4 tips to help retain IT talent

Pandemic-related stress is putting more pressure than ever on IT teams. Consider this expert advice to manage the non-technical challenges your talent faces
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Over the past two years, IT leaders have been tasked with juggling innovation to keep business operations running efficiently – all at breakneck speed while collaborating with external partners. CIOs must also collaborate with internal stakeholders to manage the risks.

As business models and customer interactions have shifted to digital platforms, technology management has also changed to allow employees to remain productive in this new environment.

Organizations today have a diverse and truly globalized workforce and must consider different cultures, time zones, and currencies. Many employees also struggle with challenges such as balancing the demands of work and family, dealing with a more solitary work environment, and more – all of which affect mental health and work performance.

[ Also read Soft skills in IT: 10 CIOs share career advice. ]

The Great Resignation arguably has given rise to the need for servant leadership while elevating the importance of talent management. According to ISACA’s 2022 State of Cybersecurity Report, a lack of management support is among the top reasons cybersecurity professionals leave their organizations.

To retain IT talent, leaders must understand their strengths and motivations. An HBR study shows that resignations are higher in the technology sector, potentially due to increased workloads and burnout. If you as an IT leader cannot identify the signs of burnout and stress and adjust your strategy to alleviate them, you risk losing key talent.

Consider the following tactics to help your team stay balanced and productive.

1. Prioritize communication

Communication is a critical management skill. Even pre-pandemic, research showed that effective communication between workers improves team performance. During the lockdowns and remote work, IT leaders who did not work to facilitate timely input and feedback with their team members likely saw more misunderstandings and problems due to miscommunication.

In addition to interacting regularly and efficiently with your team members, it’s important to communicate effectively with senior leadership regarding the innovations and digitization projects you have been tasked with.

2. Build trust through DevOps culture

As an IT leader, you must build trust with your team members as well as their external stakeholders. Maintaining key partnerships and integrations with vendors and partners is crucial in a digital-first environment. Regular engagement with business leaders such as product and marketing teams, along with open sharing of information, also helps in efficient decision-making. A DevOps structure that enables the IT team to collaborate closely with business teams helps to foster trust between teams and breaks down silos in most organizations.

[ Related read 10 ways DevOps can help reduce technical debt ]

3. Practice servant leadership

When employees feel comfortable expressing their needs and opinions, they collaborate and perform at a higher level, which leads to better, faster deliverables.

Practicing “servant leadership,” which prioritizes growth and employee well-being, helps employees thrive and builds trust between IT and business teams. Given the global shortage of IT talent, a leadership style that puts employees first fosters trust, growth, and accountability in employees and in turn will help your organization grow.

When employees feel comfortable expressing their needs and opinions, they collaborate and perform at a higher level, which leads to better, faster deliverables. Consider establishing “safe spaces” such as coffee talks, skip-level chats, and one-on-one catchups in which you can help address and resolve challenges.

4. Mentor

Mentoring can be an effective and practical way to help IT leaders grow by learning from others. Mentoring sessions should be bi-directional: IT leaders can learn about various challenges and put themselves in others’ shoes.

Mentorship is essentially hands-on training for IT leaders who are practicing servant leadership. Ask your mentees about the challenges they face and practice active listening. Help guide them in managing and resolving these challenges during your sessions.

In today’s digital world, IT leaders need more than just technical skills – communication, empathy, mentorship, and other skills are also essential to manage and motivate your team members. Focusing on these areas will help empower your team members, improve retention, and enable better collaboration with business leaders across the organization.

[ Learn how CIOs are speeding toward goals while preventing employee burnout in this report from Harvard Business Review Analytic Services: Maintaining Momentum on Digital Transformation. ]

Ser Yoong is the CIO of Jewel Paymentech, where he is leading the company's cloud-first technology solutions and management. Jewel specializes in providing AI-driven end-to-end solutions for managing customers' risk, particularly in the financial services industry.