When opportunity knocks, talent talks. But without the right IT skills in place, growth will take a walk.
In fact, according to a 2021 Korn Ferry report, the U.S. could miss out on $162 billion in annual revenues if it doesn’t rustle up more tech workers. And if you think tech industry layoffs have changed things, think again: A recent Gartner survey showed nearly 90 percent of CIOs said they are facing greater competition for candidates, nearly three quarters adding they’re worried about IT talent attrition.
In many ways, the success of a company depends upon the strength of its IT team. Is it able to pivot to take advantage of a new market development? Does R&D have the resources to answer the call for new products and services? Can the company quickly scale up to accommodate growth, serve remote workers, and support customers reliably and regardless of distance?
Over the years, I’ve experienced the pressure and pleasure of building nimble IT teams that are ready to overcome challenges and facilitate growth. Here are some tips that have helped us perform, all while cultivating a culture that attracts skilled candidates even amid a constrained talent marketplace.
1. Develop multiple dimensions
First, understand the purpose and objective of your team based on the IT services it will provide and the level of demand. This will give you an idea of the scope of work, the skills needed, and the size of the team. Make sure you plug into business roadmaps and, if available, a five-year business plan. Consider large efforts such as digital transformation, platform shifts, and planned growth.
From there, build a development ecosphere that includes multiple levels of experience such as junior, middle, and senior talent. For instance, we brought on a junior member, and while less experienced, they had a number of technologies in their toolkit and an abundance of drive.
[ Also read Digital transformation: How to teach the language of change. ]
When you have people at all levels who help direct such talent, and a junior person who can knock it out of the park, you’ll see healthy competition that increases overall productivity and performance. Further, all levels develop continually and faster, including team leads as they become more attuned to the value of developing talent, which they’ll surely need as the company grows.
2. Consider traits and character
The drive mentioned above is just one of many traits and character indicators to look for when hiring. For instance, when evaluating candidates, search for those who are demonstrated fast learners. Candidates with a proven aptitude for learning new technologies and skills and for performing well in new roles are best suited to tackling challenges and shifts in business. But make sure they can show how they handle short time frames for project ramp-up and delivery – this will provide needed agility.
Work ethic is also important. You don’t want someone who waits to be told what their next assignment will be. Seizing growth opportunities requires people who are proactive in determining next steps and ready to advance on their own. A candidate doesn’t necessarily need to be highly skilled to exhibit this – they just need to be curious, want to be valued, and care about their performance.
3. Discover dynamics and diligence
When a company goes through a merger, acquisition, or mass layoff, it’s tempting to rush in and grab newly available talent. However, this is a time to exercise caution because you could end up with fool’s gold.
Remember that when a company restructures, it holds onto its most valuable people.
That’s not to say you shouldn’t pursue those who have been laid off – in many cases, layoffs have nothing to do with performance – but you do need to conduct careful screening.
Start by becoming familiar with their former industry; recent market dynamics could explain their employment position. Work those connections within the space to get an insider’s view. Do your due diligence, and lean into those personal references so you don’t bring in someone who slows your team down.
4. Reveal motive and mindset
You’ll likely come across IT talent who saw the writing on the wall and decided to leave a stagnant business on their own accord. Others may have been vested in a company, performed well, and received a payout but are now looking at a long time before the next one rolls around. These proven professionals could be eager for a change of pace and easy to plug into your team. Find out what’s motivating their move, and you might find talent that is predisposed to overcoming challenges and focused on growth.
Specifically, you want to know if a candidate is more self-serving than looking to be part of a team environment. You don’t want to hire someone, bring them up to speed, and have team members rely on them only to see them leave in a couple of years for another opportunity.
Ask those questions like, “Why this company and team?” but also go deeper to get a sense of their mindset. For example, ask them to tell you about the first 20 years of their life, their parental and other influences, why they picked the school they attended, and more.
You want to know what fundamentally is behind their decision-making. By doing so, you’ll be able to gauge better if they will stick around and fit the team culture that you envision.
5. Have their backs
Recruitment and employee retention are opposite sides of the same coin. All the efforts you put into building an IT team can be quickly undermined if key personnel leave. That said, always advocate for your people, and if you do make a bad hire, deal with it immediately to keep toxicity from setting in.
Be sure to communicate closely and ensure teammates do the same with each other. Encourage staff to surface issues without waiting for one-to-one check-ins: This can cause team members to sit on issues when you want them to reach out to you and their peers freely and often. We have a “Work Anywhere” policy, for example, and the key to its success is biannual face-to-face meetings so that everyone, including remote workers, can collaborate and strengthen their bonds.
A good team is as invested in its environment and culture as its leader. Remember, they are depending on you to ensure their ecosphere is a healthy one – and your ability to do so could be what attracts future candidates and enables your company to thrive.
[ Learn the non-negotiable skills, technologies, and processes CIOs are leaning on to build resilience and agility in this HBR Analytic Services report: Pillars of resilient digital transformation: How CIOs are driving organizational agility. ]