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Upskill, retain, and attract top IT talent

  • 08 April 2021 / By Mark Ardito / By Gretchen Goodrich

People. Process. Technology. This triad has long been a context for considering business growth strategies. Though an IT department is immersed in technology, the people component is critical to success, not just for the department but for the entire enterprise. Finding and keeping the right people, therefore, is a high priority for technology leaders.

Many digital transformation projects fail because leaders do not have the proper strategies in place to support their staff or are still leading and operating in the same legacy manner.

In a recent roundtable discussion with IT executives we evaluated the issues and questions around employee enablement. Below are some insights and immediate actions leaders can take to transform their behaviors to create a culture that will attract IT talent and provide their team with a path to close skill gaps making future projects not only attainable but sustainable.

Remote work is a two-sided coin.

The experience over the past year has demonstrated that remote work is a viable part of operations, even to companies that once believed that IT teams couldn’t function virtually. In terms of recruitment, this is both an advantage and a disadvantage. The disappearance of geographic limitations has increased the prospective talent pool; this is especially beneficial for cloud computing and services as the candidate population is limited. However, this has eliminated a pay gradient based on location, and salary ranges are defaulting to the higher end.

Action

Though enterprise leadership now embraces remote work in areas once considered off-limits and the talent pool has increased in size, IT executives must find ways to attract candidates with the desired skills to the company. At the end of the day, tech is just tech, and everybody has access to the same stuff. But when you become an organization that thinks differently, acts differently, behaves differently, and pushes the boundaries for what you can do with software development, that's when you start to become one of those companies that everyone aspires to be and people want to work for.

Retention is critical.

Employee retention is mission-critical for IT teams. In certain skill areas, including but not limited to cloud computing and data science, the talent competition is fierce. With team members receiving calls and job offers to entice them away, leaders are anxious to find solutions that make the working environment and employee experience attractive enough to keep them.

Action

Investing in people is paramount. You have to spend an equal amount of intellectual knowledge on making sure that your people are happy and they're not going to leave you, as soon as somebody picks up the phone. Such investment includes making sure that teams have the right tools as well as providing rich learning opportunities. Matching experienced staff with learning staff to produce actual results on the job is an excellent strategy for engaging employees and enhancing their skills, which supports retention.

Technologists should understand the customer and the customer perspective. 

In many organizations, IT teams are siloed. They receive requirements from the business, and they understand the business case, but there is no connection to the end-user. Without that end-user context for their projects, they may lack insight into the bigger business picture, so what they are doing is just “work.” This lack of insight can demotivate and de-enable the very employees who are vital to achieving strategic goals.

Action

Engineers are problem solvers. They enjoy engaging in a challenge that they can help resolve. Putting the people who are close to the strategy of a product together with the engineering team working on that project can really engage that team at a new level. They get a clear sense of being part of the solution, and that is an enabling experience. The experience of ownership can not only help retain key employees, but productivity can speed up significantly.

Empowerment is key to enablement.

Empowerment goes one step beyond enablement and is a worthy goal to strive for. Leaders can empower teams by delegating actions and decisions that have traditionally resided in management levels. This strategy can be an extreme divergence from traditional models of operation, but the closer an organization can get to self-directed teams that make crucial decisions, the more empowered its workforce will be.

Action

Employee empowerment comes from senior leadership and may require a shift in thinking at the top levels of the company. If you don't combine an environment where employees feel like they are able to grow and learn with the freedom to be able to make decisions quickly, and to be able to use the tools that you're giving them, you can cause friction and frustration. Servant leadership is the model for an empowered workforce. Effective two-way communication is essential, as well as the provision of the right tools and direction.

Going from engagement to enablement to empowerment is a path to successful recruitment and retention of IT employees with highly sought-after skills. However, the journey might not be easy as fundamental shifts in roles, hierarchies, and processes may be difficult for some. Each organization leader needs to start where their people are, move steadily over time toward the desired state, and continue articulating that goal throughout the journey.

These action items from our discussion are a great starting point for executives looking to attract and retain IT talent.

Interested in joining our next roundtable discussion? Join our CIO Community