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?

Intelligent CIO asked industry experts how CIOs can remain innovative to ensure they retain their top technical talent. Here are their responses:

George Dochev, Co-Founder and Chairman, LucidLink

George Dochev, Co-Founder and Chairman, LucidLink

One of the greatest challenges for any organization is identifying and retaining top IT talent.

The current business environment has made this especially challenging given the high levels of demand for experienced engineers, programmers and cloud network architects. At LucidLink, we’ve been fortunate to have retained the majority of our global development team since our company launched in 2016 (we’ve only had a single person from our 30-person team leave the company). 

The secret behind our retention success? Building a culture that puts people first. While this may seem like a very simple concept, building and maintaining this kind of organizational philosophy is much more complex. We subscribe to the philosophy that you should treat your employees as if you’ll be working for them one day.

The IT world has traditionally held a ‘product first’ mentality, placing development teams under intense pressure to quickly turn around deliverables on-time and under budget with little consideration to the welfare of the developers involved.

This type of commoditized thinking and environment is not only toxic and unsustainable in the long term, but it also makes recruiting and retaining your best talent incredibly difficult.

In our view, true innovation comes from putting people before product. Every product has a set shelf life, and the technology that we see as innovative today will be considered ‘table stakes’ within the next three to five years.

Knowledge workers (especially in this highly competitive environment) want to feel empowered and invested in the success of the companies they work for, and our core values and philosophies reflect that.

We believe in placing more authority and decision-making at the employee level. While the authority and overall strategy for the company continue to flow from the top down, everyone brings ideas to the table no matter their experience.

We also practice workplace transparency – sharing information freely in an effort to create a positive company culture. From our financial outlook to our broader strategy, we share the same information with our employees as we do with our board of directors. Communication is key between our employees, partners and customers.

While this ‘flat thinking’ can be difficult to maintain as a company scales, we know that it provides a greater level of engagement and loyalty that goes beyond pure compensation (although it is also an important consideration).

Praveen Rangnath, Chief Marketing Officer, Imply

Praveen Rangnath, Chief Marketing Officer, Imply 

Developers are the new kings and queens of every successful digital-first and enterprise organization, and so if a CIO wants to retain developers, they must treat them that way. This begins with empowerment.

Developer empowerment is the foundation upon which a highly successful and productive technical culture is built. Organizations can no longer operate in a manner where executives make decisions around what technologies are deployed within an organization.

These decisions must be made by the developers and technical leaders themselves. Why? Because empowering technical teams to make technical decisions is a proven path to ensuring the organization deploys leading-edge, scalable technologies, rather than legacy technologies built for a different purpose.

This proven path is demonstrated through some of the largest technology trends we see in the industry today. For example, on the website of every successful software and SaaS provider, there is a link for ‘free SaaS trial’ or ‘free download’.

This is in recognition of how technical teams like to immediately get their hands on a product, usually before speaking to the sales team of that software provider. CIOs must see and recognize this, and support this manner of learning and adoption by their technical teams.  

In addition, developer empowerment is shown through the massive industry movement of open source software, where developers not only gain access to free software, but also collectively contribute to the development of that software to make it better for the entire community.

Today, many of the most successful software and data infrastructure companies have emerged out of open source projects.

These commercial entities built to augment open source software have an immense advantage – from the day they are founded, there are already thousands of users already using the underlying open source technology in production, at scale, which demonstrates to newer members of the community that the offering is scalable and reliable.

The open source model is perhaps the single greatest manifestation of developer empowerment – developers deploy the open source software, they contribute code to make the open source software even better, and they are empowered to continue on the open source path or choose a commercial vendor augmenting the open source offering.

Here too, CIOs must recognize and support their developers’ preference to engage in the open source model as the best means to innovate and make the right technology decisions.

As evident, the world is changing. As every company increasingly becomes a software company, there is no longer a divide between technology and the business. In fact, technology is the new core of the business, which makes technical leaders the new core business leader.

C-level executives need to recognize this and embrace the new model of developer and technical empowerment as the path to not only success and innovation, but also retention of their top technical talent.

Michael Jack, CRO and Co-Founder, Datadobi

Michael Jack, CRO and Co-Founder, Datadobi

Few would argue that we remain in an age of disruption, especially as it pertains to attracting and retaining top technical talent. While this has long been an issue, it is one that has been greatly exacerbated by today’s rapidly changing paradigms in the way people want to work – leading in large part to what is now known as the ‘Great Resignation.’

For CIOs in particular, an inability to find, attract and retain top technical talent has led to uncertainty in their ability to help drive organizational growth. So how can CIOs find and retain people with the right skills to not only meet today’s business requirements, but tomorrow’s as well? 

Today, I believe there are three key areas on which CIOs should focus in order to overcome these challenges and rise above their talent acquisition competitors. They are: flexibility, communication and supporting entrepreneurial spirits. 

If greater work flexibility is desired over traditional work scenarios, CIOs need to embrace it.

Studies are now showing that employees that are afforded the choice of working completely from home or in a hybrid fashion are more engaged, have a deeper connection to their employer and are therefore more likely to be retained and generate superior work results.

Next, CIOs should encourage transparent and consistent communication between themselves and their team members to ensure that each employee understands the direction in which their organization is heading and the critical role they play in achieving its goals.

