With technical skills becoming outdated every 2.5 years on average, hiring for current tech skills may not be a winning long-term strategy.15 Some tech specialists may continue to build their careers on digital depth and specificity, but increasingly, individuals should be evaluated on their ability to lead and be empathetic.
To develop softer, leadership skills with their teams, Ally launched the Ally Leadership program, an internal initiative that brings together 20 to 25 executives from across the organization. “We’ll say, ‘Here’s a problem we’re trying to solve to advance our technology strategy,’ and this cohort will solve for it in the next six weeks while also getting leadership training,” says Ally’s Sathish Muthukrishnan. “These leaders are solving organization-wide problems that they’re passionate about while improving their skills on a daily basis.”
“When engineers ask me what skills they should learn next, they think I’m going to say machine learning or cloud or something along those lines,” says Eli Lilly’s Diogo Rau. “But no. If you could focus on one thing, it’s the basics of empathy.”
Doing so may require a broader set of capabilities and skills that tech professionals have not always been encouraged to build. That’s changing. “We are in a very people-oriented business,” says Delta’s Rahul Samant. “If you want to succeed with us, you care about our customers and your colleagues and have a passion for the mission of connecting people. Balancing EQ-driven skills with technical skills is an imperative.”
5. Be intentional about how you address skills gaps: When it comes to developing the most needed skills for their teams, tech leaders are often more inclined to hire talent with those critical skills or upskill existing talent, according to our study. They’re less likely to hire-to-train or leverage ecosystem partners—people who work for suppliers, competitors, partners, and other contiguous organizations—to fill skills gaps.
For instance, when it comes to cybersecurity and resilience, 31% of executives say they’ll hire talent with those skills and 30% say they’ll upskill existing teams. Only 16% say they’ll hire-to-train and 20% say they’ll look to ecosystem partners.
While no single approach is right or wrong, tech leaders should identify the skills gaps in their organization and then be thoughtful about how to address them.
“We can’t fill the talent gap just by hiring people from outside or using our consulting supplier partners,” says the former CIO of one financial services company. “We need to really grow talent from inside the organization, so we’ve created an internal academy that’s built on this principle of teaching and learning. Instead of bringing trainers in from the outside, we want our own experts to teach our own team members and share best practices.”
Ecosystem partners can provide a valuable, quick, and cost-effective way to “rent” talent and skills as capabilities are built in-house. In addition, tapping into ecosystems can give organizations a chance to recruit from more diverse and representative talent pools.
At the same time, executives should be careful not to outsource entirely to ecosystem partners, no matter how capable. “If we hire really smart engineers and put them on managing projects that are outsourced, I don't think that’s a good use of anybody’s time,” explains Eli Lilly’s Diogo Rau. “We should have engineers do engineering work and let our partners do their work and not try to do stuff that’s in the middle. For the past 15 to 20 years, too many companies would probably say they have people who are spending too much time on vendor management.”
“We firmly believe that to deliver an excellent employee experience we can’t be dependent upon dozens of partners to deliver that experience,” says Marc Berson, SVP and CIO at Gilead Sciences. “So, we are focused on narrowing down to a smaller set of strategic partners. We learned lessons, as I’m sure many did during the pandemic, that there are certain elements of the employee experience over which we simply need to have more control.”
6. Focus on inclusion: Our study as well as our ongoing research on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI)16 reveals that tech executives are faced with many competing priorities, and the area that’s often pushed to the bottom of the tech agenda is DEI initiatives. In fact, 30% say their tech function currently plays no role in driving DEI, and only 8% say that engaging a diverse workforce and building inclusive capabilities is an organizational priority. Tech leaders should give DEI the attention it deserves if they want to build an organization talent wants to follow.
Younger workers, especially in tech and other industries, increasingly value diversity and inclusion where they work.17 When looking at this cohort, Generation Z and millennials who are satisfied with their employers’ efforts to create a diverse and inclusive culture are more likely to want to stay with their employer for more than five years.
As a simple matter of attracting a broader range of people to your tech organization, strategies that include diversity and inclusion efforts are important to building a broader and deeper talent pipeline.
Such strategies can be basic—tech leaders could create employee resource and affinity groups focused on diverse communities, for example. Other key strategies could include greater investment in mentorship and apprenticeship programs, more outreach to ecosystem partners who are focused on building tech skills in underrepresented groups, and deliberate efforts to establish working groups to identify and outline how to best meet DEI goals.
“We set up our own DEI steering committee within the technology team,” says Jim Fowler, EVP and CTO at Nationwide. “It’s a team of about 12 associates that get together on a monthly basis, and they have three very clear goals: How do we attract, develop, and retain diverse talent in the tech field? We have also been doing something we call Catalyst for Change sessions. These are designed to be safe spaces for our associates and leaders to share concerns or provide a point of view. Leaders bring small communities together. It might come with an education component, but the real important part is it’s based in constructive conversations and solutions.”
“Building diverse teams should be a priority for every tech leader,” says Gilead Sciences’ Marc Berson. “To further increase the diversity of our organization, we’re rethinking our talent sourcing channels and approaches. We’re particularly focused on earlier career talent acquisition and development programs. These programs range from skills-first hiring, based on identifying roles where a four-year degree is not required, through to college interns and graduate hires, based on sourcing from colleges and universities with more diverse populations. In an effort to support these hires, we offer mentoring programs and first-year onboarding and assimilation support to enable integration into the organization. If we want to build better, stronger teams, we need to open up the aperture for where we find talent.”
While building more diverse teams is vital, it’s also important to prioritize inclusion. This requires building ways for people of all backgrounds and experience levels to feel welcome and appreciated. “We’re focused on creating an environment to really ensure diversity and inclusion where people aren't just equal in numbers or statistics in the company’s metrics, but rather they can really say what they think, be who they are and feel empowered to do their jobs,” says Antti Koskelin, SVP and CIO at KONE.
One way to help ensure inclusion becomes a priority is to establish a sense of accountability among leaders. “Inclusive leadership goals are included in every single one of our managers’ annual performance objectives,” says Mojgan Lefebvre, EVP and chief technology and operations officer at Travelers. “We hold our managers and our people leaders accountable.”
An ROI mindset for a successful tech talent strategy
One common denominator in our conversations with tech leaders is an awareness that talent is not just an input—it is an aspect that has potential to drive lasting value. The upfront investment of resources and time into recruiting, reskilling, retaining, promoting, and inspiring may seem taxing at times, but remember, it’s likely people who will transform your tech function, not the technology.
Consider the management of tech talent like any other tech investment—these are highly valuable people when they are empowered, prepared, and integrated. They may also require ongoing support and tending. This is likely to have a flywheel effect: When people know they’re part of a dynamic strategy to build a highly effective and impactful team, they may be more likely to stay, more likely to refer top people to the organization, more likely to stay focused, and more likely to bring fresh ideas to the table.
Successful tech leaders should therefore focus not only on talent but also on the broader context of work—how to make it purposeful, flexible, productive, and rewarding. Work in the tech space has often been different than in other spaces. But great leaders of tech teams should imagine how the future of work is taking shape, especially in the context of tech-focused teams. Having the right people is key. Giving them a sense of how they can work better and smarter is just as important.