While the talent wars show no sign of relenting, a different issue is percolating: retention and engagement. Once you’ve secured hard-won talent, how do you hold onto them? As Harvey Nash research reveals, technology leaders are faced with a paradox: The very things they typically leverage to retain staff—pay, career progression and training—no longer top the most-wanted lists of today’s tech workforce.

What should they focus on? Soft management factors that IT heads have far less control and influence over—but need to master more urgently than ever.

A previous report in the Harvey Nash CIO Briefing Notes series, Keeping Your Top Talent, exposed a significant retention malaise. Over half of the technology leaders surveyed admitted to worrying about key staff leaving within six month. The biggest perceived threat? Workers who serve as the bridge between IT and the business, followed by key roles in infrastructure, software and database development, project management, and their own management team. Since then (and subsequently), we’ve seen the issue of retention come to a boil.

 Keeping Your Top Talent

Conisder this list of teams at serious risk of losing key people in the next six months:

  • Business analysts / business liaison 21%
  • Infrastructure / support 19%
  • Software / database development 17%
  • Project management 17%
  • Your management team 10%
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And the reasons why people leave are not necessarily what you might think. According to the 2015 Harvey Nash Technology Survey, which polled the views of over 3,200 technology professionals, seven out of ten tech workers value work-life balance over pay or prestige. In light of the fact that half of those surveyed currently work 20% overtime or more—with one in ten regularly working over 50 hours a week—this is significant.

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The New Face of Engagement

If the usual suspects—pay and promotion—carry less weight with the current generation of technology professionals, where does this leave the old guard, who have long relied on such measures? Indeed, what does the new generation prioritize? In addition to a positive work culture, they insist on compelling projects.

Involving tech workers, especially your top talent, in interesting projects determines your retention success rate more than anything else. An obvious move is to outsource the more repetitive, mundane aspects of the business. But what qualifies as an interesting project? Look for four main attributes;

  • Projects that are challenging
  • Projects that allow people to learn new technologies
  • Projects that expose people to new areas of the business where their technical or business skills are particularly valued
  • Projects that get people involved in business initiatives such as new product launches

Another important priority tech workers cite: company culture and values. They prize a positive workplace environment and open, honest communication from their leadership team—who should be people they can look up to and learn from.

Wanted: Leadership That Listens as Well as Leads

A different Harvey Nash Technology Survey, which polled the opinions of over 1,500 technology experts who ultimately report into a CIO, revealed that when technology workers apply for a new job, they also give considerable weight to the professional character of their potential new boss. What traits do they seek? The ability to set a strong vision, listen, communicate and be honest. Blue-sky thinking and both technical and operational skills all rank close to the bottom of must-haves.

These are the most important traits potential employees seek from their prospective technology leaders;

Vision

38%

Listening

33%

Honesty

31%

Defines roles well

29%

Communication

28%

Acts as a figurehead

25%

Delegation

16%

Technology skills

16%

Business acumen

14%

Track record

13%

Provides feedback

13%

Emotional intelligence

9%

Blue sky thinker

2%

It is important to apprecoate that at technology’s cutting edge old fashioned values and balance still rule. The IT departments who create the right cultures—centered on life-work balance, engagement, and old fashioned values like honesty, listening, clear communication, and admirable leadership—will win the talent retention game.

CIOs slow to accept the fact that a formal retention strategy comprised of career development programmes and pay, training, and away day incentives no longer holds the same sway will suffer the consequences—the inevitable hemorrhage of the tech talent they worked so hard to acquire in the first place.

About the author

Bridget Gray is the managing director of Harvey Nash Australia as well as the global Media, Digital and Communications practice leader. For the past decade, she has been involved in recruiting some of the world’s best technology and digital talent.
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