How automation strategy can help you retain IT talent

Automation strategy matters greatly right now because it helps IT leaders improve not only resiliency but also talent retention. Here's how - and how to get started
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Seasonal changes often trigger times of reflection. So does weathering the ups and downs of the COVID pandemic: We went from seeing no end in sight, to seeing the possible end of the pandemic, to “it’s complicated,” particularly with workforces distributed around the globe in different stages of quarantine.

Many leaders and their teams have gone from in-office work to 100 percent remote work to a mix of both with hybrid work. Meanwhile, the job market has become so hot that some are calling it the Great Resignation. In the public sector, many employees who have been eligible for retirement for years are now accelerating their retirement plans.

As time goes on, we’re seeing that a Great Resignation is really an outcome of what is being called the Great Reprioritization, in which employees are pausing to reflect and reprioritize what’s most meaningful to them personally and professionally.

Our team members are reprioritizing based on meaning and purpose, and we need to help them on that journey if we want to keep them.

As leaders, we need to acknowledge the fact that our team members are reprioritizing based on meaning and purpose, and we need to help them on that journey if we want to keep them. So how can we bring meaning and purpose to their work lives?

Employees derive meaning and purpose from what they do. If they perform repetitive tasks that aren’t directly connected to the organization’s mission, they may get little meaning from the work. If these people leave the organization for more meaningful work and are the only ones who know how to do these tasks, the results could be catastrophic.

[ How can automation free up more staff time for innovation? Get the free eBook: Managing IT with Automation. ] 

4 ways automation strategy can help leaders retain IT talent

How can we prevent such turnover? Automation is an effective way to help businesses become more resilient, but it also helps retain the key talent you have and attract new talent to up-level your team.

1. Automation codifies processes to be resilient to turnover

As employees retire or move to other roles inside or outside the organization, their knowledge won’t leave with them if it’s captured in the form of automation workflows. And automated IT and business processes remove human subjectivity and variance because automation requires and delivers objective consistency. Turnover is a fact of life, but automation can blunt its negative effects. 

Many organizations have gone from siloed automation to automation communities of practice that span these silos.

2. Automation can provide a sense of belonging

Many organizations have gone from siloed automation to automation communities of practice that span these silos. Instead of tasks being manually executed or even automated in isolated pockets of an organization, an automation community of practice lets everyone share their best ideas and build on each other’s work.

So rather than belonging to the employee, the processes belong to the community of practice with authorship attribution back to the author. Plus, the community contributors identify with the community because their contributions and spans of influence visibly and positively impact the entire organization in ways they couldn’t do as individuals.

3. Automation leads to meaning and purpose

Once repetitive toil and drudgery are automated away, employees are freed to focus on more meaningful work that is more closely related to the organization’s mission. An individual’s purpose is more consciously aligned to the organization’s purpose.

Every leader and employee I talk to has a “someday” list of meaningfully impactful things they could do, but they simply don’t have the time. By investing time and resources into automation, time becomes available to turn the “someday” list into a “today” list.

4. Automation integration with workflow tools turbocharges meaning

You’ve probably gone to your company’s ticketing workflow system to request IT services. This often involves support teams on the other end of the ticket to satisfy the request. Good is when they satisfy the request by hand. Better is when they satisfy the request through launching an automation workflow. Best is when the ticketing workflow system is integrated with the automation tooling so support techs don’t need to be involved.

The integration itself drives meaning because it requires support staff to understand their users’ needs and to build a service catalog with useful pre-approved thresholds for self-service, and optionally, items that require manual approval above a particular threshold. In addition, the time automation saves enables the automation flywheel to spin again on the next optimization to meaningfully improve customer service and outcomes.

Practical steps to get started

Now that I’ve convinced you that automation can make a significant difference with your workforce, here’s how to get started:

  • Identify opportunities. First, engage with your teams to identify where automation can make the biggest impact. Not only will this provide a reality check from actual practitioners, but you’ll get a good idea of what’s specifically burning them out. In addition, expressing their frustrations while leadership is present will ensure that they’re being heard and that the organization is committed to addressing their challenges.
  • Prioritize the wish list. This can be done through voting, priority slider, impact and effort prioritization, and many other ways. The Open Practice Library from Red Hat Open Innovation Labs delivers many exercises that can help.
  • Communicate wins. A quick and visible win for the first spin of the automation flywheel will help the team get comfortable with the process of automating tasks and will make subsequently more challenging automation efforts easier.
  • Measure results. Along the way, measure the outcomes. How many people were needed to do tasks? How long did it take? How much time was spent waiting during handoffs? What were the customer satisfaction scores before and after? The results should be eye-opening and show everyone on the team how they directly and meaningfully played a role in delivering better services and increased customer satisfaction through automation.

When employees find meaning in their work and can see how their efforts improve their organization, they’re more likely to stick around, keep improving, and invite their friends to work with them. The Great Reprioritization is coming – and automation will be essential to keep employees happy and engaged in their work.

[ Get the checklist: Top security and compliance considerations for IT modernization. ]

David Egts is the Chief Technologist of Red Hat’s North America Public Sector organization where he directs a global team of technical experts and field product management to help government clients improve service delivery the open source way.

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