by Khalid Kark

Six tips for creating a winning talent strategy

Aug 20, 2018
IT LeadershipStaff Management

Talent may not be the only factor for transforming IT for the digital era, but it’s one of the most critical.

executive looking through binoculars recruiter job search talent
Credit: Getty Images

Acquiring and developing technical talent is among the biggest obstacles in the digital era: In Deloitte’s forthcoming 2018 global CIO survey, 97 percent of global CIOs identified it as a challenge. To win the war for talent, CIOs can’t rely only on HR or ad hoc talent initiatives. Instead, they need to develop a cohesive talent strategy with the long view in mind.

Here are six ways CIOs can revamp their approach to finding, recruiting, hiring and developing the best talent. 

1. Curate the organization’s talent brand. Every organization has a talent brand. If that brand is strong and actively curated, the organization can attract top talent. Digital talent platforms and exchanges propagate talent brand across the globe and provide insights into your working environment: Potential hires are quickly able to ascertain what current and past employees say about your company’s culture, management and existing talent, and top talent can quickly determine their value and demand higher pay and additional benefits. Without workplace experiences that foster a positive talent brand, CIOs may find themselves on the losing side of the talent war.

A focused effort on curating a talent brand can pay dividends quickly. It took less than six months for one organization to create marketplace buzz by focusing on three aspects of brand building: building a strong pitch for how technology is changing the organization and its industry, actively curating its presence on online talent platforms, and presenting its vision at industry conferences. This effort can be especially powerful for large incumbents if CIOs can link the IT talent brand with corporate branding/rebranding efforts. On the flip side, if IT culture and practices do not support the brand promise, be prepared to be called out on those same talent platforms.

2. Hire for a balance of technical and soft skills. In Deloitte’s 2018 global CIO survey, respondents identified finding the right mix of technical and soft skills as their top recruiting challenge. Creativity, cognitive flexibility, emotional intelligence and other soft skills will be key in elevating IT from back-office service provider to front-line business partner. IT’s heavy bias toward STEM skills means soft skills are often overlooked. But hiring someone with cognitive flexibility can ensure the ability to learn new skills quickly — essential in the digital age. Emotional intelligence may allow IT talent to better connect with customers and stakeholders; creativity can help staff address thorny business challenges in non-traditional ways.

3. Focus on a diverse workforce and an inclusive culture.  Diverse workforces have been shown to deliver better results. Because high-performing teams attract and retain IT staff, cultivating diverse teams and filling the leadership pipeline with technically talented women, minorities and members of other underrepresented groups can help CIOs battle the ongoing shortage of technical talent.

Diversity and inclusion needs to be a conscious effort, not an afterthought. CIOs can work to eliminate hiring biases and wage gaps and establish zero-tolerance policies for those who break established rules. CIOs also need to recognize the ways diverse staff communicate, collaborate and work, and retrain those who evaluate IT staff accordingly. Formally identifying potential high-performers and providing them with the development and mentoring resources to advance their careers can help fill the pipeline with diverse leadership candidates.

4. Create a long-term approach to retooling talent. In our interviews for the global CIO survey, some CIOs estimated that between a third and half of their workforce will need to be retrained to take on future IT roles. But in today’s age of artificial intelligence and automation, retooling the IT workforce can’t be a one-time project; a long-term approach is necessary. One CIO designed a retraining program to enable IT staff to become lifelong learners and provided the flexibility for staff to take time off to retrain and move into different areas of IT anytime during their careers.

A major difference between the current and future workforce will likely be mobility. Organizations that retool and ensure internal mobility will be able to engage top talent for a longer amount of time.

5. Infuse new talent throughout the organization to encourage change. Many digital efforts fail due to a culture of resistance, with many staffers assuming that change initiatives will lose steam over time. Infusing new talent strategically throughout the organization can help CIOs show real intention to change.

This talent infusion can invigorate existing staff who may be stifled by cultural roadblocks and can create ambassadors of change throughout the organization. Many CIOs have kick-started their efforts by hiring a few strategic leaders that then attract other high performers. One CIO turned around his IT organization by replacing two of his six direct reports and giving them additional portfolios, signaling deep commitment to changing the status quo. It also helped set a “gold standard” for other IT leaders.

6. Design a culture that attracts top talent. Culture is the key ingredient for attracting and retaining top talent. But what cultural attributes attract top talent? The two primary attributes for attracting high performers are the ability to work with new and emerging technologies and a work environment that is fun, creative and inspirational.

Large, established companies with strong cultures developed over decades often find it hard to change. Some CIOs at these companies invest in and acquire small startups not only to gain their intellectual property but also to acquire and integrate their cultural attributes. Others have developed or collaborated with ecosystem partners to create innovation hubs and digital foundries. By integrating or rotating IT staff into those environments, they’re giving them opportunities to work and thrive in these new environments.