**Editor’s Note: Throughout the fourth quarter of 2018, as part of our “In Focus” series, we will feature a series of galleries designed to help partners grow their businesses in 2019 and beyond.**
There’s an old sales truism that goes something like this: In most businesses, it’s always more expensive to acquire a new customer than it is to retain an existing one.
The same principle almost invariably applies when it comes to employees: It’s more expensive to hire new people than it is to retain the good people you already have.
The difference lies in how you calculate those costs. In the sales context, it often literally comes down to dollars and cents: It will literally cost the company more money to acquire a new client than it will to keep an existing customer happy — and, as a result, loyal.
When it comes to people, the costs could also be direct — a replacement hire might demand a greater compensation package than the previous person, for example. But where it really gets expensive is in terms of indirect costs: disruptions to productivity or projects, lost organizational IQ and skills, hits to morale and team chemistry, customer-relationship concerns and so forth. If your company’s hiring and retention plan looks like a revolving door, all of these issues and more will inevitably crop up. And while they might not be direct financial costs, they will eventually harm the top and bottom lines.
This is a particularly fraught issue in the channel world, where partners are competing for technical talent (as well as sales, marketing and other functions) with a vast range of employers and industries, including much larger companies with bigger bankrolls.
Digital Guardian’s Tim Bandos
So when you do bring good people on board in any role – and perhaps especially in technology positions – it pays to keep them around.
Speaking of paying: Yeah, money matters to people. If you’re not willing to pay properly, it’s going to be tougher to both hire and keep people. But direct compensation is not the only thing that matters.
“Clearly, pay is always a huge motivator, but beyond that, I really think applicants are looking for an experience where they’ll grow and learn in their career,” says Tim Bandos, VP of cybersecurity at Digital Guardian.
This is especially true in a rapidly evolving technology landscape. If you bemoan a lack of available talent with cloud-computing skills, for example, but you’re unwilling to invest in those skills in your own workforce — well, let’s just say there’s a gap in your thinking. The same holds true for any other in-demand or emerging tech, too.
AWS’ Maureen Lonergan
“One of the most effective ways an organization can build and retain this necessary talent is by educating and leveraging existing staff,” says Maureen Lonergan, director, worldwide training and certification at AWS. “In a competitive job market, it’s even more important for organizations to invest in employees in order to retain top talent. Investing in your people is a win-win solution.”
In the gallery below, we’ll identify eight growing trends and best practices for doing that and more. These are the increasingly important areas that partners should be considering and implementing as the competition for talent grows more and more fierce. Your best people aren’t going to stick around simply because they lack better options, so you need to ensure that your company is the better option.
Trend: Offer Opportunities for Varied, Versatile Work
We begin with a tip that should put most partners at an advantage relative to some other employers in the IT industry: Technical talent, in particular, places a high value on the opportunity to work with a wide range of tools, environments and project types. All the better if you allow team members some time for experimentation or side projects, too.
“Performing the same task every single day becomes very stale and prompts employees to look elsewhere,” Bandos says. “But if you offer them an opportunity to work with some cool tools, give them the freedom to work on mini-projects that they’ll enjoy but will also further your team’s capabilities, and foster an open and collaborative environment, I believe this will not only help attract talent, but retain it as well.”
The client-facing nature of many partner businesses lends itself to this kind of variety, so long as you don’t take it for granted.
“Employees in technical roles at MSPs and related businesses are often eager for interesting and new challenges,” says Jonathan LaCour, CTO at Mission
. “And, when properly managed, I think MSP and VAR environments are uniquely suited to making sure an employee’s work never gets stale — thanks to the huge diversity of customer use cases and goals, industry verticals, and technologies that employees are exposed to. Keep an employee’s day-to-day feeling fresh at an MSP and you’re much more likely to keep them [around long-term] as well.”
Trend: Chart a Visible Career Trajectory for People
Just as people value diversity in their projects and responsibilities, they also appreciate seeing what their future might look like. That doesn’t mean everyone wants to sit in the CEO’s chair; rather, it means they don’t necessarily want the same role for the next five, 10 or 20 years, per se.
