Changing of the guard – how do we attract and retain the next generation of IT Leadership? With IT Leadership maintaining an average tenure of only 4-5 years per company, what can be done to not only attract – but retain the best and brightest in the IT world? As with most leadership roles, change is not only disruptive, but can be costly. Making the right leadership choices and creating a culture that promotes innovation is crucial for maintaining consistency and keeping IT costs from spiraling out of control.
So what is the cause of such a high rate of IT leadership turn over? Research points to lack of alignment between Business Strategy and IT Strategy as a key factor. IT has evolved from a commodity solution, lumped in with HVAC and electricity, to an integral part of business strategy, product development and delivery. Because of this shift, IT leadership needs to be included sooner in the planning and strategic decision making process, instead of just being handed a long list of undeliverable projects, destined for failure. Earlier involvement in the portfolio planning process means expectations of deliverable technology can be managed with a much higher rate of success – thus ensuring satisfaction of both Business and IT leadership.
For a moment, let us assume IT has been granted access to and involvement in the business planning process, what else is needed to promote innovation and consistency in today’s corporate IT environment? Simply put, the environment itself needs to evolve. No longer is IT just a necessary evil to provide word processing and spreadsheets to corporate executives and fix ‘blue screen’ system crashes on PCs. Over the past 10 years, technology has grown and changed as it has weaseled its way into the everyday lives of each and every consumer in the marketplace and now operates well beyond the unseen “nuts and bolts” of everyday functionality. New world IT is now a combination of operational infrastructure mixed with the “bling” of user interface / user experience (UI/UX). Corporate environments need to look to, and mimic, where innovation is currently brewing – college think tanks, Silicon Valley success stories, and innovation labs across the globe. To truly catch the attention of “the next generation of IT leaders” and retain the incoming talent, companies need to create and promote corporate environments genuinely steeped in collaboration, creativity and connectivity. Here is their wish list:
- Tools and Time: The Flexibility to work whenever you want. The 9am-5pm workday isn’t in everyone’s DNA. And that’s not always bad for an organization. Collaboration is no longer limited to a closed meeting room and a regimented 8-hour work day. Companies are going to have to recognize that inspiration and productivity can happen, unplanned, before or after traditional working hours.
Additionally, providing IT innovators with the tools to work wherever and whenever they want will keep companies ahead of the technology curve and help retain top talent. Today’s workforce no longer needs or wants a formal structure to share their revelations. They want to connect instantly with the ability to share and capture concepts in a collaborative, free flowing format. Consider how employees already communicate with their peers, using social media platforms and collaborative environments in real-time. Companies may find that mimicking this structure will not only improve internal communication, but also encourage and promote the speed, efficiency and adaptation of innovative thinking.
- Adaptable office space. Collaboration spaces are certainly very trendy, and for good reason – today’s workforce is looking to create the right space for the right application – one that both aesthetically and conceptually blends personal and professional style. Whether employees are more productive working solo or in a group environment – there should be provisions for both. Moveable walls create more flexible and potentially private spaces as needed. Large, wall-mounted monitors with easy plug and play connectivity create the opportunity to share on a moment’s notice. Providing an adaptable office environment shows the employer’s commitment to creativity, collaboration and innovation.
- BYOT – Bring your own technology. Allowing the use of personal devices and preferred technology applications is another core element in promoting innovation. Why stifle creativity by locking down and limiting the tools used to create? Today’s workforce knows what they like – let them bring their own devices and integrate this technology into their role. Companies should avoid forcing their technology preferences on people who don’t want it or prefer something different. This generation has grown up with their treasured devices in their hip pocket. These are often a personal choice and may even provide a level of comfort as well as reflect one’s personal and professional style. Use of these devices, and the technology that runs on them, should not only be allowed, but explored for new opportunities leading to improvements and efficiencies in the work place. Keeping an open mind to BYOT demonstrates to employees that you value their decisions and respect their rights to individualism – both highly attractive traits for hiring and retaining IT talent.
- I want to make a difference! Today’s workforce wants to work on projects they perceive as worthwhile in an environment where they can be heard. If their role is solely to support an existing process, they want to know that they also have the ability to innovate and create improvement while incorporating new technologies. The ability to transform and make a difference may even supersede salary in the career decision making process.
Employees look for companies with social responsibility woven into the fabric of their culture. Not only do they want their own work to be meaningful, but this generation is looking to their employers to have programs in place that give back to the community. Whether it’s putting shoes on the feet of children in Argentina or providing clean drinking water to women around the globe, this generation wants to feel like the work they do will in some small way make a difference for those in need.
- Real time connectivity – In today’s deluge of hyper-social connection, the idea of being separated from personal technology has come to strike both fear and anxiety – being disconnected for any length of time certainly means missing the next big thing! This also translates to the business environment, where communication in rapid-fire format is essential to driving future growth and innovation. While employees want the ability to connect in real time, this is still a big step for many employers who haven’t come to fully understand their employees’ frenetic ability to multi-task. Today’s IT professional is very adept at integrating the latest communication trends into the everyday workplace, helping to keep companies on the cutting edge and providing an open and intriguing environment for the IT professional to stay up to date. And let’s face it, this is the reason many of these professionals got into the IT business in the first place.
Not every company or work environment can accommodate the full gamut of the IT professional’s wish list. But an understanding of the foundation of their environmental expectations — past experiences, what technologies they chose to incorporate personally, and where they would like to be in the future — is essential in attracting and retaining truly great talent and the future of IT leadership for years to come.
The most successful organizations will be the ones that recognize the need to innovate their corporate environment as they strive to elevate and involve IT in the business strategic planning process. Promoting these trends will be essential to realizing the expectations from both the business and IT, and help to reverse the inconveniently short tenure of today’s IT professional.
Hans Irr | Consultant | TayganPoint Consulting Group | firstname.lastname@example.org