Winning the Talent Wars

Larry Bonfante, Founder, CIO Bench Coach | 12/17/2012 | 60 comments

Larry Bonfante
It is my firm belief that the only long-term, competitive advantage any company can have is the talents and passion of its people. People are truly the most important asset an organization has. Yet many companies don't make a concerted effort to make sure their people feel valued. This is a huge mistake with major consequences.

My company, the USTA, is a not-for-profit organization in Westchester County, N.Y. From my office window, I can throw a stone and hit Avon, Pepsi, IBM, Starwoods, and ITT, just to name a few of the Fortune 500 companies in our neighborhood. All of these companies can pay my people more than I can for the same job. Yet, in the almost 11 years that I've been at the USTA, we've only lost one employee who we wanted to keep. How have we accomplished such a great retention rate?

First of all, we have worked hard to develop a team culture. People feel a part of something bigger than themselves. We have tried to develop an esprit de corps where people enjoy the work they do, and perhaps more importantly, the people they work with, to accomplish their jobs. We have also tried to help people connect the dots between what they do and the mission of the organization. Therefore, our DBA isn't working with SQL server; he's helping to grow tennis participation in the United States.

We've also empowered people to do as much as they can. We don't limit employees' contributions to their job descriptions. We try to find new ways that people can innovate and contribute. When we decided to investigate cloud computing a few years back, we had an application developer assemble a cross-functional team to look at the opportunity and recommend what we should do as an organization.

This was outside of their day-to-day responsibilities, and they learned a lot about a new technology. The bottom line was they made a recommendation that allowed us to save 70 percent on hosting our back-end systems. It was a huge win for the organization, but also very rewarding for the people involved. (By the way, the one person we did lose was the guy who led this team. Amazon was so impressed with him that they offered him 50 percent more than we were paying him!)

We also get our people involved in projects outside of IT. Two of my senior staff led major volunteer task forces last year, and one of my people is the program manager for the most important business imitative the association currently has under way. All of these people are being stretched and doing more than just contributing to the IT team. They are helping to drive tangible change for our business.

We also try to make sure our people get recognized for their accomplishments. I don't believe in a system where one employee is more important than the rest. I always tell my team that we are peers and colleagues. They can and do approach me as a member of their team, not as "the boss." They know and I know that any success we've had is due to the contributions of the team. When we won the CIO 100 award last year, we celebrated it as a team award, not as recognition of one person's leadership.

My mantra is that success is a team sport. That's how we play the game and that's how we've developed a culture where people feel good about the work they do, the contributions they make, and the dynamic we've developed.

What do you do to ensure that you are retaining your high performers? I'd be interested to learn about your best-practices.

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mejiac   Winning the Talent Wars   1/4/2013 12:05:11 PM
Re: Team Sport
@tinym,

Agreed.

I wonder if companies like RIM and Nokia went through a recent wave of culture and upper management changes? (only asking since there is no hype regarding the new BB 10 phones, which doesn't send the right message)
tinym   Winning the Talent Wars   1/3/2013 10:06:36 PM
Re: Team Sport
You're so right about team culture and change! Upper management needs to know there's a problem with the culture before anything can change. Aside from that, upper management must also be willing to change if they are part of the cause.
SaneIT   Winning the Talent Wars   1/2/2013 7:16:58 AM
Re: there is more than monetary gain
It shows a bit of a failure on both sides, the company isn't making sure that talents are used and the employee is letting their skills go to waste.  I think right now part of the reason people aren't moving is the job market is tighter than it has been in the past, maybe when the economy picks up again we'll see a lot of job hopping.
tinym   Winning the Talent Wars   1/1/2013 6:29:34 PM
Re: there is more than monetary gain
@SaneIT That's a great question. I wonder what motivates bad managers to keep going if they believe there's nothing they can do to change workplace attitudes. They don't care all that much but still don't leave for something more meaningful...it's crazy.
mejiac   Winning the Talent Wars   12/31/2012 2:04:47 PM
Re: Team Sport
"we have worked hard to develop a team culture."... I think this is key...having an organizational culture that nutures a good work environment.

But let's be honest, this isn't easy to accomplish, only because when you look at companies that have been doing thinkgs a certain way for over 20 years, trying to implement a change takes a great deal of time and effort.... but if you start slowly, eventually you'll get there.

Also, the correct mindset has to come from the top, otherwise it's not worith the effort if Upper Management doesn't take a lead role.
SaneIT   Winning the Talent Wars   12/28/2012 9:09:00 AM
Re: there is more than monetary gain
@  Hospice_Houngbo, I agree with you to a point but what if there is no career growth?  Should you stay at a job where you'll never move ahead no matter how much effort you put in? I think when you get stuck in a rut like that you tend to slow down and stop trying as hard.  That's not good for either side, you get miserable and the company slowly loses productivity.
SaneIT   Winning the Talent Wars   12/28/2012 8:48:29 AM
Re: there is more than monetary gain
That's true I find that with bad upper management that disenchanted workers only make the problem worse.  Management will use every complaint as a proof that no one can be satisfied and that everyone is just going to complain no matter what they do.  It makes me wonder how some of these people got to the positions that they have and why they bother keeping it.
tinym   Winning the Talent Wars   12/27/2012 5:45:37 PM
Re: there is more than monetary gain
@AngelFuego That's a really unfortunate story about your friend. Falsely advertising pay rates and requiring a degree for a minimum wage job crosses so many lines. I hope she got a suitable job after that unfortunate event.
tinym   Winning the Talent Wars   12/27/2012 5:42:11 PM
Re: there is more than monetary gain
@SaneIT I'm glad to read the choice has turned out well. It makes a huge difference to have management involved in change even if that change is slow. Complete apathy from upper management is hard to fix from below.
tinym   Winning the Talent Wars   12/27/2012 5:38:03 PM
Re: there is more than monetary gain
@Broadway unfortunately, that's the case.
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