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How can CIOs remain innovative to ensure they retain their top technical talent?

How can CIOs remain innovative to ensure they retain their top technical talent?

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CIOs are spending more time on innovation, with three-quarters stating they have increased innovation efforts, according to the 2021 Global CIO Survey from Logicalis, a global provider of IT solutions. 

The study, which questions 1,000 CIOs from around the world, finds that despite a strong focus on innovation, just 27% of CIOs describe it as part of their company culture.  

The research suggests a lack of innovation embedded in company culture and organizational willingness to evolve and adopt modern technologies.  

But is this hesitancy to expand innovation across the business impacting on an organization’s ability to retain its top tech talent?

We asked four industry experts how CIOs can remain innovative to ensure they avoid this problem.

Nicholas Benjamin, Nintex Senior Vice President of Engineering

Nicholas Benjamin, Nintex Senior Vice President of Engineering, told us: “In the current business climate with a critical shortage of skilled people in the IT sector, retaining top talent should be a CIO’s top priority. Positioning their organization as one that can provide a long and fulfilling career has never been more important.
“CIOs also need to be fully engaged with their staff and have a clear picture of how fulfilled they are currently feeling. If an individual feels tightly connected to their organization and shares in its long-term mission, they are much more likely to remain in their role.
“It is also important to ensure that an organization’s top talent is offered on-going mentoring and development opportunities. Senior people should be encouraged to work alongside more junior staff to help them overcome any challenges they might encounter and to grow professionally.
“The way a CIO stays in touch with their team also needs to evolve as that team grows. The techniques that worked when the team numbered 20 to 50 people will need to be adjusted when numbers scale to a couple of hundred.
“Another step CIOs can take to help to retain talent is to keep in place the flexible and remote working measures that became a part of daily life during the COVID lockdowns. Many people are attracted by the ability to split their time between home and the office and locking this in as a permanent feature will be a positive move.
“Flexibility should also be in place when it comes to the hours worked. Some people find they are more productive at night or early in the morning. CIOs should make it clear that it doesn’t matter when work is completed as long as agreed deadlines are met.
“Employee mental health should be another area of focus for CIOs, in conjunction with their HR departments. People need to feel they are free to request assistance and support when it’s needed without fearing any recrimination or penalty.
“When it comes to retaining top staff, CIOs also need to realize they are in competition not just with other IT firms or departments, but potentially with everything from whisky distilleries to farms. Smart people often look to make a complete career change at some point in their lives and this needs to be factored into long-term retention strategies.”

Peter Murphy, Head of Consulting, Atturra Advisory

Peter Murphy, Head of Consulting, Atturra Advisory

While traditionally the challenge of recruiting and retaining skilled IT professionals has been handled by an organization’s HR department, responsibility now lies squarely with the Chief Information Officer.

No longer purely focused on technology deployment and management, CIOs are now involved in everything from staff selection and onboarding to coaching and career guidance. This broader leadership role is a critical part of building motivated and productive teams that can help an organization flourish.

This evolution of the CIO’s role can be a little challenging for some of the people in the job. Many will have been selected for their deep technical understanding and experience rather than their ability to manage and develop staff.

For this reason, many find they have to learn these broader skills ‘on the job’ and look to other senior executives for guidance. Through this process, they can evolve their approach to management and become better at retaining talent within their teams.

Another critical factor that is vital when looking to increase staff retention is to offer flexibility of work practices. Most people are now familiar with working from home and many want to continue this even after COVID restrictions have been removed. Organizations that offer a mix of office and home working will be viewed favorably by both current and prospective staff members.

The CIO also has a role when it comes to staff training and development. Retention levels are likely to be higher when staff can see a clear career path and are given the opportunity to gain the knowledge and skills they will require to progress. Here, CIOs can contribute mapping individual development paths and developing their teams so that these goals become achievable.

Perhaps the most important thing a CIO can do to help retain talent is to become a first-class communicator. Rather than sitting in an office behind a closed door, they need to be constantly touching base with people and understanding both the challenges they are facing and the successes they are achieving.

