by Mike Altendorf

Build the buzz about your business & IT if you want talented staff

Apr 18, 2011
CareersIT LeadershipIT Strategy

I had one of those conversations last week that make you feel really ancient. Trying to make conversation with the recently graduated son of a friend of mine I enquired into how his job search was going. He is a ridiculously smart kid but I thought, given the jobs market, he might appreciate some help so I offered to look at his CV for him – give him some pointers. He looked at me blankly: ‘CV?’ he said. ‘Don’t need one of those – my profile is up on LinkedIn and I’ve joined all the relevant forums… plus blogs and stuff…’.

I am glad I am not in recruitment, signing up with an agency seems to be very old school and not the new way to get a job. For the young and talented today the web is effectively a shop window for them to display their wares. Unsurprisingly the more IT savvy these people are the more they are using the internet and, more specifically, social media, to find opportunities or to put themselves in the position for opportunities to find them.

For all the talk of redundancies and efficiencies there is still a war going on out there for the top talent. Smart organisations know that they need to get head of the curve and recruit for the good times. So if you have good people the chances are they will be in someone’s sights. Sites like LinkedIn make it very easy for recruiters to find the good people and approach them. I am sure most people on the site wouldn’t say they are ‘actively looking’ but their profiles are up there 24/7 and if the right organisation comes calling then they will be tempted.

So as a CIO how do you find and retain the best talent? First of all you need to have an internal recruiter who knows and understands what you as CIO is looking for. This is cheaper and far more effective than the traditional agency model. Having someone who actually understands the company, the industry and the specific needs of IT is critical in today’s market if you want to find the best talent. These days the right IT people are not necessarily the ones locked in a room with no windows with a bag of caffeine drinks and an X-box (not that they don’t have their place). You need people who understand business, who know how to communicate, who can sell ideas and have a passion for what they do.

How do you find these people? Well the best way is to get them to come to you and the easiet way to do this is to build a name for your department in the outside world. Get your best people out there talking about what they do and how they do it – whether its online, through blogs or LinkedIn or offline at industry events, good people talking passionately about what they do is the best way to attract new talent. People want to work somewhere where they get a chance to work with great talent so if your people can make a name for themselves – be it development, design or anything else – they will attract others.

You also need to think about what you offer them. I know plenty of people who have been lured over to the financial sector by the seriously large paychecks. The good ones nearly always come back to consultancy because although the money is great the projects become boring, are repetitive and lack ambition. David Henderson, CIO at Associated Newspapers understood this. He wanted his people in it for the long term so he created an innovation lab – a place where his people could work with the business on new ideas; try out new stuff; invent things – a kind of in-house skunk works. This has not only empowered his IT team but forged far greater links with the business.

The trick is to keep people interested and to make them feel appreciated. Countless numbers of studies have shown that people work for praise more than anything else yet somehow we think IT people are immune to this.

As someone who has worked within consultancy for years I wholeheartedly support outsourcing interesting projects to us but from a CIOs own people perspective this seems counterproductive. Anyone with any talent wants to be involved in innovation and in moving things forward but by outsourcing the cool stuff you are consigning them to a life of job scheduling and maintenance. Fun for some I am sure but unlikely to light too many fires for those with any real ambition.

There are three things I would like to leave you with which I think should underpin a CIO’s talent management:

1. Delegate authority– this is easily said but hard to implement in corporate IT, don’t just delegate responsibility, give good people ownership of specific projects. Sure sometimes they (and you) will make mistakes. The benefits of giving people actual authority for delivery however will far outweigh the risks 2. Build the buzz – encourage people within your organisation to promote what they do, show off their talents, highlight innovation by using social media, blogging and networking at conferences – become the place were great people want to work 3. Don’t compromise– always recruit the best people, people with a passion for life, bring in people who will help you extend the network. This helps build your reputation but also makes recruiting new people easier down the line because good people want to bring other good people with them

None of this is rocket science and yet it amazes me how bad IT is as an industry at managing talent. We complain that we don’t have talent coming up through the school/ university system buts it’s hardly surprising when a career in IT is seen as so unexciting. What are industry is doing is changing the world and that should be celebrated.