Prepare for the talent storm

Prepare for the talent storm

Now is the time to start refreshing your engagement and retention strategies – or run the real risk of losing top talent from your IT organisation. Here are four actions to take when implementing career planning within your IT organisation.

In November 2009, when tentative signs of a recovery in the global economy began to appear, and local economists decided that Australia had successfully avoided a recession, the
Australian Financial Review published an article entitled “Bosses beware, a talent storm is brewing”. The article discussed the impact the recovery would have on the employment market. Many talented employees who felt aggrieved by treatment received during the economic downturn were starting to consider their options. The article quoted a mid-2009 Chandler McLeod survey that 70 percent of about 6000 respondents reported intending to leave their current employer within 12 months.

With many employees having to take on additional work as their colleagues’ positions were retrenched and not replaced, pay freezes being the norm, abandonment of professional development investment and the general morale malaise that accompanies an economically traumatic year; the prospect of high performers becoming restless is very real. Now is the time to start refreshing your engagement and retention strategies – or run the very real risk of losing top talent from your IT organisation.

Each year Gartner Executive Programs manages the survey of over 1500 CIOs worldwide to ascertain their agenda for the coming year. A common finding each year is that IT organisations largely fill their job openings with more external than internal candidates. As the competitiveness in the employment market heats up, heavy reliance on talent poaching and underutilising and neglecting the development of existing staff will make it even harder for IT organisations to retain the high performers they already have. One of the most successful engagement and retention approaches is to implement a highly visible career planning strategy within your IT organisation. Career planning provides the IT organisation with a confirmed talent pipeline, and avoids the cost and disruption of staff turnover. Career planning provides the employee with the personal growth and development and a sense that they are valued by their organisation.

Consider taking the following four actions when implementing career planning within your IT organisation:

Take control of career planning. Work with your HR partner to design a career planning approach that clarifies the roles of participants (both managers and staff), and drive job moves that will enable organisational agility and make more opportunities available to the future IT worker. Ensure the selected process will work within the culture of your IT organisation, has executive sponsorship, is adequately funded and easily understood and administered.

Educate managers in their role as career coach. Start by educating managers that their role is to enable their staff to grow within the organisation, as opposed to holding onto them. Help the manager to play a facilitation role in career planning. The manager can help the individual to make his or her own career decisions. The facilitation role is one of asking questions and providing feedback and advice so that the individual can consider the alternatives and decide where to invest his or her efforts. Also, managers can create on-the-job learning opportunities. They can find ways to provide visibility and prepare individuals to be successful with IT peers and members of the business.

Put in place an effective marketing plan. Some years ago, when I was a CIO, I attended a talent management presentation at a Gartner Symposium. While I can’t recall the details, I do vividly recall the presenter talking about having been in an organisation that surveyed its workforce about opportunities for career development and advancement. The results were atrocious – despite a significant investment in career planning. The next year the same survey was conducted and the results were markedly improved. The key message was that although no additional budget had been invested in delivering the career planning strategy, investment had been made in establishing a campaign to tell employees what career planning was available and being successfully delivered. A key factor in effective career planning, especially as a retention strategy, is effective marketing and communication. Marketing the career planning program can also be used to encourage managers to experiment counter-intuitive aspects of career planning, such as rotating experienced staff out to learn new skills and bring novices in to question the old ways.

Provide a learning budget. Spend it in full on carefully targeted e-learning, training, tuition reimbursement, and cross-functional and on-the-job learning.

Few organisations either recognise or realise the mutual benefits to be gained from career planning. A well-considered and successfully-implemented career planning strategy in a time of increasing employment market competition is critical to improving retention by demonstrating to high performers that there may be not one, but multiple futures – and that their current employer is willing to support their ongoing growth and development.

Linda Price is group vice-president of executive programmes, Gartner. Email comments to

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Tags strategyskills shortageCIO roletrainingstaff managementteam building

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