Mitigate the Headaches from Employee Attrition

Losing talented employees can be crippling to a company or business unit. You lose the skills and knowledge that has been developed over the years in your organization, and this can be something that is difficult to recover from if the wrong person leaves your organization at the wrong time. The customary two-week notice that is given by employees is often not sufficient for filling a position (especially a highly technical one), and you can be left with gaps in coverage and support. With the average employee tenure of 4.8 years in IT related fields (From the Bureau of Labor Statistics Report), it may not be right away, but you will lose employees eventually.

In my previous blog entry, I discussed the different roles on your business’ teams. Replacing the all-stars and role players are going to be the most difficult, but there are few things that can be done to decrease the sting of these eventual departures.

  1. Promote from Within if Possible
    Hiring and onboarding new employees takes large amounts of time. If you have talented employees on staff that can learn the ropes on a new technical role, then it will save you some serious headaches. Replacing high quality employees is incredibly difficult, but sometimes there are people on staff who can fill these roles competently.
  2. Keep Great Process Documentation
    This shouldn’t be a recommendation just for filling in holes created by losing employees. Documentation is often overlooked in the IT world, and this shouldn’t be the case. If you want to reproduce a fix for a problem, not having the proper documentation will make it that much more difficult. Having great process documentation will make your life much easier when onboarding a new employee.
  3. Have Backups; Then Have Backups to Your Backups
    Cross-training is essential these days. You never know when someone is going to have an emergency or need to take a vacation. Having someone to fill in will help in these situations and will be even more helpful if someone leaves. Having team members with the ability to fill multiple roles on a team will limit your exposure in the event there are ever any issues.
  4. Document Every Team Member’s Job Duties
    Knowing what everyone does on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis will be helpful in avoiding missing any of the subtle work tasks that an employee performs. In a technical role, this can be, but is not limited to service account password changes, log maintenance, disk space management, or database maintenance; all of which could have disastrous effects if they are not done when needed.
  5. Perform an Exit Interview
    This is a common practice for most companies, but it should not be overlooked. The best way to find out why a team member is leaving is to ask them. If there are any core issues within your team, they can be exposed at this point. Knowing any mistakes your company made in managing its employees can be enlightening, and help to prevent some future attrition.

No company wants to think about losing their best employees, but thinking that no one will ever leave is naïve. Make sure that you are prepared for any future losses.

If you have any comments or any other suggestions on mitigating the impacts of losing employees, please hit the comment button at the top of this post, and as always, be sure to follow me on twitter @burked585.

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Developing All-Stars and Making Tough Roster Cuts

With baseball season in full swing, rosters have been set, and some teams are making strides towards being the frontrunners for their divisions. The core of these teams is the talent on the rosters that they’ve assembled. These teams are oftentimes comprised of all-stars, role players, developmental prospects and some players that are just filling roster space.

As is the case with baseball teams (unless you’re Billy Beane), it’s a common practice for a company to invest their resources heavily in incentives for the All-Stars on their business units. This is important as it can be especially damaging if you lose one of these employees to a competitor. Nothing can be worse than losing the talent and knowledge that has been built during their tenure with your organization.

Continuing with the analogy, companies will also spend a lot of time and money training their developmental prospects, or younger employees. They’ll also put some money into developing their role players in the hopes that they turn to all-stars, but oftentimes massive changes in the work output is not seen. As I discussed in my previous post, Training: Invest Wisely, it’s important to invest your training budget in an intelligent way. Investing in employees that will turn the training into added profits and productivity would definitely fit in this category.

The last group are the players that are just filling roster space. There are employees like this in every organization and it’s on the management team to either shift these employees into productive team members or cut their losses.

So with the knowledge that there are different talent levels on each team, what should a manager do with each of these groups?

