Six creative ways to retain IT talent

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CIO Mentorship People

It’s no longer enough to offer a great position and salary package to talented IT professionals. In today's job market, employers must do much more to keep top IT talent. Otherwise, they risk seeing their brightest technology employees be recruited away. The Enterprisers Project asked six top IT executives what creative steps they're taking to retain technology talent. Here's what they said:

1. Reverse mentor young talent

"I’ve had two Millennial mentors in the last four years or so, and I’ve found the relationships so valuable that I’ve arranged for my entire C-Suite to have their own 'reverse mentors.' These mentors are a melting pot of young professionals from the IT function. And while my younger mentor helps keep me posted on technology trends, the other young mentors help C-Suite executives by solving any of their IT problems and teaching them shortcuts and tools that can help them do their jobs more efficiently.  ... But perhaps the biggest benefit is that it gives this younger generation more exposure to senior leadership, which they love. They enjoy walking into the offices of the CFO and CMO as if they’re buddies. Further, by empowering them, these young professionals truly feel part of the organization, which is one of the best tools for retaining them." - Venki Rao, Chief Information Officer, GE Digital Energy

2. Help build their leadership skills

"We train recruits to be better leaders. After we hire talented college grads, we help hone their technical and leadership skills through our Technology Leadership Program (TLP). Select new hires, as well as existing employees with demonstrated leadership skills, go through the 24-month training and rotational development program to receive ongoing technical and professional training. Participants are placed in three rotating positions, where they work with seasoned professionals across our IT division. The program gives recent grads on-the-job experience and helps define their goals for the future at Vanguard, which helps ensure we’re setting them up for success from day one." - John Marcante, Chief Information Officer, Vanguard


3. Encourage internal collaboration

"Once your new employee is on the job, you have to provide onboarding, initial training, and a clear sense of their job responsibilities. To make someone feel truly productive and connected, however, you’ve also got to integrate that person into your company’s business strategy. ... We encourage our associates to engage and interact using our collaboration tools and to speak to the whole company. Often our newest hires have a unique perspective that others wouldn’t, so I encourage them to provide input, not just on IT issues but broadly across the company. We try to reinforce that in IT by having ongoing discussions via our internal collaboration tools about the nature of our business, how it’s changing, and what our challenges and opportunities are." - Lee Congdon, CIO, Red Hat


4. Host dinner at your home

"It turns out that something I do naturally is turning out to be a differentiator for us – inviting everyone on my 250-member team over to my house for dinner. It doesn’t happen all at once. I’ve had events at my house focused on each of the individual teams. I’ve had dinners in my home to celebrate accomplishments or milestones. Recently, I invited all the new employees who haven’t yet had a chance to spend some time with me. These dinners simply allow the teams to interact with one another – and with me – in a very different social setting. And it’s fun. It’s always extremely well received. And while there are probably 10 other things we do in our department that allow our employees to have a direct voice with me, this is always a favorite. It lets employees know their voices are heard, and that they’re encouraged to be an agent of innovation. It may sound like a small thing, but it’s something that separates us from other employers. And I think it’s something simple that not only helps our IT organization be more successful, but also helps us attract and retain top talent." - Curt Carver, Vice Chancellor and Chief Information Officer for the Board of Regents, University System of Georgia

5. Create a failure-free zone

"It’s important to give talented employees new opportunities and allow them to stretch themselves. At NetApp we have an Innovation Zone where people can try out new ideas. This is both a physical space within the IT organization and a virtual place online. We have a lab for the technology components so we can dry-run different products and ideas. And virtually people can share ideas through our intranet, which we call our IT Front Door. It’s important that people can fail fast with something that isn’t going to work out or try a new idea and then bring it forward. Our Innovation Zone is actually where our cloud initiatives were born. And people can share ideas not only on the technology side but also on the process side." - Cynthia Stoddard, Senior Vice President and CIO, NetApp

6. Let them move around

Managers — me personally or others around — have to work collaboratively to ensure that we give people the opportunities to move to different areas within the organization. And move such that there are opportunities to grow; people get stale in one role. I’m very fortunate that whether I wanted to or not, the company has always moved me between different roles. But I always try to create that opportunity for people to move out of my departments and to bring people in from outside those departments, so people will stay fresh.  And of course it doesn’t hurt to have friends who’ve moved out into the various operating units. - Cliff Tamplin, Consultant and Former Vice President of Technology Support & Risk Management, Hyatt Hotels Corporation

Learn more about how you can overcome talent shortages in this Harvard Business Review article, "Make your company a talent factory." Access the article below.

Ginny Holden is an independent consultant who brings the practice of IT to life through memorable storytelling.