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.