Tactics for Higher Education Talent Management Plans

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Maintaining an IT talent management plan can help higher education leaders address post-pandemic workforce challenges and build and retain teams that are prepared for and motivated to meet the demand for new and expanded IT services.

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Credit: ArtemisDiana / Shutterstock.com © 2023

A talented staff is the key to successful IT operations and institutional transformations. A talent management plan is the cornerstone of any organizational realignment or strategic plan. IT organization leaders who have not updated their talent management plan recently or do not have a plan, should consider updating their tactics to align with the post-pandemic workforce and new demands on IT services.

A colleague described the surge of resignations and turnover in higher education IT organizations as "the great reckoning," suggesting that many IT staff members are reconsidering the life/work value proposition. Workers are seeking greater flexibility in how they contribute and signaling their desire to align their values with their employers' mission in order to gain a greater sense of purpose and do work that provides intrinsic rewards.

Changes in workforce attitudes, increased competition for technical skills, a growing emphasis on technology in transformational change, and shifting workplace demographics present threats and opportunities to higher education leaders. This article presents ideas gleaned from collegial discussions, seminars, and readings and includes actionable tactics to help IT organization leaders reconsider and execute talent management plans to attract, develop, and retain the talent that is essential to advancing transformation in higher education institutions.

Rethinking and Rearchitecting Work and Job Roles

Restructure and Tier Job Descriptions

Managers want to hire the most experienced talent possible. But when applicant pools lack experts or affordable options, an alternative strategy for attracting less experienced people and investing in their development is needed. Rethink the prerequisites and the minimum qualifications at each tier. Consider seeking applicants from all talent tiers and diverse backgrounds and experiences. Be prepared to invest in skills training and provide growth pathways for entry-level positions.

Remove Bias Language from Job Descriptions

Biased language in job descriptions might alienate candidates and prevent them from applying for jobs. Many women feel they must "check all the boxes" in a job description before applying, whereas men are generally more comfortable applying for a role when they meet only a few criteria. Review and adjust your job descriptions, requirements, and advertisements to be gender-neutral to attract diverse applicant pools. Today, there a number of online tools for checking job ads and descriptions for bias.

Create Modern Job Titles

Job titles are the first impression an organization makes on potential applicants. Rethinking titles can reflect evolving work roles and project a more modern approach that appeals to IT talent. Traditional job descriptions are dated and fail to reflect current IT roles in the rapidly evolving higher education technology ecosystem. If the existing classification system must be used, ask the HR officer if there is flexibility around working titles.

Give People "a Good Job to Do"

"If you want people to do a good job, give them a good job to do . . . ."Footnote1

People want to feel that their work is valued and that they are doing valuable work. When they lack this sense of value, they often seek other opportunities, even at less pay, to know that they are making meaningful contributions at work. Boring and monotonous jobs are often viewed as dead ends. Restructure jobs and work to ensure that people are challenged and able to make significant contributions. Higher education work often aligns with people's interests in contributing to climate preservation, public health, or social justice issues. Weave impact statements into job descriptions and advertisements that speak to candidates' intrinsic motivations and attract them to good and impactful jobs.

Offer Competitive Salaries

Higher education IT staff rank monetary compensation behind employee benefits, quality of life, work hours, and skill-building opportunities. Nevertheless, IT employees' sense of fair compensation is a key factor in their decisions to remain in their jobs.Footnote2 IT organization leaders should be mindful of intra-institutional pay discrepancies, cost-of-living factors, and market compensation and establish competitive salaries and benefits that attract and retain IT talent. Offering a competitive compensation package is particularly important in a market where IT talent is scarce and issues of time and place are no longer as meaningful as they were in the past.

Create Opportunities for Innovation in Every Job Role

Charismatic leaders often make grand proclamations about strategic transformation and innovation initiatives. The truth is that the spark of innovation happens in much smaller ways, and every big innovation starts with a small idea shared by a few motivated people. This means that successful innovation is possible at even the smallest, most resource-challenged organizations. Leaders must intentionally create opportunities and an environment for people to come together and work toward meaningful innovations. That means explicitly giving employees permission, time, and opportunities to innovate amid the backlog of DevOps work. Fostering innovation seems impossible when there is a pile of work to be done. But leaders who are intentional about creating a climate of innovation and collaboration can enhance employees' sense of value and strengthen their intrinsic commitment to their jobs and institutions.

