How to Retain and Improve Your IT Staff Simultaneously

Last week, I talked about how to help retain your IT staff by aligning their personal goals with those of your IT department and the organization as a whole. Now I want to talk about a simple technique that will not only help you retain your best IT engineers and managers, but will also improve them as employees.

That technique? Educate them.

Before you roll your eyes and click to the next tab, hear me out. I’ve been working out in industry for 30 years now, and I’ve observed two major truths: IT workers don’t know enough about the past, and they very much want to learn more about the future. If your firm invests in both directions, you will have more successful projects and more qualified IT engineers and managers.

Curiously, many organizations are very resistant to such efforts. Their usual arguments are that the first effort takes too much time and the second effort just encourages the IT workers to leave. They are quite wrong on both points.

Let’s take the first issue: learning from the past. Philospher George Santayana famously wrote, “Progress, far from consisting in change, depends on retentiveness. . . . Those who will not remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” There are few areas of human endeavor where that is so true as in IT project management.

It is my experience that vast majority (I suspect around 80 to 90 percent) of IT engineers and managers have never read more than one or two (if that many) of what I consider to be the must-read works of IT project management. As a consequence, major IT projects costing millions, hundreds of millions of dollars, or even billions of dollars struggle or fail for reasons that have been well-known and well-documented for decades. Many of these failures were avoidable or could have failed faster – thus costing less money and time – had those on the project actually read some of these books.

So read some of these books as an IT organization. Pick one of them, buy copies for your entire IT staff, and assign everyone to read it during the next month. Then hold a meeting or two to discuss how the book applies to what you’re doing. Repeat.

Frankly, there will likely be upheaval at first, because you’re going to flush out risks and issues that up until now have been swept under the rug. But you will also send a powerful message to your IT staff: that you are serious about IT project management and success.