Hiring the right person for a job is no easy feat in any industry. When it comes to tech talent, in particular, strategic hiring is crucial. Historically considered a siloed activity, technology is now considered a vital business function, and strategic hiring is essential for any partner trying to build a successful, scalable business. It’s not enough to simply fill job roles; ensuring business growth has always been a critical component of any company.
Seems relatively straightforward, but sometimes, the universe has an odd sense of humor. 2020 was a year that created the highest unemployment level since the Great Depression, changing the hiring and job-seeking landscape perhaps forever. The pandemic has caused a sea change in the way talent is sought after.
Thus, the talent wars came about. This phrase may sound a bit like a kitschy reality show, but they are genuine, and they’re hitting service providers and solution providers alike. The shift to remote work we’ve seen over the last 18 months, where businesses of all shapes and sizes need tech to help them set up and secure remote work configurations, has thrown this issue into the spotlight.
Nearly everyone is short-staffed, but the problem has hit partners hard, whose revenue correlates directly to having the right people to do the work. Cleveland Research estimates that many technology service partners are already 20-25% short on the people needed to deliver on their existing book of business.
The pandemic dampened salary levels as well. But as businesses have rebounded, so have compensation expectations for employees at companies of all sizes. Small businesses, in particular, are struggling to stay competitive as salary expectations among workers skyrocket. Now more than ever, partners are feeling the squeeze to pay what the big companies are.
According to CompTIA’s 2021 Workforce and Learning Trends report, 40% of companies hired IT staff during the pandemic, and 66% plan to add more in 2021. So, when you can’t compete on salary, how do you recruit and retain talent?
By having a robust employer value proposition (EVP). Considering this new landscape, what does that look like?
Transparency curbs the turnover tide
Navigating an increasingly complex digital world demands that companies turn an eye inward. Therefore, employers and workers are going after new career models that enable internal mobility.
Employers in CompTIA’s survey are seeking more effective ways to upskill and “reskill” current employees. Of these, 57% of senior leaders expect a continued movement toward de-prioritizing the four-year degree. However, another 24% support the trend but have questions given the challenges of countering hiring inertia.
When asked what could influence this trend, participants said that culture change is one of the most significant factors. Forty-four percent say it will happen if companies become more agile in general. The same percentage say a significant roadblock is an organizational resistance to change. The trend toward retaining and advancing incumbent employees to fill critical roles is a big one, with 50% of people from large organizations saying they plan new efforts to reskill or upskill technology staff in response to the pandemic.
Eric Rieger, president of managed service provider WEBIT Services, agrees with and supports this way of thinking 100%. According to Rieger, you must have a different perspective and unique approach if you hope to decrease turnover and retain your employees.
“We’re a little different than most IT providers,” says Rieger. “Back in 2016, we started doing open-book management, which means there’s a big focus on sharing our finances and teaching financial literacy. There’s accountability there, and it attracts a certain type of talent. From a culture fit perspective, we want people who act and think like owners, and our belief system is that if you teach people how business works, they’ll do their best to think differently about their jobs, including how they’re providing service to the clients.”
He says that having an employee ownership model will attract a different type of individual who wants to plant roots and get rewarded for the value they’re helping create.
Rieger also references the flurry of mergers and acquisitions (M&A) activity in the industry, saying that private equity or venture capital may unintentionally drive people away, or at least the types of people who help make that company worth acquiring. It’s a land grab for market share, and employee value gets lost in the shuffle.
“One of the things that we’ve done to combat this is intentionally limit our growth,” says Rieger, “Obviously, we’re looking at a tight market, and we’re a company that’s not going to intentionally overpay to try and get talent. I think we have a very attractive story to tell for the people who want that type of future, but we’re intentionally limiting our growth for the next at least 12 to 18 months so that we don’t have to get caught up in this hiring of talent.”
There’s lots of backlash in restricting one’s growth, says Rieger, because many of these companies have a “growth at all costs” mentality. And this is one of the costs that you pay if you’re going to try to scale exponentially – you need people, and you need them to be as efficient as possible. Companies simply can’t grow beyond what they’re capable of doing.
Rieger also stresses that if there was more transparency in the industry, there would be less turnover – especially as it relates to M&A.
Involve staff in business decisions
Transparency and flexibility seem to be a key theme in the hiring and talent push and pull. This could apply to the increasing demand for remote or hybrid work amongst employees. According to a recent McKinsey & Company study, more than half of employees reported that they would like their organizations to adopt more flexible hybrid virtual-working models. A hybrid model can help organizations make the most of talent wherever it resides, lower costs, and strengthen organizational performance.
According to Sandy McGrath, operations manager of Canadian-based MSP Final Frontiers Systems Corp, the best way to retain talent is to involve staff in business decisions and career planning.
“Including staff in decision-making about what is vital to the business and where we should go has been crucial in our growth, flexibility, and success. You gain faster alignment when staff can provide input on what’s seen in day-to-day work, feedback from customers, and industry knowledge they may acquire that you haven’t. You can have accountability and drive key results by having staff engaged in their advised decisions and want to see success.”
Career planning and a focus on culture have been crucial aspects in developing staff loyalty and business success, according to McGrath. He meets with each staff member monthly to go over training and career paths. They plan out a “where are you in five years” exercise and break down the end goal into yearly chunks that are then further broken down into monthly discussions about progressing toward their goals. McGrath communicates to his staff the importance of each skill in the business, how those skills will be helpful, and why it will be essential to obtain each skill.
According to McGrath, it’s also important to talk to employees about the benefits they will see, such as increased responsibility, new roles or opportunities within the company, and other perks they could accrue along their path. Even if an employee decides to leave the company, the idea is to encourage them to be better people, highlight their value, and show that their well-being and success are paramount, no matter what path they choose.
“I make sure to pass along credit to my team [or make it] possible to hear it directly from clients,” says McGrath. “I’ve seen company culture die in a meeting when a manager accepted credit or praise for work a staff member did that was sitting at the same table. [On the other hand], I have seen staff rise to a higher level of engagement and performance when a manager says, for example, ‘That was all Tracy – I only helped with X.'”
Automated processes and clear communication is a selling point for IT talent. Operational inefficiencies, culture shifts, and the overall lack of clarity can hog-tie and frustrate many seasoned IT pros who just want to know what’s in the pipeline, what projects are in the works, and what resources are needed to bring a project to completion.
Here are a few ways to combat this churn and instead thrive in the channel to the degree that attracts the right folks.
- Focus on culture. This one is a vital component and should be at the tip-top of your recruiting strategy. People are starved for connection, particularly if they’re working remotely. Your vision and values should be front and center, and it should be clear that you center your business around your people and ideals. Consider telling your story through your current employees’ voices, highlighting what you’ve done to make an impact in the last year.
- Offer easy access to training. There are channel-specific software solutions out there to automate the onboarding process and ongoing training to benefit partners. More than ever, partners need easy access to proper training and marketing collateral to highlight their company and offerings. Comprehensive tools put such resources and automated tools at their fingertips.
- Optimize for remote work. Companies around the globe must now shift to accommodate the pandemic’s impact on their channel partnerships. It’s unclear whether the shift to “work from anywhere” will remain as companies shift to hybrid models or even a return to full-time, office-based positions. However, firms that optimize their operations for a virtual workforce, and who make in-person attendance the exception rather than the rule, will be much better prepared to recruit for the future. Even with all the uncertainty, there are concrete ways to support your partners and mitigate the adverse effects on your business and relationships.
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