Strategic CIO // Executive Insights & Innovation
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5/22/2014
04:15 PM
Chris Murphy
Chris Murphy
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IT Talent Retention Myths: Projects Don't Rule

InformationWeek's annual IT Salary Survey reveals surprises about how much IT pros value leading-edge tech projects, great bosses, and prestigious employers.

Conventional wisdom holds that a surefire way to keep IT pros happy is to put them on cutting-edge projects.

That conventional wisdom collides with reality, found in our annual InformationWeek US Salary Survey (registration required). We asked (among other things) which of 24 job factors are most important to IT professionals. And there at a lowly 16th most cited by staff and 17th by managers is "work with leading-edge technology," cited by about 1 in 5 of the 11,662 IT staffers and managers in our survey.

We also asked about the importance of "creating new innovative IT solutions." And because we ask IT pros to pick only their seven most important factors, you could argue that we're splitting the "innovator" vote, and that one catch-all category on emerging technology and innovation would show a greater hunger for those things at work.

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What I suspect is more true is that a segment of IT pros craves the excitement of new and constantly changing technology, but many more embrace the tried and true. Most like the feel of expertise and mastery more than the rush of uncertainty and experimentation.

So what matters most to you about your job? Looking at the responses to the 24 "what matters most" factors in our survey, the data as it applies to staffers falls into three broad tiers:

The package
The factors cited most by IT staffers in the survey fall into what I refer to as the "package" -- pay, benefits, vacation, flexible work schedule, and stable company. These are the cover-your-nut and have-a-life factors, so some of them will factor into nearly every IT pro's job priorities.

(Source: Wikipedia)
(Source: Wikipedia)

Companies must make sure they take care of these baseline factors, or they aren't even in the game of competing for talent. By far, the most common reason an IT staffer is looking to change jobs is for a higher salary -- cited by 72% of job seekers in our survey, far head of the next highest factor, more interesting work, at 49%.

The intangibles
In the middle come the intangibles, the hardest factors for IT leaders to address, since they're different for every IT pro. "Working on leading-edge tech" lands in here, as do "working with highly talented peers," "challenge of the job," "telecommuting options," and "commute distance."

These factors can be deal breakers for any given IT pro, but they aren't across-the-board important, like pay, bennies, and vacation are. As they recruit and assign IT staffers, IT leaders must figure out if they're matching a person's interests to the factors the job delivers.

The overrated
Most of us would guess that at least three of the following four factors are important to IT pros, when they actually land at the very bottom of our survey ranking: "effectiveness of immediate supervisor," "bonus opportunities," "involvement in setting company strategy and goals," and "prestige of the company."

Do these findings surprise you? Two jump out at me. One is that the supervisor isn't that important. We all know someone who has fled a terrible boss or followed a great one to a new company. But most supervisors are somewhere safely in the middle. One way to look at the unimportance given to supervisors is that they can screw things up and send people fleeing for the exits, but they don't have to be amazing to attract most IT pros.

The lowest-ranked factor that surprises me is also one that's essential knowledge for all those hugely successfully but hardly glamorous companies out there wondering if they can ever compete for top IT talent against the Googles and Microsofts of the world. Only 6% of IT pros say that "prestige of the company" is among their top factors for a job. This data says pretty definitively to those companies: Yes, you can compete for top talent.

Just remember to bring your checkbook.

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Chris Murphy is editor of InformationWeek and leader of its Strategic CIO community. He has been covering technology leadership and strategy issues for InformationWeek since 1999. Before that, he was editor of the Budapest Business Journal, a business newspaper in Hungary; ... View Full Bio
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BruceHarpham
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BruceHarpham,
User Rank: Apprentice
11/5/2014 | 12:22:48 PM
Interesting talent/career findings
An interesting exploration of the talent needs and psychology of those in the field.

I liked the ending comment: "Yes, you can compete for top talent. Just remember to bring your checkbook."
impactnow
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impactnow,
User Rank: Ninja
6/9/2014 | 2:01:32 PM
Re: I'm not all that surprised
The results regarding the supervisor could be based on the wording I have met effective supervisors that were just terrible people managers. It really depends on how you perceive effectiveness. If the supervisor does their job day to day and fails to mentor and promote their employees are they effective? I have seen departments fail and departments fail based on their manager. I would not underestimate their daily impact.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
6/4/2014 | 7:12:01 AM
Re: I'm not all that surprised
I think it can be hard to identify a bad boss.  As you mentioned every boss has their own style and that is not always a bad thing.  Sometimes you can have great success with one group of people because your management style suits them and fail completely with another group because your style clashes with how they work best.  In this case what looks like a competent and successful manager can actually be a bad boss.  The really bad ones are obvious but the ones that take years for anyone to recognize can do much more damage than someone who is pulled from the position immediately.
Li Tan
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Li Tan,
User Rank: Ninja
6/4/2014 | 4:37:45 AM
Re: I'm not all that surprised
It's really hard to define what's a bad boss. The major responsibility of a boss is doing coorination for important things and communicating with different people. Each boss has his/her own characteristics and pros/cons. So it really depends on how boss and staff cooperate. For me the bad boss is a contributing factor to move forward but not the ultimate one.
SaneIT
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SaneIT,
User Rank: Ninja
5/27/2014 | 7:18:47 AM
Re: I'm not all that surprised
I know that many people that I worked with at the time left because of the bad boss.  I would think that the multiplier of one bad boss changing the attitude of dozens of employees would show up on a survey like this but I guess maybe my experience is far from normal.  I've had bosses who were lacking skills or had communication issues but overall I wouldn't say those ones would prompt me to leave.  The really bad one though is exactly why I walked away from what many people would consider a dream job in IT.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2014 | 8:21:40 PM
Re: Role Rotation
@Laurianne, that is a great point, the motivations behind finding "more interesting work" is largely influenced by the desire of a professional to find work that a computer or automation cannot achieve. Work that requires a lot of creativity and as long as AI do not progress in a meaning way, I take that there will be plenty of such opportunities available.
Brian.Dean
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Brian.Dean,
User Rank: Ninja
5/23/2014 | 8:11:18 PM
Re: I'm not all that surprised
It is nice to see that economics and the "Package" is the main driver behind IT professionals, individuals that have a desire to efficiently earn will indirectly also try to innovate more -- by tweaking a process here, trying something new, collecting information and insight, etc. The value that is created by this process -- creates an overall benefit to society.
Alison_Diana
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Alison_Diana,
User Rank: Author
5/23/2014 | 12:42:57 PM
Re: Role Rotation
Working below potential and being unable to stretch are reasons IT pros may feel stymied in a position. If they are prevented from taking on new projects or are constantly overlooked for opportunities in new initiatives, they no doubt will feel undervalued and superfluous and will probably seek out a new employer who appreciates them. With so many organizations saying they cannot find well-qualified IT talent, it seems there are plenty of opportunities for motivated IT pros to move on.
Laurianne
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Laurianne,
User Rank: Author
5/23/2014 | 9:29:17 AM
Role Rotation
The 49% who cite "more interesting work" as a reason to find a new job probably includes some IT pros who worry that their current roles are heading for automation and thus lower headcounts. The ability to rotate into projects to learn new skills is a powerful retention tool.
ChrisMurphy
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ChrisMurphy,
User Rank: Author
5/23/2014 | 9:03:32 AM
Re: I'm not all that surprised
I suspect anyone who's had that horrible boss will be questioning the low ranking for supervisor. I've been lucky with bosses, but I don't take it for granted, and I'd have it on my priority list. Who you work with, the quality of colleagues both peers and supervisors, matters a lot. You're spending a lot of your life with them. 
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