Improving your culture, not simply paying people more, is the best long-term IT talent recruiting and retention strategy, according to Randy Pennington.

There’s a war for talent in the IT world, and that often means one thing – IT departments and HR professionals are tempted to throw money at people to retain and attract them.

Yes, competitive salary and benefits are mandatory to attract and retain a quality staff. The key word, however, is “competitive.” Assuming you are in the ballpark for compensation, attracting and keeping the talent you need isn’t about the money. In fact, a 2016 survey by Fidelity states that millennials would be willing to accept a pay reduction to be happier in their jobs.

If you are hearing whispers, grumblings or direct comments from employees about your company's low compensation, you can most likely attribute them to one of the following:

  1. There is a company throwing “crazy money” at talent because of growing pains or their own terrible work environment.
  2. Another company is trying to hijack members of your team, or your entire team.
  3. An individual on your team needs every possible cent of extra salary to pay for something important like student loans or child care.
  4. Someone is trying to be nice to you by citing compensation rather than the real reasons for their decision to leave your company.

“What’s the real reason that they aren’t telling me,” you ask?

For your existing staff, it will be one – or a combination – of the following:

  1. “The culture here sucks the enjoyment and fulfilment out of working here.”
  2. “My boss is a jerk.”
  3. “The work doesn’t challenge me.”
  4. “I see no opportunity to learn and grow.”

Among top candidates you are trying to recruit without success, your company may have a reputation out in the talent market for one or more of the things listed above.

How to Attract and Retain the Best Technology Talent

Before you double down on salary and benefits, consider doing the hard work of building and sustaining a great place to work.  Here are four ideas you can implement now.

  1. Focus first on engaging your best people. People want to work in a place where they can succeed and feel that their contribution is appreciated. They want an opportunity to learn and grow, and they want to do so on their time table not yours. Most important, they will volunteer their commitment for leaders who appreciate their contribution, invest in them, and recognize the necessity of work – life harmony. Remember: you will be unable to attract the people you want if you can’t keep the good people you have.

  2. Appeal to something larger. The best talent wants to work for organizations that resonate with them on a level that is deeper than simply having a job. Companies that are doing innovative or societally-important work have an advantage. That doesn’t mean, however, that you don’t have a story to tell. Perhaps it is your commitment to work-life balance or dedication to professional development. Maybe it is upward mobility or your community involvement. You must identify and bring to life the compelling aspects of your organization’s story. Doing so paints a portrait in which talented people can picture themselves.

  3. Maintain high standards. Good people want to work around good people. They don’t want poor performers to be dealt with unfairly. They do, however, grow weary of shouldering more than their share of the performance load. There is no advantage and considerable harm in publicizing your efforts to improve someone’s performance. Straightforward, sincere efforts to help people improve will show up through a change in the individuals’ behavior.

  4. Continually improve recruitment and engagement. Doing both all of the above doesn’t guarantee anything. In the past, employees looked for jobs only when they weren’t happy or engaged. Today, employees are on the lookout for something better even though they are currently happy and engaged. This shift means that you will likely lose one of your best performers despite all of your best efforts. The good news is that you are likely to pick up a star from another organization for the same reasons. Your best strategy in this environment is to continually recruit, develop, and engage your topstars. There are many worse things for which you can be known than being a leader who helps others grow and succeed.

Your existing employees and potential applicants will gladly accept more money and better benefits. That doesn’t mean that they will remain with you. Simply paying people more is a short-term strategy to win the battle. Fixing your culture and improving the work environment is a long-term solution to winning the war for talent.

IT talent wars wrong weapons4.jpg

Roles We Recruit


Read our weekly e-newsletter packed with career advice and resources for the strategic technology leader, and information about active searches.

The Heller Report

Add a Comment

My CIO Career: With Kellie Christensen of Gray

Sep 28, 2022

Choosing Change, the Essential Ingredient to Winning

Sep 14, 2022