Monday, July 6, 2015

Myth #2 - Great IT Talent is Easily Found or Replaced

This installment is the second in my series of the "Most Dangerous Myths Businesses Have About IT".

As I touched on with my first myth, it is not easy for people outside of IT to understand just how their company's technology and software work.  To be completely fair, it is also difficult for IT professionals to gain knowledge outside of their specific domain.  More specifically, it would be quite unlikely to see a networking specialist have much skill in database administration.  Conversely, you would be hard pressed to find an ERP functional specialist have any abilities whatsoever to configure a firewall.

These examples bring us to our first point.

Because the components of IT are hard to understand you can imagine how difficult it is to properly scope a job description.  Without listing the important components of the required job or having a way to describe how the position is attractive to potential candidates, it is very difficult to even begin the hiring process.

Many process-based approaches to problem solving are based on an assumption that, in order to reach a solution, the problem must be well defined.  When trying to solve the problem of recruiting great IT talent, having a less-than-thorough understanding of the requirements is not a recipe for success.

     Most companies struggle to attract great IT talent because they cannot accurately define the qualities that they are seeking

Now on to the second point.

Not everything is as it appears.  There are so many resource writing guides and keywords from which to choose that it is relatively easy for candidates to create a glowing resume.  Say that the job description for the candidate search is well crafted and appropriate for the position.  The end result will most likely manifest in a large number of resumes pouring in.  For certain companies, a single job posting can generate hundreds of resume submittals.  Quite a few of these resumes will look very attractive, at least on paper.  So the question then becomes one of finding the most qualified candidates from the entire pool of resumes.  A behavioral interview can help determine "cultural fit", but it does nothing to assess the actual skills a person possesses for the role.

Unless the position is purely management or "people facing", the individual's skills must be evaluated against the requirements of the job.  How many companies do you (the reader) know that have the ability to do role-based assessments that are comprehensive enough to determine the level of technical fit?  In my experience it is quite rare for finalist candidates to receive a truly comprehensive assessment of the important, job specific skills.  When I see failed hires, many times it was because the person talked a great game but could not perform at the proper level after being hired.

On to the final point.

After about 20 years of experience within information technology, I've become a firm believer that the vast amount of productive work, or the work that is meaningful to the organization, comes from about 15-20% of total IT staff.  To quantify, for every 100 IT workers in your firm, the bulk of the productivity you receive is generated from about 15-20 people.

There is nothing wrong with having average employees.  They are the individuals that (mostly) do the work which is required to keep operations running.  However, these are not the people who can innovate or further increase the value of IT in a way that makes a company more profitable.  Some managers try to compensate, when they don't have top performers, by hiring a lot more average player.  That never, ever works.  The lifeblood of an excellent IT organization is the group of top performers.  They are the "go-to" resources whenever a problem is not routine or average.  If you have them, great, but if you don't it's likely your firm employs a large number of contractors.

Think about what I'm saying in terms of this graph.  Most of the IT resources you have/hire (without utilizing the principles outlined in "The Talent Triangle") will be average.  Yet in order to have IT services that are valuable to the company today and tomorrow, you need those 15% on the right end of the curve.

The problem with getting that elusive 15% to come to your company is several fold.  First, they are going to be quite expensive.  Then, because they are so talented it's likely that the companies that they are servicing are not going to make it easy for you to lure them away.  Many of these superstars already recognize what they are worth and have gone into consulting.  After all, why work for $100,000/year when you can consult, on your own terms, and make 2x-5x that amount?

IT talent is always available, just not the kind that you really want.  One of the traps companies fall into most often, especially when they already have these excellent resources on staff, is that they are easy to find on the open market.  Of course this leads to a belief that there is no need to take special steps to ensure that the great IT talent already in-house requires no special treatment.  After all, if that talent was to leave it could be quickly and easily replaced.  SO MANY companies only learn after the fact how wrong these beliefs turn out to be.

The best cure for regret is to understand how to avoid it in the first place.

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