IT Managers: Responsible Hiring Strategies for Today’s Economy
January 2005 – Katherine Spencer Lee
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The last few years have taught IT managers some hard lessons about staffing effectively. Many of the organizations that ramped up personnel levels during the economic boom of the late ’90s were forced to reduce the size of their technology staff when the tide turned. Hiring freezes were also common as firms struggled to adapt to changing market conditions and leaner budgets.
Now that the business environment is improving, managers are beginning to re-evaluate past strategies and look for ways to make more strategic hiring decisions. Here are some suggestions that can help companies maintain the right number of IT personnel in any economy.
Do the Math
Conduct a formal analysis of your group’s workload trends at least once a year. Look at typical projects and consider how many hours of work are required to complete them each month. Systems maintenance might take 25 hours, software installations and upgrades 40 hours, and so on. Also, think about special initiatives, such as revising the network security plan or implementing a new database, that only occur occasionally.
After totaling all of the anticipated assignments in December, for example, you may find there are 530 hours of work for three technical support and networking professionals. Yet, with everyone working eight hours a day, 20 workdays per month, you have access to only 480 “person hours,” leaving you with a shortfall of 50 hours.
Consider the Options
Certainly no manager wants to be understaffed and unable to meet company expectations. However, before rushing out to hire more full-time IT professionals to fill a gap, make sure the employees are truly needed in the long run. Does your analysis show a consistent pattern of work exceeding available person hours or just a periodic spike in demands? Are there any business factors, such as a potential expansion, that could affect your projections?
A staffing shortfall that is expected to continue year-round signals a need to hire additional full-time personnel. However, if there are regular fluctuations, consider bringing in project IT professionals to provide support only during peak workloads. Employing a flexible strategy that anticipates future needs can save you from overhiring then laying off staff as needs change. You’ll also have the option of evaluating people for potential full-time roles. In a recent Robert Half Technology survey, 63 percent of CIOs said it’s valuable to have a prospective employee work on a project or contract basis before being offered a full-time position.
Fill Needs, not Desks
Some managers make the mistake of automatically refilling vacant positions, rather than considering current and future demands. Before you begin recruiting the same type of candidate for an opening, consider whether a new skill set is required. Your staffing analysis can be particularly valuable in determining what’s needed most. For instance, during the recession, your previous network administrator may have focused more on maintaining existing technology than implementing upgrades and developing strategy. Now that your firm is growing again and launching larger IT initiatives, you may want to hire a full-time replacement with more advanced expertise. It’s also possible that the job responsibilities can be redistributed effectively among existing staff members, or that project professionals can provide the specialized assistance you need.
Keep in mind that the staffing strategy that worked six months ago may not be appropriate today. In a changing economy, workloads can quickly shift from manageable to overwhelming, so reassess your personnel levels frequently to be sure they are appropriate.
Also, ask employees for their feedback. Do they feel there is a need for more full-time staff? If so, in what areas? Is the use of project IT professionals making a difference in their workloads? Or do they find themselves spending an excessive amount of time training others?
Building and maintaining a “right-sized” workforce can be challenging, particularly when business conditions are unpredictable. However, by analyzing your staffing situation on a regular basis and filling targeted needs with a mix of project and full-time employees, you can maintain flexibility and minimize the risk of over- or underhiring. You’ll help your firm stay competitive as well as meet technological demands in the coming year and beyond.
Katherine Spencer Lee is executive director of Robert Half Technology (www.roberthalftechnology.com), a leading provider of IT professionals for various incentives, with more than 100 locations in North America and Europe.