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To engage and retain your best IT team members, try these ideas for indulging their technical passion and curiosity.

We may not want to admit it, but we have to accept that many of the jobs that exist deep down in our IT organizations can be routine and mundane. Or they start out as exciting, but slowly fall into a kind of rut.

This problem can be more acute at older corporations who are saddled with a legacy technology stack, most of it in routine maintenance mode.

So, the challenge for the CIO: What can you do to keep your employees intellectually stimulated and engaged, even if their daily jobs may be relatively routine and mundane?

I faced this exact challenge earlier in my career while working as a technology leader at a large corporation. IT professionals at all levels are continually exposed to new technology and innovation trends – some directly related to their work endeavors, and some unrelated. And as technologists, they are going to become intrigued (one would hope), and have a desire to to learn more about these trends and their potential career impact.

When it comes to bitcoin, self-driving cars, RPA, IoT and so on, there is certainly a lot of material to read, much of it from so-called "experts".  But many people I spoke with envisioned a forum where we could learn about these technologies from one another, ask questions and share our ideas openly and candidly.

My response was to launch a new program called PReDICTT. That's the correct spelling, not a typo. It's the acronym for Peers Reflecting on Developments in Current Technology Trends.

A Break from Everyday IT

The idea behind PReDICTT was simple; engage the team in creative brainstorming and sharing of ideas separate from their day-to-day responsibilities - or as one team member put it, "the opportunity to view the world through a telescope rather than the rear-view mirror, for a change."

A key premise of the program was that innovative thinking – even when it is unrelated to one’s normal line of work – makes people more effective in whatever they do. 

This program was comprised of regularly scheduled “Open Mic” sessions, where team members volunteered to speak or deliver a presentation on a technology or innovation trend that interested them, and its likely implications. The requirement for speakers was not expertise on the topic so much as the passion to share what they knew so far, and continue to learn about it.

 

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Besides bringing innovation thinking to the fore on a regular basis, and driving positive downstream impacts, we also strove to:

  • Enhance communications to employees and partners
  • Enhance employee motivation and skills for presenters
  • Enhance the image of our Information Management group with partners
  • Provide recognition to individuals who stepped outside their primary job responsibilities

The PReDICTT mantra reiterated at the start of each session was:

  • Share & Participate
  • Develop & Grow
  • Ideas & Innovation
  • Passion & Fun

We had fascinating sessions spanning the gamut of new technology and innovations, such as cybersecurity; steganography and cryptography; the changing forms of money, such as Bitcoin, and what it means for us; ubiquitous internet (balloons, drones); jugaad/frugal innovation; wearables; and autonomous vehicles, to name a few.

Even more stimulating was the rich exchange of ideas following the presentations, which often spilled over into our vibrant Yammer group. There were many comments, debates and threads on how these new technology trends could impact our marketplace, and the work we were doing on a daily basis.

Job Rotation Programs

Another initiative I have found to be very helpful for keeping the brightest sparks engaged is a rotation program that places regular IT solution delivery employees onto IT Solution Acceleration teams on a full- or part-time basis. IT Solution Acceleration teams work on PoC’s (proof of concept) or building MVPs (minimum viable products) for disruptive new innovative technologies. I had employees rotate through such teams working on initiatives like blockchain and IoT.

We all know that retaining bright employees is a challenge. The more we can do to keep their jobs meaningful and challenging, the better it will be for both them and the corporations they work for.

If you have had success with a program designed to engage and retain IT talent, please share some of the details as a Comment on this blog post! Thanks. 

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