Companies must continuously search for strategic technology talent. They must also differentiate among their performers and reward them accordingly. Respect and flexibility are key to retention.
Here are the five simple questions about your technology team:
- Do I have the right people?
- How many of the wrong ones do I have?
- How do I plug the gaps as quickly as possible?
- How do I keep them?
- How do I reward them?
Again, the focus here is on strategic technology talent – not operational technology talent.
Let’s talk here about recruitment, retention and rewards.
This is Part III of the talent series.
Find the Right Talent
The continuous search for talent is now a core competency. You must search for talent every day. Years ago, operational technology talent was more plentiful than strategic technology talent is today. The challenge is to find the right talent, keep the talent, and reward talent in ways that keep them focused on the strategic mission. But there’s a shortage – as McKinsey (2022) warns:
“Business leaders are feeling the heat. According to a McKinsey survey of more than 1,500 senior executives globally, some 87 percent say their companies are not adequately prepared to address the skill gap.
“Despite the formidable challenges in finding tech talent, incumbent companies cannot expect to succeed in the digital world without being technologically strong, which is simply not possible without a deep bench of tech talent. In fact, developing robust people and talent strategies are among the highest-value actions a business can take.”
Finding talent has become a sales and marketing activity, which means, among other things, you must accommodate candidates far more than ever before.
There are also opportunities to upskill existing talent, though this option must be carefully assessed:
“The “build versus buy” argument that is commonly discussed in enterprise tech is also now a reality in the space of talent strategy. If a company can’t recruit enough people with the tech skills they need, why not look within the company to find people who can be taught these critical skills? Board leaders can help guide HR and business-unit leadership as they reexamine their talent strategy through this lens.”
Beyond talent accommodations, there are other steps you can take to find the talent you need, such as developing relationships with colleges and universities that produce students with the right educational backgrounds to satisfy your requirements. Tesla is an excellent example of business-university partnerships. Listen to what a Tesla engineer says about Tesla’s recruiting strategy:
“Tesla generally likes the following:
“They want you to come on board after your internship (as long as you performed average or better). The time and effort to train an intern is really expensive, and the company is always hiring.
“They like colleges with programs that integrate industry experience into the undergraduate/ graduate curriculum. For example, many Canadian universities require students to complete CoOps before they graduate. The ideal situation for Tesla would be if you did that required coop after all your coursework, but before you graduate. So that once you complete the internship and performed well, they can immediately extend an offer.
“They generally like juniors, seniors, master’s, PhD’s for their interns. You know enough to know what’s going on, plus you’ll be looking for full time soon.”
Can you “customize” the form and content of the students you might like to hire? Can you influence the content of curriculum? You can provide the above-referenced internships and co-ops, and you can join Advisory Boards and similar organizations. You can endow professorships, name classrooms, buildings and whole colleges. Pipelines are for sale. Relationships can be developed and nurtured over time. My university’s School of Business places a huge number of students at PWC, KPMG, EY and Deloitte year after year. Internships are a way of life at these companies – and our students. We also place students at investment banks and consultancies. Advisory Boards provide ideas and “guidance” to faculty and administrators. Faculty are sometimes hired as consultants. These relationships are beneficial to universities, faculty and students.
You must pursue as many talent channels as possible, including relationships with search firms, former employees, universities and the technology associations that advance the skills and competencies you need.
You should also add some criteria to your recruitment lists. While business-technology skills and competencies – the 5 essential areas – should dominate your search, you should also recruit professionals with solid communications skills as well as personalities that synchronize the best into your companies.
Grow the Right Talent
You might also consider educating and training your own professionals through the establishment of a “university” of your own. Some companies have developed their own “curriculum” used to reskill and upskill technologists. If you understand business-technology trends – which you should – then you can develop “courses” that will keep employees current. Decisions about who to reskill and upskill is another hard one. Some of your team might be more than salvageable, but others are not. You know who they are. Just remember that for every unsalvageable business-technologist you choose to “save,” you’ve deprived your company of a high-potential one.
