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Three Keys for Improving IT Talent Strategy


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By Melissa J. Anderson

A new report in McKinsey Quarterly suggests that large organizations are facing a talent crisis when it comes to IT. The report, “Winning the battle for technology talent,” provides several suggestions for companies looking to build a winning talent management strategy – rather than just engage in stop- gap measures to attract mediocre IT staff when the need arises.

The authors, James Kaplan, principal in McKinsey’s New York office, Naufal Khan, associate principal in the Chicago office, and Roger Roberts, principal in the Silicon Valley office, explain:

“Traditional approaches for managing technology careers tend toward narrow technical specialization. By adopting a wide range of talent-management levers, many technology organizations can foster the broad-gauged innovators and problem solvers required to help exploit growing demand in cloud computing, big data, enterprise mobility, multichannel customer experiences, and a host of other areas.”

Here are three ways companies can work toward a long-term talent management strategy for a successful IT organization.

1. Determine Current and Future Needs

The writers, Kaplan, Khan, and Roberts, say that CTOs and CIOs are having trouble finding and retaining talent “not only to extract value from investments” … but “also to undertake everyday IT operations with the required quality, security, and efficiency.”

They continue, “While they have staff with specific IT skills, they often lack stars who can solve thorny problems that span multiple technology domains and engage business managers on topics such as technology innovation.”

But by crafting a successful talent strategy, leaders can get the most out of IT staff and corporate technology investments. The first step in creating a 21st century IT talent management strategy, say the authors, is figuring out where the organization is now, and where it wants to go. “To focus efforts, leading organizations develop a heat map that shows the gaps between business needs and current skills, as well as risks related to those gaps,” they write.

2. Internal Strategy

Once leaders have determined their current situation and what they will need moving forward, companies can begin to examine how they can better develop their current IT employees. Most importantly, McKinsey suggests, ensure that high performers are getting a wide range of experiences, not just on the technical side but on the business front as well. “The purpose is to groom managers who can engage with business leaders as peers and can more readily solve multifaceted technology problems that span many parts of a traditional IT organization.”

The real danger in attrition lies in IT high performers getting burnt out by technical work and seeking greener pastures elsewhere. Cultivating leaders within this group means providing access to senior leadership and building an understanding of the broader business goals and challenges of the organization as they pertain to technology.

3. External Strategy

Finally, McKinsey suggests, companies shouldn’t neglect to design an external talent strategy as well – how they will attract new talent. One way to do this is through M&A, the authors write.

Secondly, firms should develop an outsourcing strategy that accounts for talent. “In many cases, this means operating a portfolio of locations that includes lower-cost sites to perform transactional activities and locations in city centers or near universities to attract technologists with cutting-edge skills.”

Finally, rather than looking for specific technical skills, companies should look to attract individuals with good general skills. They write, “talented technologists can learn new skills quickly, so some IT organizations have focused recruiting on finding great problem solvers and communicators, with the expectation that they can pick up the skills required for a particular role.”

The report authors conclude that the strategy will be different for every company based on its current needs, and future challenges and goals.

“Not every lever is appropriate to every situation. Board exposure will motivate senior leaders but will not increase retention in a frontline data-center operations team. In many cases, opening a new location or making an acquisition may not be feasible. Getting the right strategy in place requires systematically determining which potential levers will address each talent gap and risk.”

But by approaching IT as a business center, rather than a necessary evil, companies can develop a talent strategy to get the most out of high performers.