Winning the war for talent

With more organisations embracing digital as a way of generating new revenue streams and realising efficiencies, the demand for skills in areas such as security, cloud, mobile, data, analytics and architecture is on the rise. And, perhaps not surprisingly, many CIOs say that they are either already experiencing difficulties finding enough suitably skilled candidates in these areas or expect to face a skills shortage in the next 12 months.

However, there is also a view amongst some members of the CIO community that the real issue facing technology leaders is not so much a shortage of these skills but tougher competition, particularly for the best people. And this competition is coming from a broader range of companies than has traditionally been the case.

For example, organisations now find themselves competing with the big technology companies such as Google and Facebook as a well as the ever-expanding start-up community for IT resources. And whilst they may be able to compete with the technology giants and start-ups in terms of salary, many are finding that money alone is not enough to guarantee that they can attract the right people with the right skills. Indeed, I have heard a number of examples where such companies have lost out in the battle for a candidate even when they are offering much higher salaries.

And even when a high salary does manage to attract someone to your organisation, it is proven that money alone is not enough to encourage them to stay; there has to be more to a job than just a high salary to keep most people in a role.

So whilst there may or may not be an actual shortage of IT skills, what does seem certain is that CIOs face an increasingly difficult battle to acquire and retain the resources they need to support their organisation’s digital ambitions.

Job seekers – and particularly younger people and those with in-demand skills – increasingly evaluate and compare jobs across a broader package of factors than the traditional pay and benefits. Company culture, office environment, working practices, tools (devices, apps, systems, etc) and job content are all part of the equation that candidates use to decide where they want to work next.

These factors can be particularly challenging for the more traditional corporates; just how does a large 100 year-old bank, for example, compete with Google or a fintech start-up in terms of culture or being able to offer projects that are inherently interesting or rewarding? But that is where the battle is being fought and hence CIOs need to consider the broader employment package they can offer new and existing staff in order to increase their chances of winning the war for IT talent.

But this is not necessarily a new challenge; unfilled vacancies, high turnover and escalating salaries for new recruits and/or the recruitment of poorly qualified staff that will accept a lower salary are not sustainable for any organisation in the long-term. And they will also have a negative impact on the morale and motivation of the people that remain with the business. A positive culture, the right tools, flexible working practices and rewarding jobs are what every organisation should be striving to achieve regardless of whether there is a skills shortage or whether they face strong competition in attracting the people they need. Yet interestingly, a quick review of current IT vacancies will find very few adverts referring to these other elements of the employment package on offer.

Being able to compete on the broader employment package is essential but there is more that CIOs can do to help their organisation win the war for talent. Or, to be more accurate there are things CIOs can do to avoid being in the war altogether and, where they do need to engage, to make sure they are fighting the right battles.

It is not often that CIOs need to recruit large numbers of additional resources or acquire new skills at very short notice. In other words, the demand for IT resources and skills can, in most cases, be predicted. And that demand can usually be seen far enough in advance that CIOs can put plans in place to ensure they do not have to recruit in a hurry or go into battle for skills that every other organisation is also looking to acquire.

Front cover advertIt is often said that CIOs occupy a privileged and unique position in the organisation; no other role or function has the same end-to-end view of the business allowing them to gain an unparalleled understanding of the people, process and technology issues spanning the full business lifecycle. Effective CIOs use this view to set the overall direction for technology of the business and, increasingly, to shape the organisation’s digital agenda. And they are also looking outside of the company at what competitors, other industries and start-ups are doing with technology. They are engaging with the vendor community, analysts and advisors to understand what new technologies are coming down the track and, using their unique perspective, assessing which will be relevant to their business and how they can be used to create value.

Hence CIOs can plan ahead, they can identify the areas in which they are likely to need additional resources and new skills. Once these requirements are known, the next step is to decide whether these are areas in which the business actually needs to have in-house resources or whether it can work with partners to provide the resources and skills it needs. IT functions should focus on areas where they can add most value to the organisation – areas that are core to the business and what it does for its customers. Any additional resources or skills that sit outside the core competencies of the IT function should be acquired through partners leaving the CIO and the IT function free to focus on the areas where they can really add value. In other words, CIOs should not be engaging in a war for talent in an area that is not a core competence.

And where the additional resources and skills are part of a core competence, in most cases the forward looking CIO will have time to gradually build their in-house teams using a combination of staff development and recruitment without getting involved in a battle with their less organised counterparts.

The best strategy for winning the war for talent is to avoid the conflict altogether; the best CIOs know this and are using their unique perspective of the organisation to plan ahead and to focus their resources and skills in the areas where IT can have the biggest impact.


  1. ChrisWeston says:

    Agree with all of that – in addition I’d say that rather than being a never-ending combatant in the battle for talent it’s important for CIOs to find ways to grow their own – invest in apprenticeships and take a longer view. This can sometimes be at odds with the natural inclinations of the organisation but in IT it’s vital that we support our industry in order to deliver the benefits that we know can be delivered.


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