Having spent over a decade as a software developer, and half those years as a consultant, I’ve partnered with and been part of many different company tech divisions. One challenge I’ve seen repeatedly across disciplines and industries is that of hiring and retaining the best technical talent. One reason I work as consultant is because I know I am surrounded by the very best people. We are the Spartans, the Marines, the people you call when it absolutely must get done. There is no “dead weight” on our teams. We must justify our worth to our clients every single day, or we won’t have any. So, what attracts talent like ours?
As professionals, we put considerable time and resources into perfecting our craft, being the best at what we do. To hire the best technology professionals, organizations must treat them like professionals.
Respect. Technology professionals are too often branded with long-standing stereotypes. Sometimes they are true. Some of us like to work in the dark. Some of us want to come to work in t-shirts and sneakers. Some of us are extreme introverts. Sometimes, as is often true of stereotypes, we are just the opposite.
Don’t. Stick the technology team in the basement, away from everyone else (unless they ask for it.) Organizations should house the technology team in a location where they can have interaction with key business stakeholders. At West Monroe, we have an open seating environment and collaborate with all areas of the business. Banishing technologists to the least-desirable location sends a message that they aren’t important, and lack of interaction with the business creates an “us-vs-them” mentality. Housing the technology team near other divisions they service, on the other hand, gives both parties opportunity to know and respect one another.
For example, I was recently on an extremely successful and fulfilling project in the healthcare space with several members of our CX practice. I worked side-by-side, in the same room, with the CX consultants who were interviewing clients to create the best application experience. This close relationship meant that we got to know each other, and each other’s capabilities, at a very personal level. I grew to anticipate the requirements based on our relationship, and the CX team gained a sharp perspective on the capabilities of our technology. Each pushed the other to deliver at the very top of their ability. Cross collaboration is important at WMP to ensure we are delivering the best results and value to our clients.
Do. Hold technology experts on equal footing – and to equal standards – as the other professionals in the organization. If an issue concerns or impacts technology, involve the technology experts, and listen to their opinions. In the previous healthcare example, we quickly reached a place of mutual respect: if the CX team told me something was important, I knew it had to happen. If I told the team that the technology couldn’t feasibly support a particular requirement, they worked with the client to seek a better solution. We were able to reach this relationship because everyone knew the rest of the team was highly capable in their area.
Value. Understand the value skilled technology professionals bring to your organization. This is easy when the corporate business is focused on a technology product. In my experience, it is frequently missed when the core product is not technology. Another reason I am a consultant is because my contribution to the firm’s success is clearly visible.
Don’t. Think of technology purely in terms of a cost center. It isn’t innovative anymore to say that every business needs technology. That wasn’t even news ten years ago, but somehow technology divisions are sometimes still treated as a negative to the bottom line. The efficiencies, the time savings, the competitive advantages provided by capable technology professionals are often overlooked because they don’t directly generate revenue.
Do. Recognize that the best technology professionals demand the best tools. I came to consulting from industry. I was amazed when, on my first project, I told my manager my PC wasn’t powerful enough to run the programs I needed – and I received an upgrade before the end of the day! Moving beyond hardware West Monroe has consistently provided me with opportunities for training, professional materials, and conferences. The technology industry is constantly changing, and top talent will stick with an employer that provides opportunity for professional growth.
Recognize. We are professionals, but we are also crafts people. Technology is about creating something where there was nothing, building something new. As professionals we are proud of what we create. Technology professionals want to work where they know their skills and efforts are appreciated.
Don’t. Treat technologists as fungible resources. Technology professionals, like any others, have unique skills and interests that are most valuable when applied to a specific problem. An organization should know the skills of its technology professionals, as well as when and where to apply them. Traditional project management tends to treat technology resources as warm bodies, assuming that twice as many people will complete a task in half the time. This may be true in some cases, but would an electrician wire a house twice as fast if he was assigned a plumber to help him?
Do. Award recognition all the way down to the technical level. Too many times, recognition for a successful technology project stops at the project manager. Its often true that a project manager can certainly make or break an endeavor. Consider, though, that no amount of project management will make a difference if the implementers aren’t capable. Referencing the previous point, technologists aren’t all fungible, and all share responsibility for a job well done. Shortly after coming to West Monroe, I knew I made a good choice when a project manager gave recognition to the entire development team during a quarterly meeting.
In conclusion, it isn’t a simple fix to attract and retain the best talent. A ping-pong table and a kegerator won’t be enough. A good 401k won’t be enough either. Technology professionals spend thousands of hours honing their skills, and they know their worth. To build a team of top professionals, the organization’s culture must first recognize technologists as professionals.
To learn more about our Deep Technology team and opportunities visit our Careers site.