The care and feeding of IT hires: Page 2

Posted February 1, 1999

Mary Brandel

(Page 2 of 2)

Keeping the magic alive

So, you've got to make the honeymoon last a full year. But how? Maybe, HR specialist Keever says, companies should start hiring directors of retention, in addition to directors of recruitment. If the former were a position, she says, it should focus on two areas: new-hire procedures and nurturing new hires throughout the first year.

Questions new hires would love to be asked

Are you comfortable with your team and your manager?
Have you run into any surprises or disappointments with the company?
Are there any small things about your surroundings that you'd like to change--such as the dress code, better recreational areas, more comfortable meeting rooms?
Are you stimulated by your work?
Do you feel vital to the outcome of the project?
Are you able to tap into your creativity?
"From the time an employee signs that acceptance letter, buyer's remorse sets in," Keever says. Perhaps the new hire had other offers and is wondering whether he or she made the right choice. It's natural, too, to agonize over what "might have been," had you waited. So, Keever advises, until their first day on the job, keep in touch with new hires by calling them or dropping them a note. And once they're on board, the HR department should also remind managers to make sure new employees get business cards, a desk assignment, a telephone extension, a computer, and a network connection.

Orientation is also crucial, but it should be more than a paperwork festival. One company, Keever says, holds an orientation session specifically for the new employees in each manager's group. "They review things like the likes and dislikes of the particular manager," she says.

But "it's not always what you do--it's how you make them feel," Keever says. That's where nurturing comes in. So when recent recruits finish a particularly difficult job, give them movie tickets or a night on the town. Or interview them periodically, asking probing questions as to whether they feel like part of the organization. (See box, "Questions new hires would love to be asked")

For instance, you might ask if they're comfortable with their team and their manager, or if they've run into any surprises or disappointments with the company. Surveys find atmosphere is very important to technical workers, so you might ask them if there are small things they'd like to change, such as dress code, better recreational areas and more comfortable meeting rooms. Perhaps you can't paint their cubicle walls bright orange, but airing employee's preferences and showing a willingness to address them can go a long way.

Another important area for technical specialists concerns how stimulating they find their work. So ask about current projects--do the employees feel vital to the outcome of the project, and are they able to tap into their creativity?

Talking it out

Capturing loyalty through mentors

Mentoring programs are all the rage in these days of high turnover. Companies are catching on to the fact that teaming an experienced employee with a new hire is a good way to capture loyalty. Whether it's through a formal program or a more casual buddy system, new hires need someone to show them the ropes, from where the fax machine is to who has political clout.

What's not so popular is rewarding or at least recognizing the time commitment required to be a mentor. "The biggest complaint we hear is managers who devote their time to mentoring but get no recognition for it," says Sue Keever, president of The Keever Group, a Dallas-based human resources consulting firm.

The time commitment might be two hours a month, she says, but considering the high cost of replacing a worker ($8,000 to $20,000), that 24 hours per year deserves to be acknowledged.

At Fleet Technology Solutions, part of the Fleet Financial Group of Boston, new IT employees attend meetings where they can talk about the positives and negatives of their first few weeks on the job, according to Dennis Rygwalski, the group's executive vice president.

One way or another, says advisor Foote, you have to make the first few weeks and months distinctive for new hires. "In the beginning, either assign them a mentor or someone to watch over them," he says. (See sidebar, "Capturing loyalty.") "Or put them on a project immediately and immerse them in the business."

Some companies even start up boot camps, which are weeks-long, intensive training sessions intended to immerse new hires in corporate culture and processes (see the January 1999 column: "IT staff goes back to bootcamp").

Another suggestion is to view the company through the eyes of recruits. Keep your ear to the ground, Foote advises, through surveys and informal conversations with people in their first year. Be sure to ask "What kinds of things could have been done or what experiences have their friends had for a sense of belonging?" he says.

All of this may seem like an awful lot of work after the up-front costs of hiring. However, the payback can be great, even if you only extend tenures for another 12 months. "If you keep them happy and paid fairly, they can really blossom," Foote says. "You don't want the blossom to fall off the rose." //

Mary Brandel is a freelance writer in Norfolk, Mass., specializing in business applications of technology. She can be reached at brandel@cwix.com.

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