by Andy Doyle

Today’s Environment

Most IT organizations perform regular reviews of their strategies—assessing business requirements, the application landscape, and infrastructure needs. Unfortunately, not all IT organizations develop a comprehensive staffing strategy to align with their technology or corporate strategies. As IT teams face accelerating change and competition for talent, a staffing strategy can propel the organization to new success.

Point B’s Perspective

Staffing strategies are just as challenging as technology strategies; what works today may be quickly outdated. Increasing competitive demands and rapidly changing IT realities require IT organizations to regularly review current staff, near-term talent requirements, and long-term strategic needs. We suggest organizations take the following strategic actions to help ensure strong, sustainable IT staffing:

Consider a team culture strategy.

Sometimes a corporate culture is too broad to serve the needs of the IT organization. As a result, some IT groups establish their own cultures and values in concert with the broader corporate culture.

High-performing IT organizations are often highly innovative and collaborative. They strive for continuous improvement. They don’t put up with common IT staffing challenges such as heroes or single points of failure, and they’re better able to avoid burnout. With their own strong IT team culture, they’re better able to attract great people—and keep them.

Align leadership strategy with the times.

Finding great IT leaders is tough and getting tougher. The best bring a mix of technical understanding, leadership skills and aptitude for change.

Complex relationships across IT organizations—including architecture, application development and infrastructure support—make the overall team dynamic an important but often overlooked factor in promotions and leadership development. Coaching, team building and leadership development help ensure these relationships are developed positively along with instilling the team culture in new leaders.

As IT and business transformations are the new normal, leadership must be able to adapt and guide others through the ups and downs. A leader who is comfortable with change can more easily guide the team through it.

Partner with human resources on IT staffing challenges.

Any staffing strategy requires HR’s cooperation and support. While it’s common to include HR in staffing discussions, the focus tends to be on tactical requirements rather than mid- to long-term strategy.

In general, policies concerning salary, salary increases, job descriptions and training payback aren’t keeping up with the broader IT market. For example, if an organization promotes internally and invests heavily in team members, those members’ market value increases dramatically. If a company doesn’t keep up with market salaries, it’s more difficult to retain high-performing talent. Corporate training payback programs may also require evaluation, as the financial cost of those programs often doesn’t reflect the value of the training program to the individual.

Because technology moves fast, IT job descriptions and market salary comparisons can quickly become stale. HR departments that benchmark salaries may experience mismatches in job descriptions and titles or salaries that no longer match the needs of the IT organization. A recent example is the relatively new role of virtualization specialist, who often warrants a high salary in the market. New roles often lack the industry job descriptions or salary benchmarks that are helpful to HR. These are complex issues that require ongoing cooperation and collaboration between IT and HR.

Hone your recruiting and retention strategy.

Many IT organizations struggle to find and keep the right people. Working with HR, an IT organization can develop a recruitment and retention strategy as part of its overall staffing strategy.

Some companies evaluate candidates less on technical skills and more on their ability to pick up complex concepts. A baseline of IT knowledge is key, but so is the motivation and aptitude to learn. A training regimen can help develop those new hires based on the organization’s requirements. It takes a collaborative and highly experienced existing talent pool to transfer knowledge and provide wisdom.

A similar strategy can be applied to existing staff members. By evaluating their attitudes, aptitudes and technical skills, an IT organization can develop a training regimen to improve the performance of the current team. This analysis and training must evolve with changing technology and business requirements. Some staff members may not be able to grow into the team’s evolving requirements. These situations are especially challenging for senior engineers and administrators who no longer qualify at the senior levels and lack the attitude or aptitude to step up to new measures of performance.

Make sure your structure supports the team.

Over the last 20 years, organizations shifted from broad knowledge into more siloed technology departments. Now, with convergence and increasing technological complexities, some are returning to breadth, or matrix, organizational models—reducing silos and requiring broader knowledge from most staff members. Some companies have established technology delivery teams—consolidated infrastructure, application development and support teams focused on a subset of the overall IT application suite.

Ensure your training strategic, too.

Most IT staff training focuses on technical training, which is often buried in a large hardware or software purchase and focused on vendor-specific processes, functions and technical aspects. What’s missing from such training is the context: How does the product fit into the broader IT landscape, integrate with other products and benefit the company? Without this context, the staff has a myopic perspective and product skills. This type of limited training perpetuates the problems of compartmentalized IT organizations.

When IT organizations focus on vendor-specific training, they lose sight of broader technology trends. They may also miss how new technologies can be deployed to proactively solve business issues. Training programs that mix tactical technology needs along with broader, more strategic training programs can result in more rounded skill sets.

The Bottom Line

The pace of change requires IT organizations to proactively partner with HR in to develop winning staffing strategies. By establishing a comprehensive staffing strategy that aligns with technology, cultural and leadership responsibilities, an IT organization can better adapt to change and create a culture that attracts and retains high-quality talent.