Recruitment and retention

Good fences make for good neighbours in employment relations. Here are a few ground rules to help avoid misunderstandings.

In the current low-unemployment environment, recruiting and retaining skilled IT staff has become one of the key business issues facing CIOs. In this article I will look at a couple of strategies and tools that I have seen successfully utilised to address this issue. Lawyers often start with definitions, and my first recommendation is therefore to ensure that you have defined what is expected from a particular role. This should include an overview of the role by way of job description, but also short-term or task-focused expectations set by way of a yearly (or even six-monthly) goal setting process. A common situation I encounter when an employment relationship is in trouble (eg an employer wants to commence a disciplinary process, or where employment has been terminated) is a complaint from the employer that the employee wasn’t performing to expectations, accompanied by a complaint from the employee that they were working hard but didn’t know what was expected of them, or that they thought they had done an excellent job but the employer never seemed happy. Having clearly defined job descriptions and work objectives helps eliminate this gap — employees know what employers want, can direct their efforts towards those objectives and both parties can measure the outcomes against those objectives.

To ensure this cycle of definition and feedback occurs, clear defined processes also need to be put in place. These might include: requiring that, before any recruitment is undertaken, or any employee is moved into a new role, a job description for that role must be written; defining the processes for performance and goal-setting reviews, while ensuring all employees know they have a right for those processes to be undertaken; and tasking all managers with responsibility for undertaking these processes — as they are not something ‘HR’ should take care of, but are an inherent part of the duties of a manager.

My other recommendations are in the area of remuneration incentives for ICT staff. As I mentioned in my February column, within many organisations ICT is regarded as a ‘black hole, back room’ function, with little attention being paid to aligning ICT with the organisation’s strategic and operational objectives. Much can be done in this area by good communication of these objectives, accompanied with feedback structures giving ICT staff an understanding of the impact of their work on achievement of these objectives, but remuneration-related incentives can also help significantly. If an employee’s key objectives are clearly defined and agreed, then it is not difficult to formulate a bonus plan that is linked to achievement of these objectives. Taking things a step further, it is also worthwhile considering an incentive plan that includes an element linked to overall organ-isational performance.

One remuneration-related tool that is, in my view, insufficiently utilised in New Zealand is the Employee Share Option Plan (ESOP). Implemented correctly, an ESOP gives employees a sense of ownership of the company, a direct financial incentive to work

towards the overall success of the company and, where staged vesting is used, a strong incentive to stay with a company for the longer term.

ESOPs are however becoming more common in start-up companies. With the growth of technology start-ups here CIOs could find if their organisations do not offer a similar type of plan, candidates with skills that can be utilised in start-ups may prefer employment with a start-up. In addition, if you are involved in recruiting overseas, many overseas candidates will be working in environments where ESOPs are common. If you don’t have an ESOP in place, it is definitely worth investigating further.

Averill Dickson is a senior lawyer at Simmonds Stewart, a boutique technology law firm providing corporate and commercial legal services focused on the New Zealand technology sector. With almost 20 years in the technology sector under her belt, Averill has extensive experience advising on the corporate and commercial aspects of technology businesses and transactions. Find out more at or follow her on Twitter @averilldickson.