And last but not least, entrepreneurial spirits that wish to break down technology barriers should be applauded by CIOs. New and innovative technology holds the key for organizations that wish to enhance their workforce’s capabilities, drive down costs and ensure competitive advantage. 

Surya Varanasi, CTO, StorCentric

Surya Varanasi, CTO, StorCentric 

In today’s dynamic global economy, CIOs must remain innovative not only for the sake of their organizations, but to retain their top technical talent. Yet, while few CIOs would argue that innovative environments are the goal, they can oftentimes be challenging to build and maintain. 

I would respectfully offer that to accomplish this, the CIO must adopt a philosophy that embraces continuous learning for themselves and everyone on their team.

There are many avenues by which to accomplish this. To start, read, read, read… industry publications and blogs, and watch the countless vlogs that are available at your fingertips.

Next, take advantage of the learning opportunities that are provided at industry events and seminars. And finally, it may make sense to invest in the services and research of an industry analyst or two (or more if your budget supports it).

These research firms can offer a breadth and depth of knowledge that simply could not be obtained on one’s own. And finally, divide and conquer. With a virtually infinite body of knowledge coming from all directions, it would be impossible for one person to explore all of it.

In fact, why not assign each team member their own subject area for which to be responsible, and then schedule lunch-n-learns when you or members of your team present your/their findings. 

And I would be remiss if I didn’t also suggest that this valuable knowledge base should be captured, stored and protected.

JG Heithcock, GM, Retrospect, a StorCentric Company

JG Heithcock, GM, Retrospect, a StorCentric Company 

Remaining innovative is essential for any organization to function safely, efficiently and cost effectively. However, the smartest CIOs know that innovation is not only found in the technology that they deploy, but it can also be found in equal if not greater measure from their team. 

Of course, it is a given that CIOs must fully understand their business, customers, marketplace and competitors, while keeping up-to-date on the most innovative methodologies and technologies.

However, I do have a couple additional pieces of advice for CIOs that wish to remain innovative and, in the process, retain (and not alienate) their top technical talent. To start, it is critical to foster an environment that supports (and if possible, rewards) honest and open communication.

In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that a CIO should solicit feedback from as many members on his/her team before making any technology investment or process change.

These are the folks on the frontlines. And their feedback and invaluable experience managing the day-to-day could save you from making a costly mistake. And, if they support the investment or change, all the better. They will be bought in from the get-go, helping to pave the way for a more seamless and successful execution. 

And next, it is more important than ever given today’s economic and political climate where it is a given that a bad actor or ransomware attack is just around the corner, CIOs must make sure their teams are armed with the most innovative and proven data protection and security technologies.

It is no longer enough to have just ransomware protection or detection solutions. You and your team must be able to count on the ability to recover when the inevitable successful ransomware attack occurs. As the leader of the IT organization, it is critical that your team knows that you do not only have your organization’s back, but theirs as well.

Dana McCormick, Chief Human Resources Officer at Simeio

Dana McCormick, Chief Human Resources Officer at Simeio

The tech industry has one of the highest employee turnover rates, and it is also among the top five sectors with an acute talent shortage.

Tech leaders are most likely aware of the environment, and the good news is that there are some strategic steps they can take to retain their talent. Talent retention is not just an HR goal; talent retention is important for the entire organization and client satisfaction.

Employee retention reinforces stability among the team and clients and increases employee engagement. New hire and retention strategies are the two sides of a coin that should be of equal importance. When you successfully retain a talented team member, the more likely they will refer new candidates.

For new hires, tech leaders may lean towards checking every box on their wish list when considering candidates. The reality is the perfect candidate does not exist. Thinking outside the box and embracing new ways of thinking about the workforce is key.

Listen to candidates and understand what is meaningful to them; flexibility about location, offering hybrid/remote opportunities, are great avenues to reach a broader audience when trying to fill open positions. Tech leaders need to prioritize what is of utmost importance to candidates.

Working with HR teams and developing training and mentorship programs that align both with employees and the organization is a win-win for everyone. Monetary benefits are not always the sole motivator for employees.

Developing a career roadmap to assist employees to chart out a growth journey, can be motivation to retain your top talent. Showcase success stories of other employees whose career journey and goals have flourished during their tenure.

Besides technical skill training, tech leaders need to also focus on soft skills training, making it a successful upskilling tactic. Identify any gaps in the existing team and explore opportunities to fill those gaps through internal training and development programs.

Tech leaders will realize the benefits through increased productivity, and engaged and loyal employees. Organizations placing a high emphasis on training and development by investing in their employees will realize a greater rate of return.

Benefits are another avenue as part of a talent retention strategy. Employers need to review their current benefit offerings regularly and enhance or introduce new programs, such as student loan assistance, volunteer time, additional PTO, technology offerings or allowances, flexibility and wellness programs.

Finally, communication is key. Time spent communicating with their teams in an informal environment is an excellent avenue to explore the differing engagement motivators for your team. 

When tech leaders show interest and learn about their employees, retention is a natural result. Regular shout-outs and impromptu appreciation, recognition and rewards are a great way of continuous engagement and involvement.

When employees feel appreciated and valued, they experience increased levels of engagement. Break away from traditional communication protocols. More informal communication will have a lasting impact.

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