Recruiting and Hiring Talent

Hire a Specialist to Hire Specialists

Higher education IT organization leaders should consider hiring a recruiter who specializes in information technology and understands the situation, technology stack, ethos, and talent needs at their institution—as well as job candidates' motivations. A recruiter can keep candidates "warm" while the internal hiring bureaucracy plays out and help hiring managers negotiate offers. A recruiting specialist can also help busy managers by coordinating job searchers, fostering communication with prospects, conducting reference checks, completing HR forms, reporting on the status of open searchers, and completing other administrative tasks to hasten searches. They can also help identify alternative and non-traditional talent sources.

Engage IT Staff in IT Staff Recruitment

Some institutions include their IT staff in the recruitment processes because many IT hires are made based on preexisting relationships. For example, IT staff members can take an active role in recruiting talent by creating LinkedIn accounts and leveraging their relationships. In addition, providing staff with templates or fliers for promoting open employment opportunities via social media and email ensures consistent communication of key marketing messages about the departmental culture, climate, and benefits. Some institutions even pay finders fees to staff whose recruitment efforts lead to a hire.

Tap into Student Talent

Higher education institutions are designed to be magnets for talented, curious, and intelligent people. Students bring great enthusiasm to learning and doing. However, some managers may refrain from using students to do important work in the IT organization, citing the time investment needed to oversee their work and develop their technical skills. While mentoring and developing young professionals takes extra energy and patience, the long-term rewards are outstanding. Starting a work-study or internship program can help IT organizations build a diverse technical talent pipeline.

Leverage Faculty Expertise

IT organization leaders often overlook faculty experts as viable candidates for IT jobs. Bringing faculty into full-time IT roles and allowing them to stay involved in academic scholarship activities and part-time teaching is a win-win opportunity for building talent. Faculty perspectives in service to the academy and their deep understanding of technical topics are valuable to informing IT services and practices. Involving faculty in project work, governance activities, training, audits, and assessments and engaging them as consultants are great ways to leverage the expert talent at higher education institutions.

Go Beyond Traditional STEM Education Pipelines for Talent

There simply are not enough computer science and management information systems graduates in the pipeline to fill open jobs. Leaders must consider graduates in all disciplines and invest in their development to create high-value contributors to their IT teams. Many people in IT positions do not have computer science, management information systems, or informatics degrees. And it is already known that liberal arts graduates possess a broad range of knowledge, problem-solving, and critical thinking skills that directly apply to IT services. Remove STEM degree requirements from technical jobs and broaden the candidate pool to include other avenues of education and training.

Target Talent at Other Higher Education Institutions

There is an elephant in the room: Some institutions are actively targeting other institutions' talent as part of their recruitment strategies. While CIOs generally do not talk about using this tactic, they have been doing it for a long time. Whether out of desperation or opportunity, IT leaders have recently escalated their efforts to identify exceptional individual contributors at other institutions who may be disenfranchised by inflexible HR policies, low compensation, high workloads, or ineffective leadership. Some institutions even offer "stay bonuses" to existing employees and signing bonuses to job candidates, reminiscent of private business practices. In some cases, institutions in close proximity have worked collaboratively to share and recruit staff rather than compete with each other.

Create a Community Pipeline

Organizational leaders can take active roles in developing talent pipelines by engaging community and civic organizations. Such organizations are always looking for talented members or meeting speakers, and engaging with them is an excellent way to forge new relationships and keep pipelines of interest and opportunity flowing to higher education institutions. Working with these organizations can also yield a greater understanding of the shared issues and opportunities for collaboration and foster improved town and gown relations.

Consider Cluster Hires

Cluster hiring is recruiting a group of people at the same time. Academic departments have used this tactic to build expertise around a new program or research lab. For example, some CIOs have recruited a senior leader in a targeted IT field and then hired foundational talent around that leader who will develop that talent into a high-functioning team. Cluster hiring allows IT organization leaders to recast talent around emerging technology trends, fill skill gaps, create new energy and momentum, and diversify a department's expertise. This approach can bolster transformational plans, such as moving to cloud computing, launching new cybersecurity initiatives, and implementing LMS or ERP systems.

