Rewards and recognition
Organizations face a double challenge: How do they keep their IT staff from going off the reservation, while gradually regaining control over the technology they need to run the business? It's not easy.
As the Terry Childs case demonstrated, in many organizations a single person holds the keys to the kingdom -- and may be unwilling to hand them over to someone they deem less competent.
Organizations need to move from a trust-based approach -- where sys admins are expected to wield their enormous powers with restraint -- to a process-based one, says Jeff Nielsen, product manager for Symark, which makes software that enables businesses to document procedures, limit access to sensitive systems and data, and create audit trails.
If IT admins have business reasons to access sensitive data, they can fill out requests stating their business reasons, Nielsen says. "Depending on the organization's approval process, the admins can get the password immediately or wait for approval from a supervisor, then do the work."
Nielsen admits this may be seen by IT personnel as adding delays and unnecessary bureaucracy to an already arduous process. Worse, job security in IT is often tied directly to a geek's intimate knowledge of what makes the systems tick. Once the processes are well documented, the company may decide that position is no longer essential. It's a catch-22 that's not going away soon.
Another way to keep your geeks from wreaking havoc is to stop treating them like a commodity, says Roy Saunderson, president of the Recognition Management Institute.
"Look at how most companies recruit," he says. "They need to understand they're not just hiring a body; they're getting significant expertise and talent for a job that can't be done by just anybody. They need to do a better job of coming up with rewards packages that are unique to the qualifications and expertise they're hiring."
Dialog is also key, says Saunderson. The business side needs to understand IT's needs and communicate how IT contributes to the company's success.
"I was talking to one company that surveyed its employees recently and discovered IT was not too happy. The senior leaders said, 'Whoa, we never intended this.' They opened up a dialog with IT, said, 'You're right, we're wrong. Here are some things we'll start doing based on your input.'"
And if management won't listen, techies with in-demand skill sets can vote with their feet and find employers that speak their language, says Geek.com's Joel Evans. Startups and other tech-driven companies tend to understand geeks and value their input more than other vertical industries.
"It has to do with recognition more than anything," says Evans. "Sometimes all someone wants is to hear is 'Hey Terry, thanks for building us such a great network.' It doesn't even have to be public -- geeks just want to know their work is appreciated."
For example, three years ago, worldwide IT services provider Dimension Data realized it needed to recognize and reward its technical people as well as it does other employees, says Denise Messineo, senior vice president of HR for the company's North American division.
The company issued laptops with Webcams, so more of its outbound consulting force could teleconference into meetings, saving travel time. It offered more flexible work schedules and time off for training, so techies could keep their skills current. It opened its annual sales conference up to all employees and launched a marketing video that shows off the cool technology techies have created. Next year, the company plans to launch a technology "hall of fame" to honor longtime IT employees.
"When you think of any kind of recognition program for employees, you need to think first of your technical people, because they truly are the heartbeat of the organization," says Messineo. "If your systems go down, everyone's productivity stops. It's the same as if the electricity goes off. If you take care of IT first, everything else will fall into place."