A slim majority (52 percent) of IT leaders report that they are “very confident” or “confident” that their enterprise “can field the effective IT workforce of the future” some five years out (see Figure 13-1). The same percentage (52 percent) rated the quality of their talent pipeline with either of the top two scores on a four-point scale (see Figure 13-2). In spite of this mildly happy result, only 11 percent of IT leaders reported a “robust, strong” talent pipeline.
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Doug Conant, former CEO of Campbell Soup Company, says that “to win in the marketplace you must first win in the workplace.” Business acceleration, globalization, the gig economy, outsourcing and remote work have changed how and where we work — and, arguably, made interpersonal connections in the workplace more difficult. Ultimately, however, the sentiment remains a noble and necessary one.
This is especially true in IT, where, as we have seen, a solid majority view IT talent challenges as a threat to the entire enterprise. The “hide-and-seek” of talent acquisition, and the rigors of retention, are universally taxing. But these efforts will be all the more difficult in the long run if IT leaders don’t focus on the essentials right now:
- Research, research, research. Research your internal organizational needs — then research how your IT organization is best set up to execute on those needs. When the gaps make themselves evident, research exactly who your IT shop is competing against, locally and internationally. Identify ways to secure that talent — local universities, executive recruiters — and, specifically, identify why your IT shop would be enticing to prospective employees. Above all, constantly keep a pulse on why your current employees are incented to stay and grow, whether through one-on-one meetings or surveys. As Celestica CIO Arpad Hevizi asks, “What are the areas where an hour’s investment will get [the team] an exponential return?”
- Make a sense of purpose your strategic differentiator. At Fordham University in New York City, CIO Dr. Frank Sirianni, Ph.D., has very effectively countered a hypercompetitive local technology market thanks to Fordham’s emphasis on “the creation, preservation and transmission of knowledge and culture.” Every IT organization must identify some thread — cultural, philosophical, or strategic — that entices hires and makes them feel that they are contributing to something worthwhile.
- IT employees want agency and the ability to advance — like everyone else. “We're bringing you into this organization and we're giving you the freedom to be excellent. Take that freedom and be excellent,” says Veresh Sita, CIO at Alaska Airlines, who puts a note to this effect on desks across the IT department. The 2016 IT Talent Assessment Survey reveals that 49 percent of IT leaders regard a “collaborative orientation” as one of the three soft skills most in demand in their organizations. But more individualistic traits — leadership capability (47 percent); political smarts (11 percent); and risk-taking (6 percent) — were not valued as highly by IT leaders with hiring authority. It is indisputable that a team-player attitude is absolutely critical in any workplace. But too narrow a focus on the team — as opposed to individual aspirations and ambitions — carries its own set of retention risks. “You cannot take a cookie-cutter approach towards managing people,” Sita says. “Everyone is not the same.”
- Reflect on IT’s brand, and make it a strategic advantage. PayPal CIO Bradley Strockhas a simple and proven formula for success in his IT department: Accomplish tasks on time, on budget, and without a lot of drama. Strock’s framework is a facet of his IT department’s internal brand — and internal brands, like personal reputations, don’t manifest themselves overnight or by accident. They are instead the product of communication across the business, self-examination and, most importantly, execution. To understand IT’s internal brand, IT leaders should consistently examine what corporate IT does (and does not do) and why; how IT is viewed by internal and external stakeholders; and how individual IT employees collaborate internally. The answers to these questions will help IT leaders understand the unique advantages that the IT department provides, empowering them to more effectively pursue, hire, and retain talent.
IT talent acquisition, on paper, is simple — identify the needs, then find and hire the talent — but it’s far from easy in practice. Progress is the product of research, assertive outreach, and confidence in IT’s brand. It comes down to knowing what make IT employees tick, and working hard to find ways to connect the desires of those employees — for salary growth, networking opportunities, training and development, recognition, and advancement — with those of the larger organization in a concrete and logical way. Ultimately, the principles behind winning in the IT workplace are the same as in any other business environment. But, as the data clearly demonstrates, IT skills are in such high demand — and the stakes are so high — that IT leaders must begin today.
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