with a job they want to do,

within an organisational structure that supports their needs and

facilitates their ambitions, while surrounding them with peers they

respect and want to work with.

The challenge that lies therein is reconciling the interests of your

workforce with those of the business. Four strategies that have worked

well for are:

1. Tailoring career progressions to suit the ambitions of our staff.

This strategy has included the establishment of leadership roles that

allow our most technically proficient staff to act as mentors, without

requiring them to take on traditional management duties of countless

meetings and paperwork. Conversely, we've introduced programs to up

the skills of those staff who would like to pursue a traditional

management position. Among other improvements we've made to our

organisational structure is the creation of roles for those whose

passion lies in systems architecture.

2. Including existing team members in the recruitment process. With

this strategy, we're not only able to assess the technical skills of

recruits, we're also able to measure the cultural fit of the

individual prior to hiring them. Not only does this create an

unofficial buddy system, that we've found increases retention of new

staff, it also places value on team cohesiveness, which is of

particular importance to a company leveraging agile methodologies for

software development.

3. Creating a work environment that is outcome-driven rather than

procedure-driven ensures our team feels invested in the result and

gives them a sense of empowerment.

4. Our decision to make extensive use of open standards and emerging

technologies has provided a number of benefits to the company. We've

found it has helped attract individuals who aspire to work with the

latest technologies, as opposed to legacy technologies. The benefit to

our existing staff is they are continuously gaining experience and

developing skills in leading technologies and standards.

It's an ongoing process, but one we're committed to. Essentially,

we've taken an inside-out approach. And, given the way this industry

works, how better to attract the best applicants than through

word-of-mouth recommendations from your existing team?

Brian Cameron

Acting information technology director, University of New England

Wow, is that alarm bells I hear? Some immediate questions leaping to

mind include: how did we get to this point? Scope creep? Poor

estimation? Less-than-adequate project management? Or are we just

crippled by opportunistic headhunters?

If a project manager brought this problem to me, after asking them

what they intend to do about it (I never did like doing other people's

jobs for them) and assessing their perspective, I would endeavour to

find out why staff are leaving. They must have wanted to work on the

project to be there in the first place, so what's changed?

Irrespective, the viability of this project is a concern as it is now

well into the high-risk category. I would be calling in project

assurance. Does it still meet the business case? Show me the budget

and expenditure figures! What are the products and deliverables, and

can we restructure the scope and still provide return on investment?

This may open a case to challenge a funding freeze. Or it could

confirm that we need to cancel the project.

If the problem is project management or leadership, then look at

changing the approach, increase rigour, review the roles and

responsibilities, or even the leader. Worst case, we would rebuild the

team and see how that affects progress. Note, though, that there is

significant risk here as a poorly considered change of this nature may

leave you with an even bigger mess.

I'm a firm believer in hiring for attitude and training for skill.

Some of my best analysts have come from the business, so I would look

there for opportunities, or if I looked internally within IT, I'd find

out which existing staff are just waiting to burst out and grow, as

some of our best programmers and network administrators started in the

service desk.

Coming from a university environment, we have had success hiring

recent or near-recent graduates. The secret here is to ensure they

have a good coach or mentor. My preference is to go with a coaching

approach rather than mentoring; to me such roles are proactive and

more about challenging the person being coached to grow and achieve,

than being an occasional sounding board.

With graduates, you have to be prepared to let them go as they are

just starting out on their life's journey, and when they do, be

satisfied that you set them on the right path.

If considering hiring recent or soon-to-be graduates, you need to talk

with lecturers to find out who are their top students, and why. I

always like to conduct a semi-formal interview.

These kids don't have a career history yet, or a long list of industry

referees, so I'm looking for motivation and the right attitude. You

know they have aptitude because, after all, they are doing a degree.

But you need to target students in at least their third year, as they

have a track record of achievement.

Once you have them, you need to train them. I'll guarantee these

people will be motivated. So, to maximise value from this energy,

channel it into areas that are productive for you and give these

people valuable lessons by putting them with your best. For example,

pick an experienced staff member who exemplifies the qualities you are

looking for as coach. If you want a great code-cutter, put them with

your best for six months. Do likewise for business analysts, systems

administrators, project managers, and so on.

Most importantly, don't delay!

Grant Cresswell

IT manager, Opera Australia

It's all about the "want to" factor. It's 5.30pm, Friday, and the

project has just hit a bump in the road and slipped into a holding

pattern. A couple of things have not gone as planned, deadlines are

looming, your staff are looking at their watches. But what are they


It's at this point you remember the little article in MIS about those

wonderful people called "the team" and the ingredients that can, and

will, make the difference. So, what is it that will keep this team

focused, loyal, productive and wanting to achieve and contribute

beyond the sum of their individual skills and talents - and on a

continuing basis? I break this down in five ways.

First, find a reason. There has to be a reason why they "want to" do

this; the more passion they feel for the reason, the more they will

buy into its overall success. Most good reasons have a healthy mix of

what I call "emotional logic". Often, emotion is seen as a weakness

but it is, in fact, one of the most successful engines driving man.

Balancing it with logic allows it to become a powerful and focused

force, encouraging teams to overcome obstacles that try to hinder or

stop a worthwhile project.

Create some romance. Every good reason also needs romance. Encourage

people to spend quality time giving of themselves, utilising their

imaginations and feelings, along with the clear decision that they

"want to" invest in this particular employment adventure.

Culture and mission are vital. What is it that makes people hunger to

work with certain individuals or organisations? Among the challenges


1. Establishing clear agreement on identifiable objectives, targets,

standards and roles.

2. Aligning corporate/team and individual objectives wherever possible.

3. Identifying team leaders and members who understand and celebrate

their unique mix of personalities.

4. Recognising effort, skills and achievement, at both individual and

team levels.

5. Ensuring that top-down and bottom-up views are discussed.

6. Working out people's strengths.

7. Growing the realisation that work can be fun and rewarding to

ensure people will "want to" do it again and again.

8. Establishing a debrief/review process at the end of projects that

identifies the wins and opportunities to do it better next time.

Focus on the fruit. If all the above ingredients are in place and

working well, remuneration and bonuses will not be the dominant driver

for the "want to" factor. There are legitimate times when money will

be the primary or dominant objective for staff, but in these

situations reward for performance and not the promise.

Look and find. I've had considerable success in having existing teams

devise their own strategies for finding new members. They will also

generally have a good understanding of people and sources that are

likely to be able to meet your requirements. Rewarding staff who

assist in recruitment always helps the cause, but their enthusiasm

about their own work environment will count above all else.

Advertising in its many forms is always a good place to start, but the

size of your operation will dictate the options available.

Fairfax Business Media

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Tags staff recruitmentteam buildingskills retention

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