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How to Be a More Attractive Employer Than a Startup

It’s getting harder and harder for large corporate IT teams to attract qualified candidates to take up a job with them.

This is mainly because startups are becoming an increasingly attractive option to recruits who know they’re a precious commodity: a declining number of STEM graduates means that employers are squabbling over a shrinking pool of high-potential prospects.

Startups are becoming more attractive because they offer exactly what budding IT professionals say are their priorities when deciding whether or not to join a firm. They consider compensation, development opportunities, and future career opportunities as the most important criteria, according to CEB data.

For a start, on top of a competitive salary, start-ups also attract the best talent by the promise of getting rich as the organization grows. Next, despite a lot of rhetoric about innovation and creativity, failure is often not an option at big incumbent companies with a large market share to protect, and so an employee’s freedom to try new things and take the lead is tightly constrained. At startups, however, it’s encouraged.

Finally, at most large firms, moving an idea from ideation to commercialization can take years. Startups, in contrast, have an innate sense of urgency because there’s no choice but to create a new product or rapidly enhance existing ones, which means a young employee’s career can move much more quickly than at a larger firm.

Three Ways to Win the War for Talent

So corporate IT teams have an uphill battle on their hands. But some of the best big companies are fighting back; they do each of the three things below – using a variety of tactics – and also remind candidates of their more natural advantages, such as the size – and so stability – of the company, its established presence in multiple parts of the world, a vast base of customer relationships, and a diverse workforce.

1. Encourage and enable creativity and innovation: Employees are a rich source of innovative ideas for using technology to help achieve important business goals, but few of these ideas succeed as employees lack the resources or expertise to develop them. In response, the IT team at a leading auto maker  in CEB’s networks of IT professionals helps IT and business employees alike develop their ideas into prototypes and obtain investments for them.

The IT team plays a vital role in making the infrastructure, technical expertise, and project management resources available to the innovators. They also act as brokers, showcasing prototypes to gain the funding needed to support “run-at-scale” development.

2. Change attitudes toward risk and failure: Only 35% of IT employees are satisfied with attitudes toward risk-taking at their company. A risk-averse culture makes IT employees reluctant to embark on risky projects or challenge the status quo. To change attitudes toward risk and failure, the CIO at a leading media company uses a unique “gamification” approach to encourage IT employees to share their failures and lessons learned.

To increase learning from failure, “failure videos” produced by employees are stored in a “failure vault” and include quizzes to reinforce lessons learned. While this approach may sound extreme, it illustrates the importance of sending a clear signal that failure is an inevitable side effect of innovation and that it offers invaluable opportunities for learning and improvement.

3. Create compelling career trajectories: IT employees rate development and future career opportunities among the most important reasons for joining and staying with a company. To keep track of the career aspirations of their teams, the IT leadership team at a global high-tech company carves out time in leadership meetings to share employee “aspiration profiles.”

These profiles help IT leaders understand the career aspirations of their teams and facilitate targeted career development discussion with employees. These discussions then allow other IT leaders to match staff profiles with available opportunities, fulfilling both operational needs and individual career interests.

Contributed by CEB, a best practice insight and technology company. Read more CEB blogs here.

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