  1. All-StarsManagement should do what they can within reason to hold on to these team members. They are the lifeblood of the organization, and they are often self-motivated employees who generate results and increase revenues for the organization. Especially in IT, these employees are often incredibly experienced or especially talented in their organization, and they are the hardest people to replace.
  1. Role PlayersThis group is a necessary part of any team as they can take on many different tasks. While they may not be at the same level as the all-stars, their roles should be focused on their core strengths and an organization should work to provide additional training and resources to keep them happy. These employees will be consistent in their production and pair really well with the all-stars on teams.
  2. Developmental ProspectsThese are the employees that are oftentimes described as being “green.” They are typically fresh out of college and looking to get their foot in the door with the organization. These can be interns or other employees that are eager to gain the knowledge to be successful in the field. These employees don’t always work out, but they are a complete wildcard in the sense that they can become any of the other three types of employees. Management should pair them with all-stars for mentoring, so they can see the best in action.
  3. Roster FillersThese employees are oftentimes the most dangerous to keep around. If a team member isn’t pulling their weight, they can bring the morale of the entire team down. It’s important to identify when any of your team members fall into this category, so you can make a decision as to whether it is worth it to invest additional time and resources into pushing them into a higher tier or if it time to cut them lose.  Getting rid of team members is never an easy option, but sometimes a toxic attitude can poison an entire team.

Talent development is difficult, and identifying where each of your employees fall can be a bit of a tricky process. In IT, as is the case in any business unit, there sometimes are specialists that are difficult to peg into any of these roles. Deciding where your team members sit on this spectrum should assist you in deciding how to allocate resources and training.

If you have any comments on this post please hit the comment button at the top, and be sure to follow me on twitter @burked585.

When Waiting it Out Isnt Enough: SharePoint SP1

Software is never released as a finished product. This is a fact of life in the IT world, and the longer you work in this industry, the more of an appreciation you’ll have for the fact that things are released in an unfinished state. In my previous post, “When is the Right Time?” I highlighted the need to take a cautious approach to introducing new software into your environment. I had an even greater appreciation for this idea after this last week.

Microsoft released Service Pack 1 for SharePoint 2013 about a month and a half ago. Our team gave it some time to marinate, and we waited to see if any issues would pop up. Seeing as nothing major had happened over the course of that month, we worked on installing the Service Pack in our Test environment over the last two weeks. The day we finished the installation I found a post on the Reddit SharePoint sub-reddit that was describing issues associated with the service pack. Sure enough the link came up with the message below.

Even when you’re careful and you do your due diligence, there is still the potential for issues to pop up with software upgrades and patch deployments. This is not a typical situation, but we were lucky, in that we only had deployed it in our test environment to this point. Microsoft will likely come out with an additional patch to fix this issue, but the fact of the matter is that these types of things will definitely make you tense up a little when realizing there is potential that you will need to rebuild an environment.

Sometimes there is nothing you can do to prevent these types of issues, and the only thing you can do is react to the issues as they come in. This is somewhat of a micro chasm of IT support as a whole. Even when you do everything right, there are still things that will go wrong. All you can do is take your time, do your research and verify that all of the information you are working with indicates that you are making the correct decision.

If you have any comments, please use the link at the top of this post, and be sure to follow me on twitter @burked585.

Making IT Easier (Part three of three): The End-User

In the first two parts of this series I highlighted some of the ways in which IT professionals and Business Leaders can “Make IT Easier.” For the last part in this series, I’ll be focusing on what end users can do to make things easier for themselves, their bosses, and the IT Staff.

As an end-user, it’s highly likely that at some point in your career, you’re going to need the assistance of those in the IT department. Whether that is for a new PC image or a difficult troubleshooting question, this is typically a department whose good graces you want to stay in. Understanding the technological issues that are affecting your productivity, and how these things should be prioritized will help greatly.

I have a few questions below for the end-user that can help to limit some of the easier calls while also reducing interdepartmental friction.

  • Did You Reboot?Oftentimes, pretty much any time you call in with an issue on your computer, the first question the technician is going to ask is “have your rebooted?” For some issues, this is the quickest and easiest remedy, because it ends any process trees, and closes any applications that may be causing issues. If a reboot doesn’t fix the issues, this is where some more of the diagnostics can take place.
  • Is Everything Plugged in?If your computer is not turning on, make sure to verify that the power plug is connected to the computer as well as the wall outlet. This isn’t meant in a condescending way. It feels like the IT equivalent of spending 20 minutes looking for the sunglasses you are wearing. We’ve all done it before, and we all feel dumb when someone else points out our mistake.
  • Do you know the Urgency of the Issue?Determine ahead of time whether or not this issue is only really impacting you and whether or not it is costing the company money by not having this functionality. This is important because it can help to set your expectation on where the priority of the request will be set. If this is not an urgent request, then be understanding and be patient with the IT Staff, and try to minimize the randomization.
  • Does this fit in the IT Staff’s Service Scope?If you’re in a corporate atmosphere, the IT teams will be called on for a large variety of different technological tasks. Make sure you understand their scope of services before requesting support for certain items. Many people will likely be willing to assist with pointing you in the right direction even if they are not the correct team and if you asked nicely.
  • Are your expectations realistic?If someone is taking a long time to fix an issue, unless they are slacking, it’s likely that the issue is difficult to resolve or it’s on the outside of their skillset. If they are having some major issues, having someone getting angry at them will likely not help resolve the situation any quicker, and oftentimes, it will lead to a rushed effort where important details are overlooked. Friendliness goes a long way, and like any other service type job, people will go out of their way to help those that treat them well.

