5 keys to IT talent development in a hybrid work model

With the tech talent shortage in full force, IT talent development is critical for every organization. Learn the essentials of doing it right.

IT talent development is more important than ever before, but that doesn't mean it's easy to do.

The hybrid work model -- and all the logistical and interpersonal issues that result -- has exacerbated the difficulties surrounding IT talent development, as organizations struggle to maintain a sense of unity across an increasingly disparate workforce. That's why organization leaders -- including CIOs -- must commit to developing IT talent in a way that ensures high retention.

The war for talent, the Great Resignation, digital transformation and the work-from-home model have all made IT talent development critically important -- and harder to do, said Michael Eichenwald, senior client partner at Korn Ferry, an organizational consultancy headquartered in Los Angeles, Calif. Hybrid and remote work models in particular place more importance on deliberate and proactive talent development design.

Here are some tips on developing IT talent successfully.

1. Don't oversell or under-deliver

Employer branding is an important recruitment component. But when employer branding and its related area recruitment marketing aren't accurate, they cause turnover.

Oftentimes, employer branding delivers messaging that companies think job candidates want to hear, rather than what it's really like to work for that organization, said Chason Hecht, CEO at Retensa, a New York City-based consulting firm that helps organizations develop and execute retention strategies.

"Then within a week, to a month, to a year, the new hire figures out, 'this is not a place where I can actually develop new skills because I'm working 60 hours a week putting out fires,'" he said.

To keep employer branding on point, Hecht suggests companies follow these steps:

  • Reach out to current IT employees via an e-suggestion box.
  • Ask them: In what areas are we excelling in IT?
  • Train hiring managers to talk with job candidates about these responses and discuss the realities of the workplace during the recruiting phase.

"If you can communicate a message of what you're good at delivering [as an employer], you're going to get the people who will actually stay long-term," Hecht said.

2. Be intentional with hybrid onboarding

One of the challenges with onboarding in the hybrid workplace is that new recruits don't always have the opportunity to get familiar with their organization on an informal basis.

With so many people continuing to work from home, there are fewer opportunities for casual onboarding opportunities, Hecht said. For example, managers can't pull new hires into an in-person meeting at the last minute just because that presents a great opportunity for them to see how things work or to have an in-person lunch with their colleagues.

Because of this, companies need to be intentional with onboarding. They can also look for virtual opportunities that achieve the same goals where possible.

Being intentional does not mean just sending the new recruit an onboarding-focused PowerPoint deck and other documentation for them to go through on their own, Hecht emphasized. That approach is the "kiss of death." Instead, organizations should be deliberate in scheduling presentations, meetings and collaboration sessions involving all the stakeholders that the recruit will be working with. The goal during these sessions should be to engage the new employee, communicate relevant information that will help them perform well at their job, and give them an opportunity to start building relationships with their fellow employees.

"We have to insert the intersections for growth, and we have to intentionally create those," Hecht said.

This is more challenging in a hybrid world, but the cost of not doing this -- and of solely relying on PowerPoint decks and similar approaches instead -- can have a negative effect on retention, Hecht said.

3. Create specific career path options

With technology continually playing an increasing role in driving business, IT talent development is critical. Organizations need to promote the ongoing development of technology skills, as well as solid leadership competencies to keep succession planning top of mind.

"We need to [invest in developing] technology leaders [who] can really lead teams and help lead organizations," Eichenwald said.

Building strong IT teams with diverse skills requires remembering that each employee is unique, with unique goals, however. Not all IT professionals want to lead a team of people.

Some IT professionals seek opportunities to develop the skills that will establish them as a specialist or expert in a specific discipline, said Fiona Mark, principal analyst at Forrester Research. For example, some IT employees may want to become experts in JavaScript or another coding language. Savvy companies find ways of supporting this.

The benefit is twofold, Mark said. Supporting employees' unique career paths boosts internal retention and can serve as a differentiating factor that gives an organization competitive advantage in the employment marketplace.

Helping an employee gain a reputation for being a guru in a certain specialty requires some investment. For example, Mark said that such support can take the form of the following:

  • allowing the employee to dedicate a certain percentage of their time on the clock to developing their brand as a domain expert;
  • encouraging the employee and even assisting in organizing in-person meetups (when it is safe to do so) or speaking engagements focused on their specialty; and
  • allotting the means and the space to host career development engagements.

Investing in IT employees' growth and specialty development can have payoffs.

There's significant opportunity for IT organizations to invest more heavily in assessing their people, and understanding their leadership competencies [and] what drives them in their work.
Michael EichenwaldSenior client partner, Korn Ferry

"Elevating that person within the [developer community, for example] is great for that person -- they have their own individual brand and they build their network," she said. "But it's also great for the organization because they have talent attraction and retention built right in."

As that individual's network expands, so, too, does their access to IT talent interested in working for a company that encourages its employees to grow not only within the organization, but outside of it as well, Mark said.

4. Invest in assessments

In order to shape IT career paths that will serve both individuals and organizations, identifying the skills required to fulfill these pursuits and the personality traits that best match them is critical. That means organizations must invest in assessment.

"There's significant opportunity for IT organizations to invest more heavily in assessing their people, and understanding their leadership competencies [and] what drives them in their work," Eichenwald said.

Traditionally, assessment dollars haven't been allotted to IT departments in a significant way because IT leaders haven't been regarded as future senior executives capable of driving the business. This is a mistake.

"There's a need for proactive conversation led by IT professionals with their HR partners to make sure that they're getting their fair share of that spending budget," Eichenwald said.

5. Position IT as pivotal

One challenge many IT professionals face is the lack of opportunity to work on projects that they view as meaningful to their organization. Instead, the bulk of their work involves "keeping the lights on" -- making sure technical systems are running smoothly, and troubleshooting and fixing things when technology fails. Getting overlooked is a more likely danger in a work-from-home or hybrid model.

Organizations that see IT as pivotal to the organization are the best environments for IT talent development, said Kevin Haskew, senior facilitator and executive coach at Ouellette & Associates Consulting, an IT-specific professional development services firm headquartered in Bedford, N.H. In these organizations, IT strategy supports the business strategy.

When business-IT alignment exists, there is the potential for true partnership that can truly drive business change, Haskew said.

Opportunity for IT growth is key to retention

Financial compensation remains an important element of recruitment and retention, Eichenwald said. However, giving IT professionals the opportunity to grow is equally important.

"Organizations need to look inward and ask themselves: Are they really creating places for people to do the best work of their lives because of the meaning of the work, the challenge that's available, and the work environment that they've created?" he said. "And if they're not, then they're going to run risk of their ability to retain the talent that they want -- and [run the risk that] the people that choose to stay are not the people that they want to drive the organization into the future."

About the author
Carolyn Heinze is a freelance writer and editor living in Paris. She covers multiple topics, including technology and business.

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