Reengage Retirees

Early and natural-age retirees with many productive years ahead of them represent the largest segment of the latent workforce. Some former employees who retired during the pandemic are facing investment losses, high inflation, or boredom and want to reengage in meaningful work. Retirees who have completed their traditional careers and are contemplating work will often seek opportunities they find rewarding. Encourage staff to reach out to retirees to find out if they are interested in returning to work remotely or part-time.

Catch a Boomerang

Employees who left their jobs for "greener grass" may be experiencing some remorse resulting from corporate layoffs and poor life/work conditions. Current staff may have remained in touch with former staffers and could reach out and ask if they are interested in returning to their previous job, filling a new role, or doing project work on the side. Hiring "boomerang" employees can provide immediate relief to depleted and stressed staff. Maintaining collegial relationships with former high-performing employees is a good idea even if they are not interested in returning to work.

Hire for Fit

Higher education leaders can give employees knowledge, experiences, and training to help them grow into their jobs, but they cannot always instill a great attitude or make them the right "fit" for the team. Hiring people is the most complicated and critical work leaders do. Getting it right is awesome. But when a hire fails, it is usually related to attitude, motivation, coworker relationships, interpersonal issues, or poor organizational fit. When considering new hires, managers should evaluate three candidate attributes: attitude, skills, and experience. They can choose two attributes to decide on a final candidate, but one must be attitude.

Commit to Developing Experience and Skills

Managers often emphasize hiring employees with deep technical skills, knowledge, and experience. In today's market, consistently attracting candidates who meet these expectations—even after restructuring jobs—is unlikely. Organizational leaders must commit time and resources to develop and shape talent through intentional pathways and rewards that are evident to employees and beneficial to IT organizations.

Don't Settle for the Best of the Worst

While it may be tempting to fill a position quickly to relieve the pressures current staff members are feeling from vacancies, don't settle for the best of a shallow and underqualified applicant pool. Hiring a candidate who does not bring the right skills and experiences and may not be a good fit for the job may do more harm than good to an IT organization and filling that void or removing that splinter can take years.

Consider "Quiet Hiring" for Critical Short-Term Talent Needs

Quiet hiring is when an organization temporarily reassigns staff to different responsibilities, hires temporary staff, or contracts with "gig workers" to address immediate and short-term needs for talent with specific skills to complete projects. While quiet hiring can plug some talent holes, organizational leaders should be aware that existing staff might interpret their temporary reassignment to mean that their regular job isn't necessary anymore. This is particularly true if no one is hired to backfill their old responsibilities. In addition, other staff who may have to pick up the slack might feel burdened with the additional work. And some employees may feel devalued by the investment in "outsiders" versus being offered training to build needed skills or provided opportunities for promotion. When carefully managed, these alternative talent sources can bring strategic initiatives to completion and help institutions move forward on their transformational journeys.

Retaining the Talent You Have

Hold on to Managers Who Retain Staff

Managers are crucial when implementing any workforce strategy. Because managers are closest to workforce issues and are influential in retaining staff and maintaining team morale, manager turnover can be exceptionally difficult in IT organizations. Burnout and turnover among IT managers are often triggered by the extra work they take on to maintain team productivity when someone leaves amid high expectations. CUPA-HR suggests the following tactics to help retain managers:

  • Provide supervisors with resources and support to help them in their supervisory capacity. Focus first on helping supervisors fill empty positions and manage staff morale.
  • Ensure supervisors have the power to advocate for their staff.
  • Give supervisors more autonomy to determine working arrangements for their staff.
  • Commit to reducing supervisor workload.
  • If possible, raise supervisor salaries but not at the expense of raises for non-supervisors.Footnote3

Organizational leaders must ensure managers have the skills to engage with, support, and develop their staff. This may be the most important aspect of an effective talent management plan.

Develop Managers of People versus Experts in Technology

Many senior IT staff members are highly valued for their technical skills and are promoted into management positions with some expectations that they can manage people and technology. The irony is that IT professionals are primarily in the people business, but some managers fail to engage in the people side of the equation. Managers have a profound influence over the well-being, life/work balance, and job satisfaction of their staff. Hence, leadership must recognize that there is a difference between the technical lead position and the human manager position. While some individuals are expected to do both, few have the innate skills to execute the combined role effectively. Leadership should differentiate these two roles and ensure managers are trained and have the skills to bring out the best in their staff every day.

