by CIO Executive Council

Top CIOs Keep Their Attention on Staff Retention

Jul 28, 20144 mins
CareersIT LeadershipIT Skills

Keep valued talent on staff by offering career mobility, a clear view of opportunities and a sense of purpose

Three CIOs discuss their strategies for keeping top tech on staff by focusing on opportunity, mobility and purpose.

1. Match Skills To Future Opportunities

Dennis Hodges, CIO, Inteva Products: When we acquired a fellow automotive supplier in 2011, we doubled our business and tripled our IT headcount. Our goal was to keep everyone, but building a blended IT family is challenging. The key was being up-front about where we were headed and what skill sets would get us there.

We mapped out everyone’s skills and showed them how they matched up with roles in the new organization. We lost a couple of very technical people who wanted to work with an ERP system we did not plan to keep, but we were able to retain most employees.

Here in Detroit, where huge companies like GM are hiring, and in Bangalore, India, where we also have IT operations, turnover is always a risk. We don’t have big money to throw at people, but we do have big opportunities. Some CIOs say you shouldn’t train employees too soon: They’ll get too good too fast, and they’ll leave.

I disagree. I want my employees to work on interesting things from the beginning. We’ve got young people who arrived without much experience now running major projects. They couldn’t do that at GM. If they do leave, they’ll leave on good terms and will advocate for us in the market.

2. Give People a Mission 

Anil Cheriyan, CIO, SunTrust Bank: We started a transformation two years ago and quickly realized that the skills we had were not necessarily the skills we needed. Fundamentally, we were looking for “builders” who were interested in fast-paced change. Also during this period, it has been critical to retain our most valuable employees. We’ve sought to achieve this balance by driving cultural change, such as switching from a command-and-control culture to a more collaborative organization. We also make a point of listening to our employees, whether it’s via our enterprise-wide innovation hubs, where teammates propose ideas, or through our engagement surveys. It’s critical to keep your ears open when making a change.

The IT job market in Atlanta has become hot, with companies like GM, State Farm and Wipro setting up tech centers here, while in India, it’s been hot for over a decade. And certain skills are in demand, such as software-as-a-service, workflow and imaging experience. In the past, we may have gone to other banks to find IT people, but we’re now looking to other sources, like Google or Facebook, for talent. In the end, what keeps people here is their connection to our purpose. Are you here to build, or are you here to operate?

3. Allow Unlimited Mobility

Alison Dack, Vice President of IT & CIO, FedEx Express Asia Pacific: The key to low turnover is creating an environment that makes it easy for employees to want to stay. It’s not all about compensation—people want to be successful and want their contributions recognized. For instance, we don’t limit career progression.

We have a tradition of training up our team from junior positions to management levels and offering lateral moves into new areas. At our Asia Pacific headquarters in Hong Kong, a quarter of our senior managers are locals who started in front-line roles such as couriers.

We have a long tradition of developing our employees to their highest potential and of hiring first-line managers from within employee ranks. Because we make lifelong learning a priority, we can readily promote from within. Each hourly employee receives 50 hours of training annually, while management and professional staffers get 40 hours. Corporate responsibility to local communities is another increasingly important retention tool, and we maintain strong relationships in the areas where we work.

Finally, we encourage open, two-way communication, including the opportunity to communicate with management about all aspects of the company; guaranteed fair treatment, in which employees can have their concerns heard and evaluated; leadership and communication effectiveness surveys; and an open-door policy among executives and managers. Successful retention comes down to making sure employees know they are valued.