Tuesday, July 1, 2008

CIO 2.0: Hiring and Retaining Great People

My colleagues at CHIME are sponsoring a series of lectures and education sessions to explore the changing responsibilities of the CIO in healthcare. One of those areas of change involves the way we recruit and retain great IT professionals in an increasingly competitive hiring market.

CIO’s in healthcare must start seeing ourselves in a competitive hiring market which extends beyond the boundaries of healthcare. Right now, and for the foreseeable future, the best IT talent is generally not attracted to healthcare. I am enormously grateful to say that we are a small exception to that trend at NMFF-- we’ve managed to put together a team of IT professionals which has the potential to be among the best I’ve ever worked with in any industry. So, my present team excepted, the best IT talent in the world is currently attracted to the pure eBusiness companies like Amazon and Google, and the gaming industry. If we want to be the best, we have to compete with the best.

Here are a few thoughts about competing for this IT talent, now and in the future, all of which I learned working for my Dad, bucking endless fields of 80-lb alfalfa hay bales at 7,000 feet elevation in the thin air and hot sun of southwest Colorado. Talk about a tight labor market. Try hiring and retaining people for that environment. :)

He paid well: My Dad paid more than the farmer down the road; Not much more, but enough to attract a slightly better worker. Healthcare IT leaders always surrender to the notion that “We’ll never be able to pay as much as [fill in the blank with another industry].” But, as long as we accept that notion and manage our budgets and staff in that fashion, such will always be the truth. Younger generation IT professionals are motivated more by money than their more altruistic forefathers. In short: You get what you pay for, and today, nobody works for charity. Money matters when you want talented employees.

He provided lunch: Not a big deal—it didn’t cost Dad much money—but it was an important perception of value to those of us who worked for him. It also kept us physically energized and prepared for the afternoon’s work. Also, he recognized that serving a healthy lunch on-site was a much more efficient use of time. CIO’s need to “provide lunch” for their staff in whatever form, either symbolically or tangibly. Judy Falkner at Epic gets this. Steve Jobs at Apple gets this.

He made us laugh: Dad was constantly joking around, poking good humored fun at each one of us. Laughing under those conditions is not naturally easy—bucking hay can be brutally uncomfortable—but he knew that the best way to distract us from the discomfort was to tickle the funny bone. CIOs in healthcare need to lighten up a bit, take themselves less seriously, and cultivate a cultural sense of humor that aligns with the new generation of IT professionals. CIOs of the future need to contribute to the Laugh Metric.

He paid a productivity bonus: We were paid hourly, but we benefited if we finished early. Rewarding productivity is essential to the future skilled worker, and healthcare is the worst industry I’ve ever been around for failing to recognize and pass the financial benefits of productivity down to the lowest levels of the organization. And, those bonuses need to be paid immediately after the good deed. Basic Skinner psychology there. It’s a very frustrating part of my career in the business, actually, and I believe one of the reasons that healthcare is still so terribly inefficient—the front line workers are not a part of the financial incentive program to achieve greater efficiency. Toyota gets it.

He bought the beer: When the hay was “in the barn”, Dad would always let us celebrate by having a beer—a single beer each-- even though we were all under legal age. Terribly politically incorrect, wasn’t it? Too bad we’ve bleached that sense of harmless fun from our society. At that time in America, nothing was more “cool” than having a beer in that setting with your Dad and/or boss—it was a coming of age….a redneck bar mitzvah… a ritual of healthy masculinity. CIOs in healthcare need to find a similar way to bind themselves socially to their teams. Again, the modern IT workforce expects it. Friday Beer Days are notorious at Google.

Here are some other important lessons I learned over the years and try to practice which I think help attract and retain great IT professionals:

Proactive salary management: None of my employees should ever have to ask for a pay raise. I should pay them well, proactively, and expect them to perform accordingly. I’ve missed my responsibilities as a leader if someone on my staff feels like they are underpaid to the point that they have to ask for a pay raise.

Transparent salary management: Similar to the above, I manage salaries as if they were not the secret we make them out to be. That is, if salaries were ever accidentally spilled on the table and everyone could see them, I would want people to react by rubbing their chin and saying, “Hmmm… Interesting…but these salaries look very fair. I’m o.k. with it.” Unfortunately, American corporate culture being what it is, we can’t be entirely transparent with salaries, but we can act and lead as if we could. And, BTW, I subscribe to an official salary survey every year from Computer Economics, and make that survey available to all members of IS. At least we can be transparent in that regard.

Hire your future boss: I hire people that I want to work for, just in case I blow my role as CIO and have to apply for a job with them. Seriously, I always hire direct reports who I could follow and trust as my leader and manager.

Develop people to leave: I try to develop the skills and self-esteem in my people so that they are marketable—so marketable that they could say “Screw you, Sanders. You’re a kook. I’m outta here. ”, and they could find a great job elsewhere, tomorrow. If you give people that sense of empowerment over their own fate, ironically, they’ll never leave.

Hire balanced overachievers: Create a culture of “40-hour-a-week overachievers.” Hire people who are so capable and efficient, that they can accomplish as much in 40 hours as the inefficient but self-glorified and one-dimensional workaholics who work 60 hours per week. Encourage your culture to be balanced, well-rounded human beings—the kind who are happy, creative, and team-oriented. The modern IT professional expects flexible work hours and a balanced life, even though IT is as much a hobby to them as it is a profession. They might work all night to solve a problem or test a creative idea, but they want to make that choice on their own, not be forced into it.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Inspiring. So rare that someone "gets it" in healthcare.

Will you post a link to NMFF job postings?

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