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Marking Territory—The Professional Way

November 3, 2011
by Bobbie Byrne
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When it comes to IT staff turnover, succession planning is a must—even at the best places to work

Twice in the last six months, I have accepted the resignation of an IT director. In both cases, they liked working at Edward, but had received jobs with a bigger scope, in a bigger organization, for a bigger salary. In addition, both new jobs were also located at hospitals closer to the employee’s home and both people were recruited by individuals whom they had previously known professionally. In these situations, there is really no viable counter-offer. Throwing money at it only delays the situation until the next “bigger” job presents itself.

Andy Eckert, the CEO at Eclipsys during my tenure there, actually encouraged this flavor of turnover. If the organization did not have a place for continued progression of a rock star, he would endorse the individual moving on to a company that did have the growth opportunity. He said a good manager spread his former protégés throughout the industry—just as a dog pees on every tree. I like the concept--though perhaps not the urinary imagery! (That Andy did know how to turn a phrase.)

In my organization, turnover is not seen in such a positive light, and for good reason. It is expensive. The obvious costs are those related to recruiting and orienting the replacement, the replacement’s reduced productivity during the ramp-up period, and the risk that the replacement will not really work out at all. I would also add the “swirl” costs. As valuable and expensive resources wander from cube to cube speculating on the replacement and the new structure, the clock is ticking and real costs can add up.

Everyone’s thoughts immediately go to employee retention—how are we going to prevent the best individuals from following their departed directors? And for sure there is a plan around retention that attempts to address career progression, compensation, job satisfaction and work-life balance.

But in this post-ARRA era, having a retention plan is just the floor. The IT opportunities are opening up fast and furiously. There are 93 hospitals in the Chicago area, and each one of them wants to be a spender of its meaningful use money. An experienced IT professional willing to travel or relocate has a virtually endless list of opportunities.

So now, right behind retention in my HR arsenal is her bigger sister--succession planning. Edward is a very, very nice place to work, and one with a collaborative culture, which often has meant that turnover of all kinds has been low. Some folks have been here so long that the structure has formed around the individual instead of determining the structure first and then putting people into it.

Some of our leadership inside and outside IT will inevitably move on to bigger opportunities. I have to not fear that so much as plan for that eventuality, by increasingly identifying hungry, smart talent, and developing it; by pushing some to accept a bigger role, and then supporting the heck out of them. Come to think of it, maybe that is more like planting trees than peeing on them.