Retain & Reward the Right Talent
How to retain and reward talent is an old topic, because turnover is constant and always disruptive and expensive.
Can you reduce turnover? Yes. But you cannot eliminate it. Accept the fact that some of your best talent will outgrow you simply because they’re the best talent. There’s nothing you can do to eliminate ambition-driven turnover. You can offer more money, a bigger office, more responsibility or fabulous seats at rock concerts, sports events (or operas, depending upon their taste). It doesn’t matter. They’re gone. Just wish them well and hope they return some day.
Mainstream retention is the goal. Some obvious suggestions include:
- Identify candidates who’ll stay the course
- Identify those who share your outlook
- Provide ongoing education and clear paths to advancement
- Be competitive with compensation packages
- Deliver for your employees
- Engage your workers
The above suggestions have merit, but there are some others you should strongly consider.
The first and foremost is respect. The employees you want to retain must feel respected. They must be acknowledged as valuable. They must accrue the status of highly respected professionals. They must be treated differently within your company. Yes, this is a performance issue that deliberately locates employees across a value continuum, that recognizes “stars,” “high potentials” and – dare I say – “low potentials.”
You should openly value the performance of high-versus-low performers. High performers often resent low performers, especially when they’re treated similarly to high performers, which is often regarded as a professional insult to the work high performers are proud to perform. When obviously inferior work is rewarded in nearly the same ways as superior work, you’re breeding resentment that will eventually explode into resignations.
Note that this requires you to make some hard decisions. Most corporate cultures (and the executives who inhabit them) are reluctant to publicly contrast high versus low performers. But if you want to retain the best performers, you need to make it clear to everyone just how valued they are – at the expense of those who bring little value to the game.
Your best and brightest business-technologists should have lots of team, project and program flexibility. They should have the flexibility to choose roles as well. If they choose to avoid huge projects with enormous management responsibilities, they should be able to do so. They should have the freedom to invest in specific technologies and perhaps, should they choose to do so, create Centers of Excellence. While this kind of flexibility may sound excessive, high performers crave control over their professional lives. If you want to keep them, you must yield significant control over their activities. Don’t worry too much: the best business-technologists are usually drawn to the most important projects.
Flexibility dovetails with respect. It’s another way of recognizing the special status of valuable business-technologists. The ability to do what’s preferred – to even chase a technology bucket-list – is an extremely important retention tool. It’s also important to allow high performers to stay put where they’re doing good work. Some business-technologists prefer to pursue specific work streams versus pursuing so-called “bigger” projects with more (and more) responsibility. You must be extremely careful about traditional retention methods that assume talented professionals want more (and more) responsibility. Your job is to keep talented professionals happy and productive. Understanding their preferred ways of working is key to retention.
Let’s not deceive ourselves: financial rewards are the most important rewards you can bestow on your best and brightest business-technologists. These rewards should be in several forms. Base salary, bonuses and stock – regardless of whether the company is public or private – should comprise the financial compensation package. Benefits should be generous as well, so generous that benefits themselves become a recruiting and retention strategy; and like what universities do to avoid burnout and support knowledge creation activities, you might also consider offering sabbaticals to your most valuable performers. Obviously, high performers can work from home, down the road, across the country or around the world.
Rewards should also go beyond money. But here the challenge is more complicated. School-like awards should not be part of the reward package. High performers do not generally appreciate pieces of paper with embossed names; nor do they appreciate dedicated days of recognition or similar accolades. Such “rewards” are sometimes even embarrassing. You should ask your best performers how they might like to be recognized and rewarded. Ask them what they might like, and what they might find appropriate. Finally, make it your business to understand the personal priorities of your superstars. Major personal events in their lives should be wrapped in professional rewards. For example, if you discover that that one of your stars if shopping for colleges for their children, offer long weekends for out-of-town visits to the colleges on the list.
End of Talent
Well, that’s it – three parts about talent:
- Part I talks about strategic talent.
- Part II talks about extended talent.
- Part III talks about recruitment, retention and rewards.