CIOs Hold the Key to Hanging on to Valued Staff

CIOs Hold the Key to Hanging on to Valued Staff

The top challenges for retaining staff are managing a changing demographic and retaining the cream of a dwindling pool of young staff, while holding on to the older baby boomers

Youthful enthusiasm

"Younger staff especially are passionate about this and coming up with ideas. The IT department has forced its way into meetings and asked 'can we be part of this?' We are a major user and we have to be invited. We have specific people in the roles of environmental manager and energy manager but these are quite traditional, looking at energy bills in swimming pools for example. IT has a new spin on this, for example, we can look at different cooling methods and rather than the traditional 'switch off your PC overnight' we can look at power management when people are away at their desks for meetings."

Dawson believes the CIO must drive the environmental agenda so that their organization is ahead of the rest, if staff is to value its efforts. "We are leading edge in some of the things we are trying to do. We have been working with suppliers. For example, we had 300 to 400 desktops delivered boxed with chipped rubber which we can't recycle, so we said we would prefer to have them sent in recyclable crates.

"We have to try to be the employee of choice in an area where there are a number of large employers including BMW and Novell."

If green issues tick the boxes for the younger Generation Y, Generation X is more likely to stick with an employer that offers flexible and remote working, to maximize use of their time.

CIOs have a role to play in changing the company culture as well as the technology to enable this, according to Gartner's Walker. "The CIO can be a key player in managing the resistance of those who manage by observation -- what they see people do -- and not by objectives -- the results and outcomes of what they do."

Al-Noor Ramji, CIO for BT Group believes enabling remote working has a key role in staff retention. "Our first home worker started in 1986 and we now have 13,700 home workers and 75,000 who are equipped to work flexibly in one way or another. The company offers virtually any combination of working pattern, focusing on business targets rather than location," he says.

Improved staff conditions bring clear benefits to the bottom line: "On average, home workers at BT are 20 per cent more productive and they save BT £6,000 a year each in office and other costs.

Home workers also contribute to the environment through reduced commuting."

Web design company Netcel has had 100 per cent staff retention for four and a half years. Although a small company, its approach to staff retention has been carefully developed and does not include remote working.

Tim Parfitt, managing director, stresses that the initial recruitment is important. "Potential employees must be self motivated and ethical." However, he goes against the current trend for facilitating remote working as a way of keeping staff. "In the early days we had people leave because the distance to work was too great so now we look more locally. We are still very flexible, people will come in late and leave early but we need to have people here at certain times."

Added value

Despite staff working closely, Netcel has effective social networking systems. "We do encourage everyone to share information and knowledge and we have a wiki as part of the intranet so that bits of information can be added quickly. We do have a structured way of storing knowledge of projects as well as this less formal way so that people are not holding onto knowledge to increase their power."

HR professionals are also coming round to social networking as a key component of staff culture. Staff retention issues have been the concern of HR in the past but Deborah Fernon, adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, believes that HR and IT departments have a lot in common and can work together on this issue. "Like CIOs, the ultimate dream of human resources is to play a strategic role in the business to achieve business success. The challenge is managing talent which I am sure is keeping CIOs awake at night too. It is not just an issue for HR," she says.

"In managing the demographic and attracting and retaining people, technology can play a role, for example in corporate responsibility. There is a war on talent. What are people looking for in your brand -- flexible working or offering different and exciting aspects of the business? This is not just about HR. It includes PR, corporate communications and other areas over business. Social networking is a really amazing extension of technology that enables flexible working and helps gain and retain staff. "

BT's Ramji believes that it is important for the CIO to understand what people respond to, and to offer that. "One could assume that pay is what is most important, but the opportunity to work on innovative programs that are intellectually stimulating or that have a huge impact on our lives as well as our work is much more compelling for most," he says.

"We are great proponents of social networking both inside and beyond the organizational boundaries. For example, I believe that we currently have the largest single corporate representation on Facebook."

Employees tend to use social networking informally; the challenge is taking control of it and delivering real improvements on staff culture and communication. "In 2006 we kicked things off in earnest. Up to then there had been pockets of adoption but nothing broad or ordained organizationally. We used that to our advantage and delivered a campaign to promote a revolutionary approach including asking managers to stop responding to individual comments from team members in email -- and to instead only work through a team/project wiki," says Ramji.

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