Assess Staff and Identify Top Performers

Every organization has individual contributors it can't afford to lose. These top performers are highly motivated, engaged, influential, proactive, and eager to take on challenges, learn, and apply new skills and knowledge. Top performers are also constantly seeking feedback and require coaching and feedback to develop and grow. Organizational leaders should work closely with managers to identify, engage, and support top performers.

Conduct Stay Interviews

Stay interviews are not code words for employee evaluations. Stay interviews are informal conversations to help managers understand why employees stay and what might cause them to leave. Stay interview questions explore what employees like the most or the least about their current job, what role they might consider leaving the organization for, or what ambitions they have to advance in their current or future position at the institution. The interviews should be conducted from an opportunistic "what's right" perspective versus a negative "what's wrong" one. However, organizational leaders and managers must be prepared to act on information obtained in stay interviews or risk undermining trust.

Invest in Training and Developing Individuals

Providing training to help employees expand their skills seems like an obvious way to retain them. And while ensuring employees have the knowledge and tools to do a job well is a strong predictor of job engagement, some managers resist training their staff, fearing that they will use those skills to apply for other positions.Footnote4 Although some people may leverage training to gain jobs elsewhere, keeping staff ignorant, unhappy, and struggling in their jobs because a manager wants to retain (trap) them is unethical and undermines the long-term success of an IT organization. Leaders should guide training based on individual needs and interests that are aligned with strategic organizational initiatives or improving operational outcomes.

Recognize the Positive and Negative Impacts of Job Modifications

Given the dynamic nature of technology and the prevailing higher education IT work environments, increased responsibility and changes in job tasks are inevitable for IT staff. Organizational leaders must be cognizant that job modifications can negatively impact job satisfaction. Leaders and managers should keep in mind that increasing IT staff members' responsibilities and replacing assigned tasks could elicit heightened expectations and perceptions regarding organizational justice and support. CIOs should provide IT workers with essential training, monetary recognition, and reclassifications or promotions that formally recognize their additional responsibilities.Footnote5

Heroics Is Not a Sustainable Model

IT organizations are at the center of complex institutional transformation initiatives and are under significant pressure to deliver IT solutions. These pressures often translate into extended periods of intense effort that can lead to work exhaustion and burnout. The following strategies can help staff avoid burnout:

  • Do not allocate 100 percent of staff time to project work. Employees need time to complete routine administrative work, have collegial interactions with coworkers, grow their skills, participate in compliance training, and rejuvenate every week.
  • Avoid back-to-back-to-back meeting scenarios. Build in "recovery time" between meetings.
  • Support alternative staff work schedules such as four-day work weeks or work hours that accommodate crucial life tasks such as caring for families and participating in children's activities.
  • Support "work from anywhere" capabilities to create extreme flexibility so people can participate in family events, care for elderly parents, or deal with other life situations that take them to other places.
  • Rotate people onto committees and task forces. Too often, organizational leaders rely on the same individuals to take on "other duties as assigned." Be mindful of the extra work and stress placed on people and provide opportunities for others to grow by participating in these assignments.
  • Plan for maternity leaves or scheduled hiatuses by adjusting project schedules, training others to cover responsibilities, or setting expectations among partners and stakeholders.

Adapt to Generational Workforce Changes

Boomers are retiring, Gen Xers are moving into leadership roles, Millennials now make up more of the workforce than any other generation, and Gen Z'ers are beginning to enter the workforce. It is a complicated and diverse mix of generations with very different experiences and expectations. Digital natives came of age during the social media boom. They are quick to share their experiences, speak up about their dissatisfaction, and opt out of jobs when problems are not resolved. They expect to use technology to create flexibility and achieve work/life balance and reject the artificial optics of face time as a measure of effort. They are accustomed to constant, iterative improvement and expect regular feedback and recognition for their efforts, career advancement, and consistent promotions. Managers must be conscious of generational differences while embracing new ways of thinking about jobs, work, and rewards.

Remove Bureaucracy and Streamline Processes

Every organization needs structure and procedures, but some organizations create so much red tape that employees can't do anything without getting someone else's approval. Staff can be frustrated by bureaucratic processes that impede their ability to do their work effectively and contribute to discontent in their jobs. Managers should engage with current employees to identify bureaucracy and processes that cause frustration and engage institutional leadership to change entrenched policies and procedures that detract from positive work experiences.