I hope you enjoyed this three part series. The ultimate goal is to make IT a little easier for all those involved, and hopefully this should alleviate some of the frustrations that can often times arise when dealing with IT in the workplace.

If you have any comments, please click the comment button above, and be sure to follow me on twitter @burked585.

Making IT Easier (Part two of three): The Business Leader

In the first part of this series, I highlighted some of the ways in which IT professionals can make life easier on themselves and those around them. For this part, I’ll be focusing on what business leaders can do to make IT easier for themselves, their IT staff and their end-users.

A common problem in many businesses with the IT department, is that there can be a level of miscommunication between groups, which ultimately ends up with differences on what is being recommended by the IT staff and what the business leaders feel is necessary for their continued operations. It is not an uncommon situation for projects to hit the chopping block, despite the potential value add, because there was a fundamental misunderstanding between the key groups.

To avoid situations where a company is not getting its full value from the IT department, business leaders should use the tips below to help avoid some of the potential issues that can arise.

  • Communicate the strategic vision

    Business leaders need to ensure they are keeping the big picture in frame for their team members. This will help to keep departmental goals within scope and it will help to provide an idea around how projects fit in with these goals. Before starting a project make sure that the team is on board with the intended purpose of the project and how it aligns with the company’s strategic goals.

  • Understand the company’s IT needs

    Knowing the company’s IT needs will provide a great deal of clarity when budget time comes around. Oftentimes this department can be woefully understaffed, or severely overstaffed depending on the sway of those pushing for IT budgets. Having a clear concept around the company’s needs will create a better idea of what is required from the staff and where business leaders can trim the fat.

  • Know when to ask questions

    Most business leaders get to where they are because of their ability to know when they don’t know something. Having the ability to ascertain what is in their specific field of expertise and where they need some help will create more open communication between them and their staff. IT in particular can have some very specialized roles, knowledge, and skillsets, and having subject matter experts will require some trust on the part of the business leaders when asking questions.

  • Listen to the answers when you ask questions

    This sounds like a pretty obvious piece of advice, but when a business leader asks a question of their IT staff, the first answer they get (depending on the staff member) is likely going to be the most honest. If there is any apprehension the IT department’s ability to accommodate a request on the first ask, it’s likely a stretch.   If they don’t understand IT, this is an even more important piece of advice. If someone is a part of the staff, there needs to be a level of trust to believe they have the company’s best interests at heart.

  • Know the limits

    This is an especially important item to understand if the IT department is working on a tight budget. It’s difficult to get a Mercedes on a Kia budget and having similar expectations of IT staff is a common problem. If the budget is tight and staff is stretched, it’s important to keep requests within the IT department’s skillset and scope. Asking for assistance with requests outside of their so-called wheelhouse, could cause some added stress for the team.

Communication is key in keeping a happy and efficient team and staff. The better a company communicates, the better it typically runs. Having a further understanding of how the staff runs and where there are deficiencies will add some added perspective for management and allow for better optimization of staff levels and goals.

For part three of this series, please check back later this week. If you have any stories or recommendations on for business leader in their dealings with IT, please hit the comment button at the top of this post, and as always, be sure to follow me on twitter @burked585.

Making IT Easier (Part One of Three): The IT Professional

Being an IT savvy individual can be tough. Once your friends and family have identified that you have some level of computer knowledge, it is likely that they will be calling you for help on any and all issues. From viruses to spyware to hardware issues, there is no limit to where your closest friends and family will ask for your assistance once you’ve been identified as the “IT guy.” This can oftentimes be seen as a rite of passage in the life of IT professionals. When you are the guy to turn to in your family it provides a sense of comfort for them, but it can also provide an added level of frustration for you with a consistent flow of questions outside of your usual workday.

