How to retain talent: Sungard AS CIO's advice

How does CIO Chris Fielding retain the rising stars on her IT team? She sets a positive, respectful, and inclusive tone – and takes advantage of individual strengths
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[ Editor's note: This article is part of an ongoing series in which we ask CIOs and IT leaders about their toughest talent challenges – and their best retention tips. Here, Chris Fielding, CIO of Sungard AS, shares a few ways she nurtures talent and fosters excitement for learning on her team.]

As we move to a cloud-first strategy using Software as a Service (SaaS), the integration platform has become key to moving data between environments. But it has been difficult to find talent with skills in this area. Often the expertise we need is in demand by other organizations, which makes these skilled professionals hard to snatch up.

To solve this shortage, we turned toward further developing the skills of our existing employees. By identifying common skills required for other technologies, we determined the employees who would be the best fit for the integration platform and then cross-trained them to the new technology. While this initially slowed our progress and led to a few missteps, the payoff has outweighed the initial setbacks and the ramp up required when onboarding new employees. We now have a stronger team, excited to learn new skills that they can deploy in better serving our business.

[ See our related article: 4 habits of lifelong learners. ]

The other area we face talent challenges is in network architecture. A cloud-first strategy puts different strains on the network and requires a rethinking of methodology. In order to fill this need and onboard highly skilled network architects, we initially tried using the contract market. We didn’t see a high rate of success there, so we developed a program approach for our team, where they work with a third party to cultivate the required expertise. We’ve seen great success with the program so far. 

How I retain the rising stars in my IT organization

Team leaders need to be forward thinking and consider how to best use new technologies to improve end-user experience and IT productivity. This mindset to test new technologies in order to find new efficiencies opens the door to a proof of concept (PoC), which can be a way to investigate future technology options.

The PoC gives employees both the excitement of being a part of a team testing new technologies and a vision for how their personal skill set should progress to fit the new technology and goals. The rising stars will grab the opportunities and push to move things forward, making for a positive work environment and leading to growth of the whole team.

Nurturing talent and promoting from within requires confident leaders who will hire talented people and then help them grow. If you’re unable to offer opportunities in your own team for your high performers, you need to always be on the lookout for options to offer within your business. You can’t be afraid of people moving on: You never know when you may have an opportunity to work with them again.

Bonus tip: Don't underestimate respect and positivity

I have always tried to train and nurture talent to be the best in the market, and I then work hard to make the environment they work in the best and most enjoyable possible. My goal is to have every person feel positive about working for the team and company so they want to recommend us to their friends. I embrace the responsibility of setting a positive tone of inclusion, celebrating diversity, and playing every person to their strengths.

However, it also falls to the leader to make the hard decisions and deal with poor performance. Without intervening action, your talent will lose respect for you and the company, and then move on. While uncomfortable, those difficult decisions will ultimately improve your team’s experience and mentality, and in the long run, help you retain your best employees. 

[ Are you ready to discuss cloud security concerns? Get our concise guide (.PDF) to learn from the experts: Hybrid cloud security: 5 questions skeptics will ask. ]

Chris Fielding is the Chief Information Officer for Sungard Availability Services (Sungard AS). She joined the company in 2008 and held several positions before taking on her current role in January of 2018. A seasoned IT leader with over 30 years of experience in the global arena, Chris previously held senior-level positions at TIBCO, Vodafone and Oracle.