Make Intrinsic Connections to Higher Education Work

Developing intrinsic motivation among staff members helps cultivate their sense of purpose, meaning, and belonging. Many IT staff do not get to see the terrific value of their work and are removed from the impact technology has on students, staff, and faculty. Leadership should strive to link their vision and IT organization work with the actions of individual contributors. Student, faculty, and staff testimonials, kudos boards, success stories, and other tangible feedback help IT staff connect even the most mundane work to individual and institutional outcomes. These connections drive a powerful sense of contribution among individuals and teams, providing them with the intangible rewards of knowing their work makes a difference in people's lives. Building intrinsic motivation is a strong antecedent of job satisfaction and retention.Footnote6

Understand that You Cannot Manage What You Do Not Measure

Measuring key performance indicators associated with your talent-management strategies is essential. Demographics, diversity, turnover and retention, training, candidate pool attributes, and the number of top candidates hired are, among other measures, important trailing indicators of strategy performance. Leading indicators such as burnout, job satisfaction levels, and perceptions of engagement provide insights into the current climate and offer opportunities to preempt job shocks and turnover.Footnote7 Create a dashboard and track both leading and trailing indicators to inform your talent management strategies.

Realize that Work and Home are Inexplicably Connected

News flash: work/life balance is a myth; it is all about life and living. Traditional thinking about work/life balance was intended to keep home and work life separated. The reality is that life and work impact each other. If someone's life at home is difficult, that person is likely to be less happy and productive at work. Likewise, if an employee has a bad week at the office, that person's home life will be negatively impacted somehow. The goal should be to provide opportunities for employees to create meaningful balance in their lives. Leadership must enculturate that achieving life/work balance creates an ethos that recognizes the linkages and celebrates the goodness in people's life work and their value as individuals to their families, colleagues, and stakeholders.

Engage Work-at-Home/Remote Employees

Some higher education institutions have begun hiring remote workers in other states and countries to secure the talent they need. Where allowed, many employees are choosing work-from-home or hybrid options over traditional in-office arrangements. These new work arrangements may lead employees to feel disconnected from the organization and the benefits of diversity, equity, and inclusion. Organizations with a highly engaged workforce experience a 17 percent increase in productivity and 59 percent less turnover.Footnote8 So, finding ways to foster connections and engagement with staff is important. Here are just a few strategies for creating meaningful engagement with remote employees:

  • Set clear expectations for remote participation, such as "cameras on."
  • Structure meeting agendas and conferencing equipment to ensure the inclusion of remote employees.
  • Organize online group training opportunities for all employees.
  • Organize virtual coffee breaks to bring people together. Seed conversations by taking or asking questions.
  • Take remote employees to departmental face-to-face social events with your laptop or smartphone.

The most important thing organizational leaders can do is act intentionally and reach out to remote employees via "check-in" conversations or stay interviews. Through these conversations, leaders can express empathy and appreciation for remote workers, learn if their engagement initiatives are having an impact, and gather alternative ideas for improving engagement.

Create Mobility, Flexibility, and Autonomy

Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, many institutions were embracing work from anywhere. The pandemic certainly underscored that many IT workers could be at least as productive working remotely as they were on campus. Yet, some institutional policies prevent non-traditional arrangements, such as working remotely from other states. These institutions will be at a disadvantage when seeking IT talent. In today's competitive talent marketplace, institutions that allow people greater flexibility in choosing their working location, days, and hours can more easily recruit and retain workers. These institutions are better aligned with staff needs and have prudent guardrails in place around management's expectations of productivity, team engagement, and stakeholder obligations. Creating flexibility and autonomy in how employees choose to work enhances life/work balance, overall job satisfaction, and staff retention. Concomitantly, leaders must be prepared to coach supervisors to effectively manage employees in this environment or reign in workers who are not productive or engaged or struggle with basic internet connectivity issues.

Create a Social Fabric of Engagement

It is OK to socialize at work. In fact, leaders should encourage it. Relating to others and sharing experiences beyond the work at hand are critical for fostering inclusion, belonging, and trust. A best friend at work is a strong antecedent to persisting in an organization, enhancing engagement, and increasing job satisfaction.Footnote9 Periods of socialization among employees may appear unproductive, but these engagements help build bonds among coworkers and increase workers' affective commitment to their organization. A recent survey found that 32 percent of full-time employees say their relationship with coworkers is what they like the most about their current job.Footnote10 If team members only meet with each other to resolve today's crisis, there's little time for them to share experiences and build a sense of camaraderie. Leaders should create spaces and opportunities that encourage socialization and shared exchanges among staff, knowing that these experiences lead to greater intrinsic commitments, job satisfaction, and productivity.

