With the Boomer generation set to retire en mass, IT organizations are faced with the unprecedented brain drain of institutional knowledge. Generation X and Millennials have decidedly different work styles and career expectations than previous generations.
At the same time, expectations of productivity and customer value generation have never been higher. IT organizations must find ways to deliver increasing levels of service while embracing the next generation workforce.
Forbes.com contributor Jeanne Meister recently wrote that Job Hopping is the ‘New Normal’ for Millennials. She cites the staggering finding that 91% of Millennials plan to stay in a job “less than 3 years”, and will have 15 – 20 jobs in their career. They are also quick to leave a position that is no longer meeting their needs.
While much has been written about organizational cultural changes to engage and retain millennials, I’m going to talk about working on the other side of the equation.
What can IT organizations do to thrive in the reality of the Two Year Employee?
The 2-year Employee
Most agree that it takes around six months for a new employee just to reach the break even point – where they’re producing more than they cost. Beyond that, the complexity of IT environments, and the amount of deep knowledge that takes years to learn makes it very hard for new staff to reach the ‘fully trained point’ even in the space of two years, let alone making a significant contribution. Imagine if your most senior IT staff have been on board less than three years!
And that’s the problem.
If it takes two years to bring Two Year Employees up to speed, something needs to change
Rather than fight a losing battle against a culture we can’t change, we need to build an organizational culture around the Two Year reality.
Millennials bring a high level of self-motivation, initiative, and performance. They are eager to make a contribution to an organization that shares their values. If they aren’t allowed to do meaningful work quickly, they will leave for an organization that better meets their needs.
We’re currently burning a lot of that positive energy teaching them ‘how-we-do-it-here’.
Let’s take a brief look at an industry that has already dealt with rapid on-boarding:Construction.
A General Contractor is engaged to build a home. She works with the customer to understand their requirements, and coordinates with a wide assortment of sub-contractors for various parts of construction – foundation, framing, electrical, plumbing, heating, roofing.
The sub-contractors show up with their crews to complete their part of the project, and the General Contractor has a high degree of confidence in a quality result.
Because there is a body of how-it’s-done in the various trades, guided by:
- Building codes (governance)
- Tricks of the trade (best practices)
- Customer expectations (business outcomes)
I’ll spare you the how-it’s-like-ITIL analogy.
This is the nature of the construction business. The General Contractor has to be able to bring in workers who can immediately produce value. She doesn’t have time to teach them ‘how we do it here’. Whether you’re a framer or electrician, you are expected to know how to apply your knowledge of the codes and tricks of the trade to get the job done here.
Don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying IT is like the construction industry. But the need for immediate value from short-term workers has driven a different model that’s worth exploring.
Time To Value
For the sake of argument, let’s say it takes two years for a new IT employee to be fully contributing. If they stay for 20 years, we’ve invested roughly 10% in their long-term productivity. Not a bad investment.
But the math doesn’t pencil out for a 2-year employee. The same 10% investment means they have to hit max productivity at around 2 months. Minor on-boarding tweaks and new retention efforts won’t get us there.
The solution isn’t to change new people to fit outdated practices, but rather to change our old practices to fit the new workforce!
Undocumented institutional knowledge makes it difficult and time consuming for new staff to be as productive as long-term staff. There simply isn’t enough time to transfer 30 years of knowledge to a new employee, and even if it were possible, the person to whom its transferred is likely to leave much sooner than their predecessor.
Millennials are demotivated by the idea that it will take 10 years to contribute fully and earn a respected position.
This is a major liability that can no longer be maintained.
IT Service Management as a Workforce Strategy
For the record, I’m NOT a Human Resources professional, but I am a seasoned IT Manager concerned with the implication of significant numbers of retirements and the impact it’s already having on IT’s ability to deliver consistent quality and cost effectiveness.
The next generation of IT Professionals will be of the Millennial variety, and the common practice of training new hires ‘how we do things here’ poses a significant challenge.
IT Service Management frameworks like ITIL and COBIT are global best-practices framework for Service delivery that offers a standardized approach. These standards are shared across countries, continents, and companies.
Much like the building codes and tricks of the trade I mentioned above for the construction trades, these best practices are the key to not only survive, but to thrive with the Two Year employee.
The extent to which an organization is aligned with widely-adopted external standards directly determines how effective they will be with the coming workforce. Organizations with strong alignment will have a huge advantage in workforce time-to-value.
Standardization for it’s own sake has no real purpose but, as a workforce strategy, it has enormous value. It’s a strategic investment in an organization’s ability to thrive with millennial workers and the culture they bring.
On-Boarding in a Best Practices Organization
Newly hired employees who are trained in ITSM require very little explanation of “how -things are done here”.
Training can go more like:
Hiring Manager: Cheryl Smith is the Change Manager. CAB meets on Thursday at 9:00am.
New Employee: Where do I fill out RFCs?
Hiring Manager: <myorg/ChangeManagement>
New Employee: Does CAB meet in person?
Hiring Manager: Yes, room D713
The point being – they already get it. The know what CAB and RFCs mean, and they know how it’s done. A few minor ‘where’s the restroom’ kind of questions, and they’re good to go.
Services are well documented through the Service Strategy and Service Design phases. There is clarity and consistency in roles and responsibilities. Processes are well defined and have clear owners. Very little happens through undocumented, informal processes.
Service and process knowledge is documented in Knowledge Management. Documentation is kept up to date through Change and Release processes. All staff have access to the accurate information that they need to effectively do their job.
New staff with ITSM experience require very little how-we-do-it training when you’re using standard ITSM processes. Not only do new employees onboard faster, but they also bring valuable experience that’s compatible with best practices.
Hiring in a Best Practices Organization
The hiring process must include selection of candidates who have solid ITSM training and experience. It is no longer optional. Candidates must have both the technical skills and the ITSM process experience to be a good fit.
Colleges are starting to include course work in ITIL and organizations large and small are using ITSM to great success. Qualified millennial candidates with working knowledge of ITSM from college or a prior employer are increasingly common.
Hiring managers must consider the ROI of candidates, and shorter time-to-value is key for the Two Year Employee.
Embrace the Two Year Employee
Ready or not, welcome to the future.
If we can’t change Millennials, and I submit you cannot, then we must change our organizations to maximize value through them. We need to embrace the Two Year Employee as a strategic advantage.
IT Service Management is the key.
ITSM not only helps IT be more customer-aligned and effective, it also greatly reduces time-to-value of new employees.
If the thought of retiring Boomers, brain drain, and Two Year Employees scares you, think ITSM. IT Service Management is an effective IT workforce strategy!