8 new rules for winning the IT talent battle

The Great Resignation is creating challenges for organizations looking to hire top IT talent. Consider these expert recruitment and retention tips
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The predicted turnover tsunami is well underway, with enterprises across industries facing record-high IT talent losses. Attrition rates had risen an average of 10.5 percent over the previous quarter, according to an August 2021 quick poll conducted by Everest Group, with more than one-third (36 percent) of respondents reporting increases of more than 11 percent over the previous three months. “We are definitely seeing attrition rates starting to rise,” says Michel Janssen, chief research officer at Everest Group. “It’s becoming an across-the-board issue.”

The resulting battle for technology pros hitting the market is bound to grow more intense. Yet only a minority of enterprise IT organizations have the kind of well-defined and proactive strategies needed to ensure some level of predictability in their workforce pipelines in this challenging environment.

Everest Group has taken research from its strategic IT workforce development assessments to examine what the highest-performing IT functions (those that achieve the greatest business, operational, and cost impacts) are doing to address current talent gaps and prepare their workforces for the future. They discovered that it’s not the biggest companies – or those with the most money to spend – who perform the best.

[ Want more hiring advice? Read IT hiring: 5 ways to attract talent amidst the Great Resignation. ] 

8 rules for winning and retaining IT talent in 2022

“The goal is finding the best talent at speed to create predictability in the pipeline. Everyone knows this, but not everyone is successful,” says Ashwin Venkatesan, vice president of Information Technology Services for Everest Group. “It’s not who you are, but what you are doing that will enable outcomes.” And what those companies have done suggests several new rules for winning IT talent today.

1. Approach IT workforce development as a cross-functional undertaking with dedicated governance and leadership

Succeeding in today’s hyper-competitive and volatile talent market requires broad collaboration and coordination among IT, HR, legal, finance, business functions, and third-party providers. Every one of the leading enterprise IT organizations that Everest Group looked at has a dedicated IT workforce team with clear leadership and shared ownership of IT workforce development among IT, HR, and operations.

2. Get better at tracking skills and roles

“All enterprises need to have a robust understanding of the skills and roles they require,” says Venkatesan. This requires a clear understanding of future business needs and transformation initiatives. Leaders create rigor around roles and skills taxonomies, create clear definitions that address not only technical requirements but also soft skills, and update these constantly. As a result, they can predict the expected demand and supply profile across skills accurately and time their investments privately and estimate the time required to acquire and onboard talent (particularly in emerging areas of demand).

3. Invest in internal mobility above all else

The best-performing IT organizations focus more on internal development than external recruitment as their main long-term lever for talent fulfillment.

This is the secret to creating greater predictability in the talent supply chain, says Venkatesan. The best-performing IT organizations focus more on internal development than external recruitment as their main long-term lever for talent fulfillment. Creating aggressive internal mobility targets (up to 70 percent for positions for niche skills) is an effective approach, says Venkatesan.

4. Figure out how to hire ahead of demand

Ad hoc or reactive role fulfillment without strategic planning is a recipe for madness. Leading enterprise IT functions conduct IT workforce planning with a two- to three-year horizon in mind and combine that with monthly (or at a minimum, quarterly) reviews and adjustments. “It’s not just about the here and now,” Venkatesan says.

5. Take a multi-channel approach

The best-performing enterprise IT organizations embrace a variety of traditional and emerging channels to source new talent to augment their internal pipelines. That means just not on-campus recruiting, but upstream involvement with college technology competitions and tech boot camps, strong referral programs, integration of independent contractors for short-term or peripheral needs, crowdsourcing, and partnership with niche IT service providers.

6. Sustained investment bests opportunistic involvement

Whether you’re talking about salaries and benefits programs or diversity and inclusion efforts, leaders see greater returns by investing for the long term based on employee and organizational welfare rather than perception or PR. “There’s a difference between providing lip service and clearly walking the path,” says Venkatesan. “It’s not just about posturing but seen as a continuous theme or charter.”

7. Location matters

This may seem counterintuitive given the widespread adoption of remote work. However, the most successful IT functions may embrace a flexible location strategy in the short term, but they are researching sustainable strategies for the long haul. A sustainable locations strategy, as Everest Group describes it, addresses short- and long-term goals regarding talent availability, operations viability, and related issues.

8. Hyper-focus on measuring and improving productivity

There’s no denying it: Salary inflation is real, and baseline IT staffing costs are going to increase significantly, says Venkatesan. That’s why the most forward-looking companies are putting a huge effort into productivity improvements, Venkatesan adds. “It’s going to become a game of getting more done more with less,” says Venkatesan.

Complementing workforce planning with productivity improvements will help organizations achieve a desirable outcome: predictability in the talent pipeline that creates resilience in a way that doesn’t bust budgets.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Stephanie Overby is an award-winning reporter and editor with more than twenty years of professional journalism experience. For the last decade, her work has focused on the intersection of business and technology. She lives in Boston, Mass.