Create Opportunities for Staff Community Service

One employee benefit that has increased in recent years is tied to volunteerism. More employers are giving their workers paid time off to volunteer their services to charitable nonprofits and socially responsible causes.Footnote11 Volunteerism can help workplace colleagues build new and strong relationships with each other and can foster strong intrinsic attachments to the surrounding community and the institution. This intersection of life/work balance elicits greater affective commitment and persistence in jobs where individuals' community interests can overlap with their work. Thus, leaders can use volunteering programs to raise employee engagement and promote retention if they think strategically about how this benefit is offered, monitored, and celebrated.

Use Retention Bonuses

Do not let a few dollars get in the way of retaining someone. The monetary and opportunity costs of replacing them are even greater! Some institutions in high-competition markets offer up to 20 percent of the employee's salary as a one-time retention bonus.Footnote12 These types of bonus programs typically require staff to stay at the institution for a set period or pay back the bonus.

Improve Communication

One of the most common complaints I hear among colleagues is about the perceived lack of communication in their organization. Certainly, leaders should encourage and foster open communication and the free flow of information within organizations. But leaders should also stress that 90 percent of communication is listening, and if individuals are not getting the information they need, they should simply ask for it. One way of improving communication is to standardize on a single communication and collaboration platform. Workgroups that gravitate to their preferred communication tools at the expense of ignoring others can create artificial barriers to actionable knowledge and collaboration across the organization.

Expand Inclusivity to Improve Decision-Making

Micromanagement remains a widely discussed issue because it still happens despite countless studies, books, and teachings pontificating about how bad a management style it is. Micromanagement is a significant detriment to job satisfaction for staff who endure it. Employees want to contribute more than just their time to their jobs, and many bring exceptional ideas, talents, and lived experiences to their work. Leadership must be intentional about avoiding micromanagement and fostering inclusion and diversity in decision-making so that all members of the organization feel that their opinions and ideas count. Doing so will result in better decisions and greater employee job satisfaction and engagement.

Leverage the Platinum Rule

Many people learned the Golden Rule when they were young. The Golden Rule encourages people to treat others as they would like to be treated. However, acting as if your employees share your approach to how to treat others is among the most common management pitfalls, and it sets people up for failure. Instead, leaders and managers should follow the Platinum Rule—a more thoughtful approach when dealing with others—and take the time to find out how each person would like to be treated. The Platinum Rule can play out in a leader's communication style, recognition and feedback methods, and supervision style. Leadership can use the Platinum Rule to foster diversity, equity, and inclusion by recognizing that everyone has different struggles, backgrounds, preferences, and weaknesses.

Fix Bad Systems and the Firefighting Mentality

"Our terrible technology is causing our best employees to leave." When there are no or inadequate systems in place to handle workflows, people often revert to firefighting to fix inevitable breakdowns. Technical firefighting can be exhausting, and staff can feel blamed for frequent outages, bugs, and unreliable technology. Moreover, the issues usually persist when symptoms are the focus of problem-solving. Examining underlying issues and correcting, updating, or replacing failing technology leads to lasting solutions, more productive work, and less stress on IT staff.

Remove the Thorns

From time to time, staff leave because of other individuals in the organization. Unpacking the issues leading to coworker relationship failures can be a thorny matter, but if there are whispers or trends of complaints about others, pay attention to them. People may be subject to the poor behaviors and biases of others that undermine job satisfaction and the climate among coworkers and teams. As managers and leaders, we must recognize that some team members may not be a good fit and "encourage them to apply their talents elsewhere" to make way for new ways of thinking, doing, and belonging. It is never easy or pleasurable to let people go, particularly those who are very technically skilled but not a good organizational fit. We must use our emotional intelligence to realize the damage being done and have the courage to deal with disruptors. Do not underestimate the ability of a single person to undermine the life/work experience of others and a leader's ability to recruit and retain a talented team.

