Great projects, plenty of variety, and (yes, really) more money: How to find, inspire and keep your best workers

Finding and holding onto talented staff are among the biggest headaches for any manager: here are five tips that could help.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor
Exciting projects are one way to retain top tech talent.
Image: iStock

In an increasingly challenging job market, five IT leaders give their best practice tips on recruiting staff, developing talent, and retaining the best technology professionals.

1. Raise the bar and develop a creative environment

Said Business School CIO Mark Bramwell says that in the future technology will have an impact on all roles within the workplace. "Right from the start of education, digital skills should be up there with reading, writing, and arithmetic," he says.

Once in employment, he says talent management is not just about attracting people. "When we recruit people, we don't want to settle for mediocrity. We want to raise the bar," he says.

"If you're struggling to attract people, don't be afraid to go back to the business and say that you need more money. You need the right people, because these are the employees who could end up working for and then running your organisation for the next 10 or even 20 years."

When it comes to retention, Bramwell says CIO attention should not be directed towards stellar performers alone. "Executives must look to develop everyone on their teams," he says. "People need to be given responsibility to manage their personal development."

2. Keep people interested by thinking about innovation

Yodel CIO Adam Gerrard says finding good staff is always a challenge. However, he also recognises that recruitment is just part of the problem. As well as sourcing staff, CIOs must strive to retain talented IT professionals, and Gerrard says success in regards to retention is directly related to job satisfaction.

"Give your people great work to do," he says. "Make sure they're adding value. The younger they are, the more important it is that you keep them keen. If you can keep these younger workers happy, they'll be more likely to work for your business for a longer period of time."

Gerrard says the development of interesting projects is also a method for attracting new staff. "You must make sure your internal employees get to work on exciting projects," says Gerrard, who has created an innovation lab at Yodel in order to help monitor leading-edge technology developments.

"If you don't keep things interesting, you'll leave your organisation open to the risk of staff churn," he says. "The innovation lab could involve the generation of game-changing projects through IT. It's exciting for staff to help maintain a competitive advantage for the business."

3. Recognise that variety is the spice of a working life in IT

Like Gerrard, former Tullow Oil CIO Andrew Marks says the quality of work is key to attracting and keeping staff. "If it's not interesting, you won't get the great IT professionals," he says.

"Variety is absolutely crucial. Most people don't want to do the same thing over and over again. The technology industry is moving so quickly and people want to stay ahead of the curve and work on change projects that help develop their skills sets."

Marks recognises it can be a challenge for IT leaders to provide a breadth of projects, particularly in smaller organisations. "Sometimes you have to accept that churn will happen. It's simply not possible to keep everyone happy. One of the benefits of leading IT at a smaller organisation is that you can give people more responsibility," he says.

CIOs at larger companies are likely to encounter other challenges, says Marks: "You'll focus on different areas depending on the resources at your disposal. If you have hundreds of people in your IT department, you'll face a different HR problem than a CIO at a smaller organisation. But success always come down to a subtle mix of recruitment, development, and retention."

4. Pass your guiding principles onto your team

Working Links CIO Omid Shiraji is another executive who believes your ability as an IT leader to recruit, develop, and retain employees is directly related to your capacity to run interesting projects. "It comes down to what you're trying to achieve as an IT organisation and being able to run the right types of projects across a number of years," he says.

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Shiraji says CIOs must set those projects within a set of strong guiding principles. He has four principles - trust, candour, accountability, and accomplishment - that he and his team refer back to at all times.

"Everything you do as a senior executive must be about principles. If someone in my team makes a mistake, I need that individual to be honest. I strive to create an environment where people are not scared to admit responsibility for an error or where they try and shift blame," says Shiraji.

"I talk to the leadership team about my values. And when I mentor people in my team, I talk about their values. Sometimes, it might seem easier not to be honest. But if you work by strong values as an IT team, you'll have more great days than bad."

5. Hire in terms of attitude and develop on-the-job

Abi Somorin, senior IT manager at beachwear retailer Orlebar Brown, takes a particular approach to staff development. He says infrastructure support and application development are outsourced because such areas do not need to be updated on a daily basis. However, the core area of IT strategy is managed in-house and he recently recruited a systems administrator.

"Training has taken place on-the-job, which works well because the member of staff gets used to the culture of the organisation. The ramp-up period was about eight weeks, which was surprisingly quick. A development agency I spoke to said the normal time frame is about six months. But half a year for a startup is a lifetime," says Somorin.

"I'd always hire in terms of attitude - you can always train an individual in new skills. That's not always easy, but what you must have is a recipe. Success comes down to your ability to take that individual and make the most of their abilities."

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