What IT Staffs Want More Than Salary

The 5 job factors that matter most to IT executives have nothing to do with compensation. Are you ready to deliver?

Jonathan Feldman, CIO, City of Asheville, NC

May 8, 2013

6 Min Read

5 New LinkedIn Tools

5 New LinkedIn Tools

5 New LinkedIn Tools (click image for slideshow)

A few weeks ago, I sat down to examine the data surrounding InformationWeek's 2013 IT Salary research for executives. You may be surprised that the data tells us salary isn't really what matters most to IT executives. The five things that matter most have NOTHING to do with compensation.

While you might think that IT execs' higher level of satisfaction with compensation might factor in here, digging into the data a little bit tells us a different story.

As I wrote in the report, "Compared with IT staff, who are either satisfied or very satisfied with their salaries 59% of the time, and satisfied or very satisfied with their jobs overall 63% of the time, IT execs are only a few percentage points better. Sixty-five percent of IT execs are very satisfied or satisfied with salaries, and 70% are very satisfied or satisfied overall with all aspects of their jobs. The slight edge over staff in these categories isn't quite the 'let them eat cake' level of smugness that IT staff might imagine."

All of which is to say: CIOs aren't significantly happier with their jobs or salaries than IT staff.

[ Is your job satisfaction lacking? Read 5 Social Blunders Job Hunters Must Avoid. ]

So what does matter to CIOs? Well, among the 340 CIOs who took our survey, the top answers for "what matters most to you about your job" were, in order: My opinion and knowledge are valued; Involvement in setting company strategy and determining goals; My work (job) is important to the company's success; Challenge of job/responsibility; and Corporate culture and values.

If you simplify these factors into five basic questions -- and if the answer is no -- they read very much like any employee's reasons to leave a job: Am I being listened to? Does my work matter? Is my work presenting an interesting challenge? and Am I working for people that I respect and like and who seem decent?

To some of us, this logic is patently obvious. Others with free-market-myopia will point to the finding in the research that shows that higher compensation is the No. 1 reason why IT executives look for a new job.

Yes, of course it is. All other things being equal, that is. When folks answer questions about what is most important to them, you can usually take them at their word. We can rest assured that folks would not accept a higher salary to work in hell. And, when they say that they would leave for more money, one can assume that they would take the job with a reasonable degree of confidence that the answers to the above five basic questions are "yes."

If it was just about salary, talented IT executives would simply change careers and become CFOs. After all, you could add 50% to your salary. I say this because I went comparison shopping at Salary.com to compare CIOs to CFOs. While Salary.com obviously has a different data set than InformationWeek's, and doesn't offer data for a job called "CIO" or "chief information officer," they do offer "top IT executive" data and call their category "chief information technology officer" -- close enough. Their data for the top IT exec showed a median salary as $192,000, with CFOs weighing in at around $300,000.

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What conclusions can we draw from all of this?

If you're the CIO's boss, note that retention and motivation isn't just about compensation, although compensation matters.

If these five things matter to CIOs, it's not too much of a leap to say that they probably matter to staff. And, they likely matter to your most confident and employable staff, if you catch my drift. HR is busy crunching numbers to make sure that your salaries are reasonably close to industry. But only IT leadership can help with the big 5.

When hiring, do your best to express that the answers to the five basic questions are yes. Perhaps the best way to do this is to expose your candidates to others in the organization who seem reasonably happy, and allow the interview process to be a two-way street.

Finally, the most basic question of all is this: Why do we have people working for our organizations in the first place? To merely show up and do as asked? Or to do something on a higher level? We all want the next Steve Jobs or Linus Torvalds to launch from our organizations, but just how do we get there?

I would suggest that the thinking of positive psychology pioneer Abraham Maslow provides a good way to frame this question. Maslow studied how exemplary people became that way, and theorized that there is a hierarchy of basic human needs. That is, once humans get past physiological and safety needs (which salary could be said to be a part of), only then can humans focus on higher goals and achieve "self actualization" higher purposes, whether that's doing work that earns a Nobel Prize or inventing a transformative product like the iPhone.

We constantly ask IT folks to focus on higher-purpose business goals outside of infrastructure. It's not such a leap to ask those who manage IT folks to focus on higher purposes as well. Is it?

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About the Author(s)

Jonathan Feldman

CIO, City of Asheville, NC

Jonathan Feldman is Chief Information Officer for the City of Asheville, North Carolina, where his business background and work as an InformationWeek columnist have helped him to innovate in government through better practices in business technology, process, and human resources management. Asheville is a rapidly growing and popular city; it has been named a Fodor top travel destination, and is the site of many new breweries, including New Belgium's east coast expansion. During Jonathan's leadership, the City has been recognized nationally and internationally (including the International Economic Development Council New Media, Government Innovation Grant, and the GMIS Best Practices awards) for improving services to citizens and reducing expenses through new practices and technology.  He is active in the IT, startup and open data communities, was named a "Top 100 CIO to follow" by the Huffington Post, and is a co-author of Code For America's book, Beyond Transparency. Learn more about Jonathan at Feldman.org.

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