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Keep Your IT Staff, Or Someone Else Will

Howard Mills
Insurance Experts' Forum, June 3, 2014

It’s 10 p.m. Do you know where your IT staff is?

According to the recently released InformationWeek 2014 US IT Salary Survey: Insurance, if your staff is like the average insurance company staff, more than one in three employees either are actively looking for a new position with another employer or are keeping their options open.

As analytics becomes even more mission critical to growth and success in insurance, and as new regulatory demands increase the need for more complete, relevant and timely enterprisewide information for insurers, information technology staffers have never been in more demand. That probably means the competition has never been more intense.

Take a look at the person to the left of your office. Then take a look at the person to your right. Which one can you afford to lose?

As expected, salary, then benefits top the list of issues for IT staffers, but if that was all that mattered, then staffers would never leave the best-paying companies. That is why probably the most interesting response in the survey to me was to the question of what would influence you to accept a lesser position or title.

I was surprised that only about three in 10 IT managers or staffers would not accept a lesser position or title under any circumstances. By contrast, a stunning 38 percent of staffers and 40 percent of managers would accept a lesser position or title if it meant increased job satisfaction. Fortunately for insurers, 68 percent of staffers and 72 percent of managers report being satisfied with their positions.  

In Deloitte Consulting’s “Talent 2020: Surveying the talent paradox from the employee perspective,” my colleagues Alice Kwan, Neil Neveras, Jeff Schwartz, Bill Pelster, Robin Erickson and Sarah Szpaichler noted that employees value meaningful work over other retention initiatives. In their survey of employees, they found that respondents who reported their company used their skills effectively are more likely to plan to stick with their current employer. Further, 88 percent of this group planned to stay versus 57 percent of those who definitely feel their skills are not well used.

My colleagues made three primary recommendations in their report:

  1. Focus on utilizing, engaging, and developing employee skills: The most-satisfied employees are those who believe their talent and skills are being well-utilized by their employers. Companies that neglect development challenges and promotion opportunities run an increased risk of losing their best employees.
  2. Emphasize — and reward — authentic leadership: Trust in leadership translates into a more satisfied, committed and engaged workforce that is likely to stay. Leaders who do not build trust, or cannot demonstrate a commitment to execute strategy, may not be building an organization that is an employer of choice.
  3. Don’t underestimate the returns on communication: Companies that communicate effectively and transparently are far more likely to engender trust, strengthen employee job satisfaction, and retain top workers.

Let’s face facts. Insurance usually doesn’t offer the paychecks associated with hedge funds or private equity, or the cachet linked to Wall Street or Silicon Valley — competitive advantages when trying to retain talent — and with the brutal competition for IT talent and the ability of that talent to migrate almost at will across industries, IT leaders may find their challenge particularly taxing.

But insurance does offer a lot, especially now. With regulatory changes like own risk and solvency assessment and similar ERM requirements driving reporting needs, IT’s relevance has never been greater, and the need for IT to be a trusted business partner in every step of decision-making never more important. That means more challenges and more opportunities for career growth for IT staffers and leaders in insurance.

This change is clearly reflected in the Salary Survey, which shows 26 percent of IT staffers now spend more than 50 percent of their professional time with peers in a business unit outside of IT — a stunning jump of more than one-third in just a year. In 2013, the corresponding number was only 19 percent.

This increase in collaboration also calls for possibly different skill sets. Communication and understanding how to align business and technology goals become more important. Interestingly, the survey shows that IT managers have a better grasp on this than staffers right now, with 89 percent of managers considering aligning business and technology goals an important part of their job, as opposed to only 69 percent of staffers. Similarly, 77 percent of managers consider collaborating with internal stakeholders critical, as opposed to only 64 percent of staffers.

That points to opportunities for better communication, more training, more challenges, and increased job satisfaction for IT staffers in the future. That’s a win for everyone.

Howard Mills is director and chief advisor for the Insurance Industry Group at Deloitte LLP and a former Superintendent of the NY Insurance Department.

Readers are encouraged to respond to Howard using the “Add Your Comments” box below.

The opinions posted in this blog do not necessarily reflect those of Insurance Networking News or SourceMedia.

This blog was exclusively written for Insurance Networking News. It may not be reposted or reused without permission from Insurance Networking News.

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