I was inspired to write this blog after I read about the best places to work in IT in ComputerWorld, which lists the top 10 organizations to work for in the following categories:
- Career Development
It was the list of the top 10 companies with the highest retention rate that piqued my interest the most. I believe that your retention rate is the key indicator of whether or not you are attracting the right talent. The article has a lot of useful information for leaders interested in improving the retention rate of their IT staff. In this article, we will take a quick look at the factors mentioned in the report as well as some of the factors that I believe have a strong impact on how you build and retain a strong IT team.
Soft benefits such as the organization allowing you to work from home, getting paid time off to volunteer, getting a few paid hours every week to work on pet projects and so on are doing wonders for a number of organizations these days. Over the years, soft benefits have gone from ‘nice to have’ to ‘must have’ if you want to attract the top talent. This is because, and I may sound like a broken record here, there is a massive skills gap in the IT industry. Unemployment rate in IT departments is the lowest out of any other department within the organization.
In addition, there are plenty of unfilled IT jobs out there and the salary along with the perks being offered by employers in this industry have significantly gone up so much so that the compensation packages being offered to technologists have gone from being a decisive factor to a hygiene factor, i.e. you can’t expect to hire anyone good if you aren’t offering the right package. But if every organization is offering similar compensation packages, how do you differentiate yourself from others? You offer attractive soft benefits.
That said, soft benefits come with a cost associated with them. For example, if you do a company sponsored happy hour every Friday, it doesn’t just come with a direct cost of buying the beverages, it comes with indirect costs as well (such as lack of productivity from losing working hours and distracted employees). You can continue to add more and more soft benefits that will consequently increase in cost from management of those programs, loss of productivity and the direct cost associated with procuring that employee benefit. So how do you find the right balance? You treat it as a marketing campaign.
When doing a marketing campaign, you first determine the user persona, i.e. the target market profile of the person you are going after. Everything else is built around attracting the profiles within your target market to your brand. When building a user persona, think of the specifics. What kind of productivity do you want from your technologists? Are there tight deadlines, last minute changes, debugging after the final version of the software is launched? Will the person be needed to put in extra hours? All of this impacts your user persona and the soft benefits you will offer to your future employees.
I remember interviewing an IT professional who ended up joining QuickStart after having worked five years at an organization in a similar role. He was their top-player, a rock star by all means. He had the right can do attitude, put in the extra hours practically every day, worked on weekends when needed or around release cycles and was available on call after work hours when required. His work ethic helped him go from technologist to managing a team within a two-year period. He was happy with his career progression and the love he was getting from his previous employer till he got married and had a child.
With this new development in his personal life, he could no longer invest the extra hours at his previous employer on a consistent basis. The organization he was working for was not able to release any pressure or accommodate a work life balance type of culture based on the employee’s new personal commitment. As I was going through the interview process, all it took me to win him over was our organization’s position on work-life balance. Working hard is a good thing, but over working means you are not working smart and somewhere along the way, your brain gave up somewhere. Hence, if someone can maintain work life balance, to me it means they are good at prioritizing and the ability to prioritize is a rare skill set. When I was done explaining that, I could clearly tell that he was drawn to our company culture.
First you need to determine the kind of people that will be the right fit for your culture and team dynamics and then you carve out a salary package and soft benefits that will make you their top pick.
Training and career development
Career development for technologists means creating a very well thought out learning roadmap that is tied to a technology roadmap and strategy. At the end of the day, this investment is all about ROI for the organization as well as the individual.
Training and career development go hand in hand not only in the IT industry but in any industry as a key driver to attract and retain talent, provided if it’s done right. Technologists focus on hard technical skills to stay relevant in the industry and live under the assumption that it is technical skills that give them professional and financial growth. Company-sponsored training plays a huge role in this regard, especially in the North American market.
Most organizations realize the importance of a comprehensive technical and soft skills training road map as a key employee retention tool as well as talent attracting strategy. The key message here is that creating a learning agility culture and the investments you make in your employee’s development can play a key role in attracting and retain the right talent. Further, don’t just develop your employee’s technical skills, but also invest in increasing their leadership quotient by incorporating IT leadership skills training into your overall learning roadmap which will help increase their circle of influence and inspire people.
There are technology companies out there that have cracked the code in retaining technologists, but they struggle in scaling because they have minimized their investment in leadership training or do not believe in investing to convert technologist into leaders. Inserting self-paced leadership courses in your LMS and getting your staff to watch few leadership and management training videos will not turn them into leaders. Nor relying on people’s natural ability to lead will help you scale and grow.
You would have to create a multi-modality plan to develop your technologists into leaders. i.e. assigning internal and external mentors, having them do case studies on various leadership topics, attend self-paced eLearning training, virtual instructor led training, workshops, collaborative learning, assign them group or individual projects because people learn better when they implement what they learned. Encourage and track their informal learning such as reading blogs, researching and attending webinars etc. to name a few modalities. It is all about understanding the learners’ ability and increase technical and leadership quotient which will help retain and attract talent. Why increase learning agility and increase leadership quotient is a different topic. More on that in my next article
In conclusion, building and retaining a strong IT team is no easy task. If it were that easy, every organization would be able to do it and there would be no reason for you to read my article. It might take you a while to figure out the right balance between ROI, soft benefits, training, and career development that works for your organization, but once you do figure it out, you will see hockey stick growth, your employee satisfaction and customer satisfaction and other growth and profitability metrics will be off the charts.