The secret to being the best work place

Either you get it or you don't. That's the open secret about the Best Places to Work in IT. Either you understand that being a great place to work is a competitive business advantage or you still think it's a luxury your company can't afford in a competitive business world.

If you're nodding your head right now, you get it. If you're about to turn the page or go to another web site, hold on. You still have a chance to figure out the secret.

Here's a hint: It's not really about what you do for your IT workers. It's about what they do for the business -- and why.

Chances are, you think the way to create a great place to work is to make your employees happy. You also think the best way to make employees happy is to reward them generously. That means a hefty salary, a good benefits package, maybe profit sharing or even stock options. That can get expensive, but it's necessary if you want to compete for the best IT talent.

In other words, you believe IT workers' satisfaction carries a cost that you'll get some benefit from. That's perfectly logical. But it's a gamble, not a secret to success.

And it's no sure thing. All that cost is just wasted if your IT people can't wait to get out the door at the end of the day. If your IT shop is merely a lucrative place to have a job, not truly a great place to work, that gamble will never pay off.

See, you're thinking about it backward. Don't start with the cost. Begin by considering something that always tops the list of what we're supposed to be doing: aligning IT with the business.

How do you achieve that? It's not enough to do ROI calculations and get business sponsors for every IT project. No, the way you line up IT with the business is by making sure your IT people are lined up with the business.

They have to see what the business does in order to make sure the systems they produce and run really meet business needs. And to do that, they've got to watch users solving business problems, listen to salespeople dealing with customers and understand how the products move and where the money comes from.

If you can show them that -- find ways to get them connected to the business, committed to the business -- they'll no longer think of themselves as just being in IT. They'll be in insurance or banking, retail or manufacturing, pharma or transportation, or whatever industry your company is in.

That's when they stop struggling against the incomprehensible demands of those @#$%! business-side people and start meeting and even anticipating those business needs.

When IT people are engaged with the business, when they see how it fits together and recognize that they're not just slinging code and stringing wires but making a real impact -- that's when they're not just working to succeed at IT projects. They're working to succeed at business.

And when it all makes sense, when IT people know they're making business happen, they're a lot more satisfied. And that makes their IT shop a great place to work -- at the same time they're turning IT into a value generator in the business, not just a cost center.

Now that's a competitive advantage.

The salaries, the perks, the benefits, the flextime, the training, the opportunities -- yeah, you need all those. And when IT is delivering the goods because IT's people are tightly aligned with the business, it's not hard to make the case that these aren't luxuries. They're just good support for people who are driving success in the business.

That's the secret. Get it? Good. Now help yourself to the ideas from this year's Best Places to Work in IT. They're not just tips on which benefits 27,000 IT people like best. They're also ways of engaging IT people with the business so they like their jobs, too. Just remember: This isn't about doing things to make your IT people happy.

It's about creating a place where IT people are happy making your business a success.

Frank Hayes, Computerworld's senior news columnist, has covered IT for more than 20 years. Contact him at

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