A powerful technique to use here is the so-called ‘stay’ interview. Many organizations conduct exit interviews for staff, but far fewer have a system for obtaining their views why they chose to remain. This can help to ensure they are satisfied with their roles and are keen to remain.

Pieter DeGunst, Managing Director, Tecala

Pieter DeGunst, Managing Director, Tecala

The role of a Chief Information Officer is one that is multifaceted. As well as being responsible for their organization’s applications and infrastructure, a CIO also needs to focus on how that technology stack supports and enhances business processes.

Their responsibilities don’t end there. A CIO must-have a clear understanding of how staff are utilizing technology as part of their roles as well as how technology investments go to support customer interactions and service channels.

Perhaps something a little more recently brought into focus, CIOs have a significant role to play when it comes to attracting and retaining talent. Having access to high-quality technology platforms is shown to drive up Employee Satisfaction (ESAT) and Employee Value Proposition (EVP) scores.

Talented people are far more likely to join an organization that has the tools, platforms and processes they need to excel in their roles. If there is little evidence that strong investment is being made in these areas, staff are likely to look for alternative places of employment.

These attitudes are particularly prevalent among younger workers. They have grown up with technology and see it as an integral part of their daily lives. They expect much higher degrees of system sophistication and reliability than their colleagues may have in the past.

Unfortunately, within some organizations, these drivers of satisfaction among staff are often overlooked. Indeed, many business cases put forward for investment in technology overlook the impact it will have on employees.

CIOs can also help to make their workplaces more attractive for talented staff in other ways. One is to make use of technology to automate tedious and repetitive tasks, thus allowing staff to focus on higher value activities.

Staff will look favorably on an organization that has removed much of the manual process typically used in internal processes and has tools in place that assist in streamlining everything from booking annual leave to checking network security measures.

Leading-edge technology platforms also have a role to play when it comes to reducing the likelihood that talented staff will be poached by rival organizations. They need to be focused on what is being done to acquire, retain and engage talented people.

Rather than being a back-office manager focused on ‘keeping the lights on’, CIOs are pivotal when it comes to keeping talented staff highly engaged in supporting their business’ purpose in the longer-term.

Craig Somerville, CEO, Somerville

Craig Somerville, CEO, Somerville

The challenges faced by Australian CIOs tend to be similar to those facing other senior executives. Attracting and retaining staff, keeping teams motivated, and delivering on customer expectations are the issues topping the typical CIO’s daily ‘to-do’ list.
Interestingly, though, it hasn’t always been that way. Traditionally, CIOs were hired for their technical prowess and focused their time on ensuring IT infrastructures delivered the support the business required. Staff management tended to be the responsibility of others.
Now, in 2022, the role of a CIO has evolved. They are just as likely to be involved in people management as they are in a server refresh project. The CIO has effectively become the CEO of their organization’s IT department.
This evolution of the CIO role is particularly important when it comes to talent retention amid an on-going shortage of skilled candidates. It is the CIO who sets the culture and tone of the IT department and motivates staff to excel.
One of the most important things a CIO can do to help retain staff is to create a workplace that offers flexibility. With remote working now standard in the wake of the COVID pandemic, being able to decide where and when they complete their roles has become something many expect in the workplace.
Another important activity for CIOs is the creation of career pathways for staff. Individuals are more likely to join and remain loyal to an organization if they can clearly see how they’ll be able to improve their skills and rise through the ranks.
It should also be remembered that a CIO’s role doesn’t end at 5pm as strong teams also benefit from regular social gatherings. Staff will be motivated if they see their CIO is keen to join in and may be more likely to come forward with ideas and suggestions on projects and company issues.
Where once a CIO would have probably been relegated to an office adjacent to the computer room, they are now more likely to be seen roaming the corridors or joining in online discussion meetings to both share ideas and gain feedback from their staff.
The CIO’s role in attracting and retaining staff is critical and one that will continue to evolve in the years ahead.

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