Seeding your IT ataff

We're hearing the words economic recovery a lot now. It could be optimism fueled by upbeat economic indicators, or the enthusiasm of spring after the end of a restless winter. Still, real job growth traditionally trails economic growth, and economists are pointedly refusing to predict when profits might cascade into corporate budgets and allow IT to resume hiring in earnest.

That will happen eventually, but as any good gardener will tell you, preparing for the harvest begins long before the seeds are planted.

There's a problem, however. Months of belt-tightening and fanatically focusing on ROI, benchmarking and cost-benefit analyses have diverted IT leaders' attention from vital things they do to build effective, content workforces. These include things like spotting and nurturing leadership skills; setting vision, direction and strategies for establishing the right IT culture; and aligning and motivating people for the formidable task of delivering shareholder value. Achieving those objectives not mindlessly following CFO dictates to reduce costs is what successful leaders are most remembered for.

IT decision-makers need to be concerned right now about workforce issues in order to capitalize on bountiful times ahead. These three areas need particularly close attention:

An aggressive, well-conceived retention strategy. "You Inc.," the free-agency attitude that mocked loyalty and fueled talent bidding wars a scant few years ago, became "You Stink" when compulsive job-hoppers began to outnumber good jobs. With jobs hard to come by, workers now seem ready to settle down.

But you can't attract and retain the cream of the crop in this buyer's market with below-market pay or stingy benefits packages. And even in a rotten economy, your stars the roughly 20 percent of your people you can't afford to lose can always go elsewhere.

Building loyalty requires a thoughtful, well-executed retention strategy and a willingness to listen and continually recalibrate. Ask workers regularly for their ideas about their work and workplace; share information that had previously been held closely; give them coaching, mentoring and training; help them plan their careers; and do everything possible to build a sense of community.

Security staffing, the sleeping giant. Security is quickly ascending the CEO's short list of critical "to-do's." Many companies appear unprepared for the hiring explosion in security that I predict will begin in the first half of next year. It's not new, "niche" technical skills that are causing alarm, but the absence of experienced, business-savvy, technologically astute security professionals who are able to negotiate through political minefields to build key business alliances and confidence about security operations.

Boards of directors fear high-profile Web attacks and privacy breaches that can damage reputations and impair revenue generation. But most firms lack dedicated security departments, and their fragmented approaches to security will soon be overwhelmed by the complexity of necessary security services.

The immature infosec service provider community will offer only some relief. Executives in charge of large information security departments fret that even their budgets are too constrained to recruit expert talent and that layoffs have weakened them. The solution? A persuasive marketing campaign led by a team of IT and business unit leaders, plus outside consultants to package, "brand" and sell a security strategy to the CEO to obtain financial commitments. Then you must recruit aggressively and deftly project-manage the solution, using an extraordinary customer focus and careful, methodical approaches to mitigate risks.

The power of process. This recession has taught us that discipline and attention to process will produce results, and they're key to repeating what works. But you must document processes that produce success so they can be taught to others, and then use those processes, such as enterprise project management and balanced scorecard approaches, to build corporate culture.

Do these things today and you may come out of the recession with a far stronger workforce than you had before. Remember that you're in a position of power in a rich and hungry talent pool, but you've got to go after the resources you need now.

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