While it may seem counterintuitive, the ways in which you help your friends and family can also help you on providing end-user support within your office. Just like a typical IT guy is trying to avoid complications when assisting their friends and family, at work it’s just as important to find ways to avoid some of the headaches that can be associated with providing end-user and business level support.

Here are some of the easiest ways for IT professionals to make life easier on themselves in the workplace:

  • Know Your AudienceUnderstanding who you are talking to and their IT knowledge level will provide a good idea of how you can make your recommendations relatable. People are more likely to fear what they don’t understand, and they will be less likely to do any work on their own if you make the problem sound out of their potential skill level.
  • Avoid Technical JargonIf you are using words that are going over the end-user’s head, it’s likely that they are not going to gain the knowledge to fix the problem on their own in the future (this glossary has a pretty extensive list). People, for fear of looking stupid, are more likely to let you continue on rather than asking the question when they don’t understand the verbiage you are using.
  • Provide the Resources to Resolve Problems IndependentlyOnce you have fixed an issue, it will make life much easier if you can prevent the same issue from coming up again with the same user. Walking through the instructions with the end-user, then sending a follow up email with the instructions is one-method that has been especially helpful for me. If you found a link on Google or Bing, forward that over their way as well so they have a record they can pull up to go through the steps on their own.  LMGTFY.com does not count as providing them the proper resources.
  • Stay Current on Your KnowledgeKnowing how to use search engines to find resolutions to issues is great, but it’s much easier to fix things when you have the insight and knowledge from first-hand experience. It’s quicker to have the fix already in your memory bank then having to look it up.  I’ve discussed training in one of my previous blog posts.
  • Keep on Top of Server and Backend System ErrorsThe best problem is the one that no one sees. If you can stay on top of the backend systems that are supporting your environment, you can avoid a good chunk of the calls and emails that are likely to stem from major server issues.

Following these few tips should help to make the life of IT professionals, along with those they work with, much easier. For the next installment in this series, check back tomorrow evening for what Business Leaders can do to make IT easier. If you have any comments, please click the comment button at the top of this post and be sure to follow me on twitter @burked585.

Dashboards and Data: Buy Into BI in SharePoint

With the constant expansion of IT services and data collection capabilities, it is becoming more and more important to have a way to view your data and provide consistent reporting for your management team and your employees. If you are not viewing metrics reports, dashboards or KPI’s, or if you are not utilizing any sort of business analytics or business intelligence tools (what’s the difference), there are likely some blind spots for your company that could come back and bite you.

In a previous blog post I discussed my experience as a SharePoint administrator, and I described some of the potential pitfalls that an organization will experience in using SharePoint solely as a file share service. For organizations that have a SharePoint deployment, it is important to recognize the many tools and services that can be leveraged to help your business succeed. The BI and dashboard capabilities have expanded vastly with the release of SharePoint 2013 and SQL 2012 SP1.

Below are some of the most common BI and BA tools that can be leveraged within a SharePoint deployment.

Power View

Power View is a tool that was made available with the release of SQL 2012 Service Pack one. This is a reporting and dashboard tool that can create live data reports with the ability to add the reports directly into PowerPoint presentations, where the data can be interacted with in the presentation, or displaying on a SharePoint site.

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Here is a Sample of the Power View Dashboard editor. Photo Credit

 

PowerPivot

This tool is a key component that interacts with Power View on your SharePoint sites. PowerPivot provides pivot table capabilities such as those that have been available in the last two releases of Microsoft Excel. With Power Pivot enabled, you can interact with pivot tables within SharePoint.

PerformancePoint

PerformancePoint was originally released as a separate application from Microsoft. It has been folded up into the SharePoint product line and provides a quality dashboard platform where users can build and edit reports. Data connections can be made to various different types of databases to report on.

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Here is a Sample PerformancePoint Dashboard. Photo Credit

 

Power BI

Power BI is the new SharePoint Business Intelligence tool offered exclusively in the Office 365 suite. This is a huge bonus for the customers who are using Office 365, as they can now get the added benefits of PowerView, PowerMap and SAP Interaction. The ability to connect to SAP business objects is especially interesting as there have been some issues in previous apps with making these connections.

These are just a few of the BI tools that can be used with SharePoint. These tools are great ways to build reports and analyze data for your business.  If you have any questions or comments please hit the comment button at the top of this post, and be sure to follow me on twitter @burked585.