If you ask any CIO to name his top three biggest concerns right now I would put good money on people being one of them. Finding and keeping the right talent has always been an issue, but these days the issue is more complex than ever. Not only does the digital revolution mean that you need a different kind of talent, but the old solutions (like throwing money at the problem) don’t seem to be working.
The problem is not just one of finding the right people it is also about getting the best out of them. This is exacerbated by the big cultural shifts that have happened in between the millennial generation and the generation that preceded them. Looking at my own ‘millennials’ at home I am often struck by how different from mine their lens is on the world.
Millennials – especially those born after 1990 – are truly digital creatures in a way that I will never be, but what particularly interests me is how differently they view technology. For my generation technology tends to be viewed as a necessary evil – especially in the corporate environment. My generation is sandwiched between the generation before it (who saw the advent of the home computer and were awestruck by Horace Goes Skiiing) and the millennial generation who are embracing the power of digital to literally change the world. We were around for the bit when technology became integral but boring and some CIOs are struggling to make the step change needed to see tech as a business driver, not just a supporting player.
For millennials however the digital environment is the frontier, the place where anything and everything is possible. They regard technology in the same way as ad executives in the 1960’s regarded creative arts – as tools to create the incredible. They are passionate about it in the way that some people are about art or sport for example. For them money is often secondary. They will take jobs that excite them over those that offer a big pay packet.
Businesses of all shapes and sizes are having to face the fact that it is be digital or die and therefore to be successful they have to be able to find, recruit, motivate and retain a fair few of these strange millennial creatures. For many IT teams this means a big shift in thinking. The old mindset of finding people who were desribed as ‘safe’, ‘reliable’, ‘process driven’ and ‘risk adverse’ has to change. Businesses need to embrace disruption and those kinds of people are anything but disruptive.
So what to do? Well curiously although the process of finding and attracting those people may have changed the secret to getting the best out of them remains largely the same. Yes, they may be more interested in micro-brewery beers and single-speed bikes than pensions and dental cover and you may need to set up your development hub in London's Old Street, but the fundamentals to retaining and motivating them are the same:
There is a big difference between delegating power and delegating responsibility. At Conchango giving people the freedom and the tools to be successful was a big part of our ethos and that meant giving people the power to make a difference, not just the responsibility for it. Delegating authority is not something that comes easy to many – especially those for whom most of their career has been about managing risks – but if you are going to hang on to your best people then it is a must.
We have all worked for companies that operated on a ‘need to know basis’. Everyone is kept in their individual silo, working to very specific objectives with no window on the rest of the company or idea how your objectives aligned to those of the organisation you were working for. I am not quite sure what the leaders of these organisations were afraid of and yet fear seemed to be a big motivator. The fact is however that it is only by giving people the freedom to get involved in the things that most excite them that you can get the best out of people. The mantra should not be so much about getting people to do the job you employed them to do as giving people the opportunity to do the things they are best at and most passionate about.
I am pretty sure that it’s not news to any of you that people work best when they feel they are part of something. A sense of a joint purpose, a single direction and the knowledge that there is a team behind you that have your back. Management teams are often very good at embracing this in the good times but retreat into a cave when things get tricky. But how can you exapct your people to help you get back on track unless they understand what you are facing? Painful though it may be – honesty and transparency are the best option no matter what the outlook.