Wanna Keep Your IT Pros? Cut the Management Bull

FRAMINGHAM (04/24/2000) - Good Lord! According to a recent Associated Press story, even Microsoft Corp. is having trouble attracting top programmers, as the scarcity of IT talent reaches truly epic proportions. Statistics indicate there are well over 200,000 IT job openings in the U.S. but only about 25,000 new college graduates available each year to fill them.

Under the circumstances, most IT managers want to do everything possible to keep employees happy. Luckily, retention doesn't have to cost an arm and a leg because - contrary to popular belief - a high salary is overrated as an incentive to stay put. According to a recent study by management consulting firm Hewitt Associates, IT professionals are often motivated to stay simply because they enjoy their work.

The study identified several job characteristics that keep the grass from looking greener elsewhere, including the opportunity to learn and use new technical skills, a positive work environment, the ability to start and finish a project and the ability to make decisions. This isn't brain surgery, folks.

Everybody knows that creative technical people are happiest when their jobs are interesting and they have a bigger say in decisions that will affect them and their careers.

But there's another side to the equation. It isn't just the challenge that keeps top techies in their seats, it's the lack of the typical corporate bull.

While the Hewitt study revealed that a majority of IT professionals who leave their jobs do so for promotions, more than half also said a major factor in their decisions to leave was the work environment. To put it in plain business English: If you want to keep your best people, you've got to cut the bull.

There are thousands of real-world IT organizations that are being overmanaged to the point where it's a miracle anyone is still working at any of them. You know what I'm talking about: Projects with a manager, a project manager, a product manager, a supervisor, a systems architect and a couple of coders, both of whom are secretly polishing their résumés because they're sick of all these managers telling them what to do.

And how about companies that trot out a new management fad every year? As one IT professional put it: "We've been reorganized, restructured, re-engineered, rightsized, downsized, upsized, TQMed and MBOed, and if I hear the word empowered once more, I swear I'm gonna scream."

There are even some companies that still require engineers to wear ties. If you want to keep your IT staff happy, let them set their own hours, dress in whatever way they feel comfortable, decorate their work areas as creatively as they like and even play computer games, as long as they're delivering their projects on time and on budget.

Sure, it's a big change from the way things used to be. The employees have the upper hand, and I hardly know an IT manager who doesn't quake in his boots every time a key player makes a few disgruntled noises about hitting the road for greener pastures. It probably makes a few traditional managers wish for a return to the bad old days of high-tech-layoffs-aplenty, when the shoe was on the other foot. Dream on.

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