Conduct Exit Interviews

Interviewing resigning employees can help organizational leaders and managers identify gaps and issues associated with employee experiences. Consider partnering with HR or a trusted partner division to conduct exit interviews to elicit honest feedback. Don't dismiss claims of bias or attribute disgruntlement to an employee's innate attitudes. Take the input from exit interviews seriously and follow up to ensure that any systemic problems are solved. A trickle of turnover can turn into a torrent of departures if issues are not dealt with.


Most IT organization leaders have found it increasingly difficult to recruit and retain IT talent at a time when their institutions are more dependent on technology for key strategic transformations. Moreover, the post-pandemic era has led to fundamental changes in the employee-employer relationship. Employees expect competitive salaries and are seeking employers that respect work/life balance and align with their values. They are seeking employment relationships that are less "work for me" and more "work with me." These demands, combined with greater competition for talent, create real challenges for IT leaders who are often caught between old, inflexible HR policies and heightened expectations for IT to deliver transformative change.

But doing nothing and hoping things will improve is not a viable approach for organizational leaders. Rather, leaders should leverage their influence and partner with their HR colleagues and stakeholders to adopt new policies and develop effective talent management strategies and plans. Leaders must rebalance their approach, emphasizing that a successful IT organization is more about people than technology. Leaders must act intentionally to shape workplace culture and dare to be vulnerable and flexible as they execute new and innovative workforce strategies. They must also adapt IT leadership and management approaches, broadly leverage communication and coaching skills, and boost their emotional intelligence in executing strategies to position their institutions to not just survive but thrive during these challenging times.


  1. Frederick Herzberg, in Randall B. Dunham, Organizational Behavior: People and Processes in Management (Hinsdale, IL: Irwin Professional Publishing, 1984), 118. Jump back to footnote 1 in the text.
  2. Jacqueline Bichsel et al., The CUPA-HR 2022 Higher Education Employee Retention Survey, research report, (Knoxville, TN: College and University Professional Association for Human Resources, July 2022). Jump back to footnote 2 in the text.
  3. Ibid. Jump back to footnote 3 in the text.
  4. Chi Tran, "Why It’s Important to Equip Your Employees with the Right Tools," Forbes, February 3, 2022; Ryan Houmand, "Engagement's 2nd Element: I Have the Materials and Equipment I Need to Do My Work Right," Pulse (blog), LinkedIn, October 6, 2015. Jump back to footnote 4 in the text.
  5. Steven C. Burrell, "IT Staff Turnover Intentions, Job Modification, and the Effects of Work Recognition at Large Public Higher Education Institutions," (PhD dissertation, Georgia Southern University, 2014). Jump back to footnote 5 in the text.
  6. Jason Bennett Thatcher et al., "IT Worker Turnover: An Empirical Examination of Intrinsic Motivation," ACM SIGMIS Database: The DATABASE for Advances in Information Systems 37, no. 2-3 (Spring-Summer 2006): 133–146. Jump back to footnote 6 in the text.
  7. Brooks C. Holtom et al., "Shocks as Causes of Turnover: What They Are and How Organizations Can Manage Them," Human Resource Management 44, no. 3 (August 2005): 337–352. Jump back to footnote 7 in the text.
  8. Sky Ariella, "27 US Employee Turnover Statistics [2023]: Average Employee Turnover Rate, Industry Comparisons, and Trends," Zippia (website), February 7, 2023. Jump back to footnote 8 in the text.
  9. Alok Patel and Stephanie Plowman, "The Increasing Importance of a Best Friend at Work," Workplace (blog), Gallup, August 17, 2022. Jump back to footnote 9 in the text.
  10. Rick Smith, "'Great Resignation' Is Worsening: 49% of Employees Looking for New Jobs, Survey Says," WRAL TechWire, December 21, 2022. Jump back to footnote 10 in the text.
  11. Grace He, "Volunteer Time Off & Volunteer Leave Policy," Teambuilding.com (website), May 1, 2023. Jump back to footnote 11 in the text.
  12. For example, "Sign-on and Retention Bonus Policy," Human Resources, Division of Business Affairs, University of North Carolina at Charlotte, accessed June 19, 2023. Jump back to footnote 12 in the text.

Steve Burrell is Chief Information Officer at Northern Arizona University.

© 2023 Steve Burrell. The text of this work is licensed under a Creative Commons BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License.