IT Management

How a CIO Can Translate the Corporate Vision Into a Tool to Attract and Retain Critical Talent

Today’s business world is increasingly reliant on technology to help achieve goals and contribute to the bottom line, but it’s still the employees in a company who make the difference between success and failure. A key component of this success is mobilizing the company’s workforce around the corporate vision and mission.

The majority of corporate visions focus on market share, having the “best” product or service, improving financial performance, mitigating risk or anticipating customer needs. Consequently, a CIO’s vision for an organization usually focuses on how to better support the business through better alignment, improved service levels, increased speed to market or through their technology roadmap. All these goals are substantially aligned to quality or productivity.

Many companies are having difficulty in hiring experienced talent—from engineers and technology professionals to healthcare workers and skilled manufacturing employees. Because of the global demand for technology talent and the 2 to 3 percent unemployment in the U.S. for computer professionals in particular, this type of talent today can command a premium for their knowledge. They know exactly what they’re bringing to the table—and they know how valuable it can be to the overall business of an organization. It’s the reason there is such a bright spotlight today on talent. How else is the best technology of today and the future coming to fruition? It’s the people behind all this innovation that’s driving what businesses are craving to connect to their customers and be at the top of their game.

Yes, a CIO must have a strong vision from a technology standpoint—the pure technology play can’t be ignored. But I would argue that there has to be a people equation of that vision as well. It’s the people who are going to translate technology into productivity tools, improved quality and better business services.

As a result, one of the most innovative things a CIO can do today is to create a strong vision for the talent he or she employs or wants to attract—and, in turn, tie that vision back to their employee base in order to engage and attract the best workers in the industry.

So far, however, that’s not what I see happening. You only have to start reading the articles and blogs out there that seek to explain “vision” and “mission” statements to see that. Many people want to help companies create a vision, but the advice they give is varied. Some believe a vision should be realistic and achievable, while others feel it should be futuristic. Some visions are very short, and some aspire to elicit strong emotion.  Take a global electronics company for example. Their mission is very short: “To lead the digital convergence movement.” It sounds inspiring—who doesn’t want to lead a movement? But I’ve been buying the company’s products for 10 years, and I’m still not exactly sure what that movement is all about. Maybe the employees know.

Other companies take the practical approach and use their vision statement to explain how the organization will operate and how decisions will be made. For example, I’ve seen vision statements that go into great detail about exactly what it is they are doing to stand out in the crowd. The statements may mention the specific products they produce, how they want their products to positively impact customers and how they want to be viewed by customers. The statements may then go into competitive positioning; i.e., “We want to be No. 1 in market share and profit.”  Still others may go in the opposite direction with intentionally vague or altruistic language. One large retail drug store, for example, wants to “strive to improve the quality of human life.”

Sure, all of the goals contained within these statements may be achievable, but they are safe and predictable and are hardly capable of stirring any kind of strong emotion because of the clichés and similarities to be found among them all.

Most important, these types of vision statements tend to completely disregard the employees who are working at these companies and who arguably play a central role in helping their companies carry out the very goals espoused in the statements.

In fact, of the 100 mission and vision statements that I read from global companies, only 30 percent of these statements contained any message about the employees who work for the organizations. Still fewer included any statement about the work environments they want to create for their employees that would ostensibly inspire their employees to do their best work and in turn help the companies fulfill their mission statements.

There are plenty of reasons why companies need to start focusing more on their employees, starting with the ubiquitous vision statement. A well-done vision can inspire people, engage their hearts and minds and define what a company wants to be beyond its current operating comfort zone. If the company values its employees and includes that in its vision statement as well, it can have the effect of creating a positive employment brand and helping to attract candidates who actually want to work there.

But vision statements shouldn’t be reserved only for the company as a whole. It is just as important for a CIO to set a vision for his or her group in order to attract and retain critical talent.  For a CIO whose priority is to attract and retain highly sought after IT talent, this is crucial. It’s hard enough to attract someone with just the right set of technical skills to fill a job in today’s IT marketplace. In fact, that may only be the beginning when it comes to engaging today’s IT talent. That’s because employers today are dealing with workers who have very different ideas of what a job should be. Workers want to feel connected to their company’s goals, be provided a work environment that enables productivity and success, and have the support of their peers and management.

A well-crafted vision statement on behalf of a CIO can go a long way in helping to establish this kind of environment. Does the CIO care about his or her employees enough to provide good training and career development opportunities? Is the job more than just day-to-day roles and responsibilities? If a vision statement can help a CIO communicate how their people play a role in the success of the company, inspire them to want to be a part of that success and can describe the work environment and support they will receive to make them successful, a CIO is likely to have better success in attracting and retaining talent.

Furthermore, companies or groups that have strong visions or missions tend to attract like-minded people. Within an IT organization, does the CIO want it to be competitive or safe and secure, socially mainstream or fiercely against the grain? If a CIO’s vision statement communicates these attributes successfully, it will help attract not only the skills needed for a particular job, but the kind of people who will fit into the culture and perhaps even embrace the job enough to work harder because of that common vision.

At the end of the day, a CIO must be able to rely on IT employees to get the job at hand done. Ignoring the human aspect of the workforce, however, will only undermine that job in the long run. Starting with a strong vision statement that makes the employee a priority is a key first step in helping to transform the modern IT organization. Finally, a vision statement is not just something you read on the company website or see posted on the wall above the coffee machine. It needs to be delivered on and felt by every employee.

Acting on it will take your organization well into the future of work.