Retain highly-motivated IT talent by being flexible

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Harvard Business Review How to Keep Your Top Talent CIO

Recruitment, engagement and retention are critical for any CIO. And in my experience, they can contribute to a higher retention rate by creating a personalized value proposition for those they work alongside.

Companies in highly-competitive markets or industries can't rely on salary alone to win. From my office, I can throw a stone and hit at least seven Fortune 500 companies. If my employees aren't happy, there is no shortage of places they can go within a few block radius.

We found that we could build a stronger value proposition by broadening roles and responsibilities, empowering people to contribute and innovate in unique ways, not just stick to a title or what it says on their job description. In fact, a lot of our hires come from the Fortune 500 world, where they’ve been forced to play very discrete role and be a cog in a machine. They are thrilled by the opportunity to make their mark on the company.

Building a team of innovators

This approach can work well, but not without the right hires. If you are giving employees more freedom and flexibility in their roles, you want to hire for the skills that are important to moving your business forward. For us, that meant bringing people in who have the ability to interface with clients, the ability to drive projects, and the ability to translate business requirements into technology outcomes. When we have the right people in place, we're then able to give them free reign to work with the business, to drive those outcomes, and to put those solutions in place.

When people are using lots of different muscles, when they are engaged in different ways and learning different skills, it makes work exciting. It empowers them.

As a not-for-profit organization, this approach works especially well for us. We have limited capabilities to just throw money at people and solve our business problems that way. Instead, we focus on hiring good people, setting a direction for what we’re trying to accomplish and helping them embrace that vision. Then we let them do whatever they need to do to accomplish those outcomes.

This flexibility extends beyond just what our employees do, but where and when they work. If they have the opportunity to work remotely, they can do that. I always tell my people, “If you can get the job done on a beach in Tahiti, good for you! As long as we get the outcomes we need.”

We find that each individual has their own unique value proposition and different things that motivate them. Understanding what those things are and working with that individual, to do things that matter to them, is really important. For instance, I have one person on my staff who has a daughter who plays soccer on Wednesday afternoons. So on Wednesday, he's able to leave a little early so that he can share that time with his daughter.

Another area where we try to remain flexible is in recognizing the need for new or expanded titles. As everyone taps into their innate skills, we often have people spanning what would comprise multiple roles in other organizations. And as we've broadened individual work experiences, we're seeing a need for less specific titles. For instance, we created a role for Solution Specialist. This is a person who works with the business to understand what the requirements for growth and transformation are, and to craft solutions to meet those requirements.

By creating a personalized value proposition for each employee, CIOs can ensure that their staff members feel valued. It's this investment in people that will enable an organization to achieve truly innovative business outcomes.

Larry Bonfante is the CIO of the United States Tennis Association and an executive coach at CIO Bench Coach. As an award-winning CIO, Bonfante's mission is to help develop world-class technology leaders and teams who enable their organizations to deliver outstanding business results.

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