Working in government IT is cool — even Hollywood thinks so. Just look at the popular 24 television series on Fox, in which government IT workers assist the main character, Jack Bauer, in foiling one terrorist attack after another. The IT staffers calmly and coolly apply their hardware, software and security knowledge to help the high-strung, pistol-packing Bauer save the world.
Granted, most government IT workers don’t routinely deal with terrorist plots, but my point is this: Government IT is appealing, exciting and absolutely critical work. IT is reinvigorating government by improving services to citizens.
Information technology is improving health care to patients, bolstering police and fire services, and helping citizens navigate the labyrinth of government with new e-government services. It’s especially rewarding to make government more responsive and accessible, and that also helps recruit top IT talent.
Admittedly, the relatively lower pay in the public sector compared to the private sector creates recruiting challenges. But it’s my belief that the government has the potential to be more competitive when it comes to attracting IT staffers.
BEYOND THE BENEFITS
Beyond offering stable work and top-notch projects, CIOs and agency leaders must make sure that potential recruits understand the scale and opportunity offered by state and local governments. Here are some recommendations that can help:
Play up the technical growth opportunities. A big selling point is that government agencies today deploy cutting-edge technologies, such as wireless networks and geographic information systems that provide IT workers with exciting new areas to enhance their skills. (See “Attracting IT Talent ” on page 27.)
Talk about the importance of work/life balance. California CIO Clark Kelso and Michigan CIO Teri Takai argue that beyond the draw of civic duty, government IT jobs provide better job security and normalized work hours than most private sector jobs. That results in an improved quality of life and a better work/life balance.
Communicate the vision. In the post-Sept. 11 world, government agencies are in the midst of a well-contemplated restructuring. To achieve that goal, most departments have created a technology vision. Share that vision with recruits, so they’ll get excited about the scope and management skills required to implement it. Your role is to energize and motivate the IT staff to execute on the vision, and that includes bringing on board new employees who have already bought into — and want to be a part of — that vision.
Practice open communication. As an IT professional, you know all too well that people talk candidly, constantly and openly in the IT community. If unresolved organization issues bubble up when potential hires talk to your employees, those candidates may shy away from working for your organization. Every enterprise has problems, but make sure that problem resolution is a mainstay of your organization.
When existing staffers believe — based on their experience — that issues are prioritized and dealt with, that minimizes the negative impact, particularly when staffers have responsibility for solving the problems. If that’s how things work in your organization, then turn existing staffers into recruiters. Setting up an incentive program for bringing in qualified candidates is another way to attract talent.
Embrace accountability and flexibility. Accountability is important, and regular reviews will help ensure continual progress and execution. However, you can’t suffocate employees who know how to get things done. When conducting performance and project reviews, I find it helpful to use these opportunities to find out what could be done better, differently or less expensively. I also like to understand what I can do to improve the situation. This approach creates a culture in which employees feel comfortable walking into your office, where both sides can have an open, honest dialogue.
Jim Shanks, a former CIO, is President of CDW Government Inc. and Executive Vice President of CDW.