Originally published in CIOReview.

The challenge

It’s hard to keep a high-value, technical team motivated, polarized on the job and happy with their employer. Everything companies do is to leverage the latest and greatest: the newest technology, the latest challenges and innovating entire business structures. But, the latest and greatest doesn’t stop turnover single handedly. Instead, introducing AI, Big Data, DevOps, an innovation lab or emphasis on enterprise security, coupled with day-to-day job responsibilities, builds a highly capable and desirable staff. It also makes them more attractive for a myriad of future employers.

And, there lies the challenge. For most CIOs, keeping the team together is of paramount importance. Consistency breeds in-house system knowledge, which ensures stability. And while innovation and training is critical for professional development, it also makes employees more marketable. So where is the balance?

In an industry with a shortage of skilled talent, and an unprecedented number of unfulfilled positions, discovering, training, rewarding, and retaining talent has never been more critical. For example, if your company is building a DevOps team to make your operation more efficient, you need to have the right talent to achieve that goal. But when you consider you’ll have to find candidates that span not just the technology piece (server and network hardware, OS, app development, security, delivery systems and more) but also have the vision to support an enterprise DevOps team and take implementation to the next level, you quickly realize the mountain there is to climb.

By complementing employment benefits with new challenges to engage employees, you’ll be better situated to manage the sheer amount of innovation occurring across daily tasks.

But because IT’s challenge is a unique one, general staff retention best practices – like flexible work, signing bonuses, bringing your dog to the office, open working spaces, free lunch, summer Fridays – just don’t cut it. And with more companies offering similar benefits, discovering and retaining staff is steadily becoming more difficult. As progress accelerates, employee roles are blurred and barriers between functions soften. Thus, roles are created for the sake of it. This, in and of itself, doesn’t help the talent challenge, either. But, here’s what will.

The solution

Creating new opportunities for your team, both within the constraints of your organization and within the realm of interest for your staff, provides necessary challenges that keep employees engaged, interested, and loyal to your company. Let’s look at DevOps as an example.

What emerged as disruptive technology driving organizational efficiencies, while also developing IT talent, DevOps is a great example of implementing a talent retention approach that benefits the business while also engaging your IT team. Knowing DevOps requires massive change to make full use of its benefits (thanks to its ability to fully automate and reduce the resource load ultimately resulting in huge cost savings); it requires your development, operations and IT teams to rethink everything about the way they work. To do that, you have to consider retraining, the creation, and implementation of new processes, systems, and talent acquisition to solve unforeseen challenges. And because a program like DevOps is moving ahead quickly, this creates a great opportunity to help your team develop new skills without ever having to look outside the company.

What’s the point of all of this? Finding opportunities for your team’s professional development, that also align with your business strategy, is the solution. By complementing employment benefits with new challenges to engage employees, you’ll be better situated to manage the sheer amount of innovation occurring across daily tasks.

Making it work for your company

The broad range of unfilled technology jobs, and the creation of never before seen positions, have created a unique challenge for the IT industry. Companies are no longer just wondering, what kind of benefits do we need to provide our workforce? They’re now having to consider how to protect the investment in their people and how to find the level of skills, and commitment to innovation, in talent across roles. Is this a case of the wandering employee where they’re going to make a move every couple years regardless of what we do? What is the future of talent recruitment and retention in our industry?

That’s the challenge. Employment benefits and a great working environment can only do so much. The true measurement of a company’s ability to recruit, reward, and retain IT talent is through their approach to innovation. That means being unafraid to implement projects that create challenges and ultimately, great solutions. That means being willing to invest in talent, even if ultimately it makes them more attractive to your competition. And most of all, it means being unafraid of creating new ways of working that defy convention.

Maintaining innovation, while also engaging your team, is one of the greatest challenges of our day. But, it can be solved through forward-thinking roles and a combination of job responsibilities and passion projects, all melded into one.