Monday, December 19, 2011

Forming Phase: IT meets HR

Our senior IT directors and I have started regularly scheduled round-table meetings with key university Human Resource leaders.  Our first two meetings have been something like “clearing of the air” meetings, broad discussions about the challenges we face.  We’ve learned some things already.

One of the first things we learned is that our IT leaders and HR leaders have  different perspectives on absence management.  IT leaders view high absenteeism as a disconnect that makes it difficult for an individual to keep up with changing technology and assigned projects.   We look at the outcomes.  Someone who is missing a lot of time misses out on how technology is changing and can’t keep their skills current.  We don’t typically reassign work unless we have a confirmed leave, so projects can get far behind schedule.  We were surprised to learn that our HR organization does not monitor for high absenteeism across the university, and we’ve learned this is something we have to do as directors.  That also means we have to define the level of absenteeism that is disruptive and above average for our organization. 

Our HR department considers scheduled and unscheduled absenteeism a measure to track; when we asked about monitoring, they want us to monitor how often someone calls off at the last minute.  This surprised us, because with project work that spans months, it doesn’t matter if someone calls off at the last minute or if they schedule the time off.   It is the absence that is disruptive, not the type of absence reporting.  It seems that our HR looks at the last-minute disruption as important, because they thought work would need rescheduling.  We had a discussion about how we can’t reschedule the majority of our work given a last minute call-off, as the work is project-based.    And with online calendars, tracking last minute call-offs is problematic.  The result of this discussion is that we are re-thinking how we look at absenteeism in our department and how we want to approach conversations with the employee. 

Another issue where our perspectives differ is employee retention.  I like this short description at BrightHub of an overall view on employee retention: 

We work hard to hire the right people.  We know that potential employees who value balance between work and personal life often like working in the university central IT organization.  Our benefits for managed time-off (vacation, personal, sick) and flexible scheduling are strong recruiting tools.  Employees who value salary above managed time-off will not likely stay working with us over the long term, as our salaries are not competitive with area business.   

We are often surprised when there’s occasional university talk about reducing benefits to be comparable with some  businesses in the area.  In terms of overall compensation, we are competitive, but the balance between salary and benefits is different in our university compared to area business.  If we reduce the benefits and don’t correspondingly increase the salary, we will not be able to attract the IT talent we need for the projects defined by university leadership.

Our university HR discussed retaining solid employees, and particularly engaging in activities to support retention of employees with five years or more seniority.  However, from an IT perspective, five years is an eternity; that’s at least two technology change cycles.  We had churn in about half of our professional positions about a year ago.  We have 40 positions in central IT; of that 40, 20 have been with the university 5 years or less.  Of the remaining 20, 13 have changed responsibilities within the last 5 years.   Much of this churn happened after June 2010.  We agree we want to retain employees, but we'd like to see retention efforts  occur earlier and not five years into employment.

In an earlier blog, I posted about the technology sea change we are observing and the need for technology skill development and retooling to keep current.  We are at a point of investing thousands of dollars into skill and professional development.  If we are going to see return on that investment, we need to keep technically talented staff longer that 3 years.  This can’t be an ad-hoc “lazy-loser” system, where the default retention keeps those too lazy to look for another job or those  too technically out-of-date to find another job.  Our reward mechanisms need to favor those who are enthusiastic about university technology initiatives, adopting and excelling in the technical skill areas that we really need to move university projects forward.  The retention strategy needs to align with supporting technical change.