Guest column: The war for IT talent is quieter but not over

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Guest column: The war for IT talent is quieter but not over

Four focus areas to prepare the IT workforce for the upturn.

 By Grant Barker, Lead Executive, IT Strategy & Transformation, Accenture Australia

 Is your IT staff staying on board because they like their job or because they feel little choice?

The answer to this question is a vital one for those IT leaders looking to position themselves for growth when better times return.

It will be vitally important to have in place an organisation - capabilities, talent, leadership and culture - that is prepared and agile enough to execute in new ways when new opportunities emerge.

In the current environment, key stakeholders in most organisations are expecting change, and probably even supporting it, so it is important to seize the opportunity and not let it go to waste.

Here are four focus areas for preparing your IT workforce:

1.      Create a more engaged IT workforce and management team

This focus area is probably the one that needs the most urgent attention in most IT organisations.

It should be highlighted that low attrition rates don't equate to good engagement and the current environment can and does lull IT organisations into a false sense of security.

Accenture's 2008 study of approximately 3,000 middle managers[1] around the world found that the majority of these managers were staying with their current employers only because they felt they had little choice.

Some 60 per cent of those surveyed said they would consider a new job but are not actively looking given current market conditions.

Research has shown that there are three key elements to improving the engagement and productivity of the IT workforce[2]. These are relevant at any time, but especially at this point in the economic cycle:

  • Build a culture of trust and respect for the individual. People are four times more likely to be highly engaged when leaders behave in trustworthy and predictable ways, and when they nurture a culture of trust within the organisation. An attention to trust is especially critical in times of uncertainty and change, especially in the wake of workforce cuts which often breed insecurity and even "survivor's guilt".
  • Create meaningful work and career opportunities. The research found that 72 per cent of people who believe that the objectives of their work are worthwhile and significant are engaged, whereas only 24 per cent of employees who see little significance in their work are engaged.
  • Support employees with work, as well as with work/life balance. Employees who reported that they had the resources they needed to do their jobs effectively-including skills, information, experts, technology and tools - were nine times more likely to be highly engaged than those lacking such resources.

By cultivating these three conditions, companies can help create a more engaged and agile workforce - inspiring employees to help the organisation thrive and be better positioned for the upturn.

2.      Reposition the IT workforce

The current recession has resulted in the need for workforce reductions for most organisations - exposing the fact that many organisations do not have a sufficiently detailed understanding of their IT workforce capabilities. Many companies cannot readily answer questions such as:

  • What are the IT skills and capabilities the organisation needs?
  • Where do the gaps exist?
  • Who are the strongest, most strategic performers?

Comprehensive IT workforce planning is needed. An analysis of the capabilities needed versus those you have. With that knowledge, you can then pursue skills, retooling and sourcing models needed to outperform in the upturn.

3.      Create a more collaborative and innovative culture

Many companies' structural problems (from an organisational perspective) have had a harsh spotlight shone on them during the downturn. The silos that too often exist become exaggerated as executives and managers often try to protect their turf. Talent, ideas, methods, best-practices, etc. are not adequately shared, so efficiency and effectiveness are lost.

It is critical that tools and mechanisms be put in place to connect people and ideas. Collaboration through knowledge sharing and teaming helps to generate higher levels of performance and is vital to being able to innovate and adapt.

4.      Develop a new generation of "crisis" toughened IT leadership

The economic crisis is putting IT executives and managers to the test under exceedingly stressful conditions. The result is that this generation of IT leaders, as well as those who will become the next generation, may never have better conditions under which to test and improve their leadership skills and knowledge.

As companies begin to plot their best strategic course as the economy begins to turn around, the ability to be agile will become increasingly critical. We've found through our research and work with global companies that one of the defining characteristics of high performance is the ability to turn ideas into rapid execution. Critical to that ability will be an engaged, skilled and strategically aligned IT workforce.

As IT organisations move from downturn management to preparing to come out stronger for growth, the agility, innovative ability and skills of their people will be decisive in separating the winners from the losers.

The war for IT talent has only had a brief lull in the level of combat.


[1] Accenture 2008 Middle Managers Study

[2] Accenture Institute for High Performance Research


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