“Job stagnation is a major driver of turnover, so it’s important to develop a career path for each employee,” says Crystal McFerran, channel SVP at The 20
. “Providing employees with clear paths and progressing them through job titles on a regular progression over time results in higher retention rates.”
McFerran shares an example: If you have a support desk, for instance, a tier-one agent is more likely to stick with you if they understand the path to tier two and then tier three, as well as opportunities to transition or evolve into other projects or functions.
Trend: Treat Company Culture as Serious Business
Let’s face it: “Company culture” sounds sort of flimsy or even paradoxical. But if you distill it down to the basics – is this a good place for people to work? – you can better understand its crucial importance. Ignoring a question like that is essentially a declaration that you don’t care.
“Employees feel more committed to companies with a positive culture where they are valued, respected and have fun,” says McFerran, the channel SVP at The 20. “The IT services industry is typically high-pressure with long hours and demanding clients, so it’s crucial to create a work environment that makes employees look forward to coming to work each day.”
LaCour, the CTO at Mission, thinks that company culture is occupies a particularly valuable role in partner businesses.
“A strong company culture is, of course, critical to employee retention within any industry — but I think that a managed service provider’s culture should specifically strive to also nurture pride in the service the company delivers,” he says. “MSP and VAR employees are eager to be part of a mission they believe in. This means they must feel invested in and equipped to do the job right. Their expertise must be cultivated and valued. When an employee has clear expectations, when he or she is empowered to deliver exceptional service for clients, and when honest appreciation is built in, a company can make it hard for them to leave.”
Trend: Offer Flexible and Remote Work Opportunities
It’s a hot topic in IT hiring at the moment — especially in positions or technical skill areas where talent is hard to come by, being willing to consider remote candidates is an increasingly common strategy for bridging the gap. That trend is also set to become a retention strategy; if you offer the opportunity to work remotely at least some of the time, or other forms of work-life flexibility (such as flexible scheduling for family and other reasons), you’re going to be harder to say goodbye to if other opportunities come along, especially among people who value stability.
“Many in the IT and security realm like doing remote work and it should be offered to everyone to be fair,” says Olivia Rose, director, global risk solutions at Kudelski Security
. “If an employee demonstrates they are responsive and can do good work remotely, they should be able to do it. Oftentimes I hear that someone will leave a company just to avoid the office commute.”
Trend: Cut Out Red Tape and Bureaucracy
As IT shops on the whole increasingly embrace DevOps culture and other practices (such as Agile) oriented toward greater speed and agility, there’s a correlative distaste among tech talent for processes and tools that create bottlenecks or otherwise slow things down. “Legacy” has become a dirty word in these environments, and your own people are taking notice. Cut out unnecessary red tape and processes that cause people unnecessary work or headaches.
“Good IT and security folks are fixers. We like to find problems in systems and processes and fix them. We are solutions people,” Rose says. “If a company does not allow them to do that, or there is too much red tape and bureaucracy, they will get frustrated and likely leave.”
Trend: Create Real Mentorship Programs
Mentoring is older than the channel itself, but it means many different things to different people. But a concrete, sustainable program can help keep people around for the long haul.
“Our No. 1 tip for retaining technical talent is to create mentorship opportunities for all employees,” says Alexandra Bohigian, marketing and sales director at Enola Labs
At Enola, that usually means pairing senior-level engineers with people in junior roles — but they’re not left to their own devices. Rather, Enola offers training to the senior engineers and gives them a goal to learn two new skills each year – everything from new programming languages to people-management skills – which they in turn then pass on to their junior colleague.
“Mentorship creates better engineers while keeping them around longer — so it is a win-win for everyone. Mentorship and growth within a company also increase morale among the team,” Bohigian says. “Even when we see our senior engineers leave the company to work for a larger software firm, we have great junior engineers with the skills to move up to fill those roles as mentors. We also often see those senior engineers come back to our company after a couple of years elsewhere, bringing with them expanded knowledge to share with the team.”
Trend: You Truly and Visibly Care About Training and Skill Development
they care about their employees’ ongoing education and development and yadda-yadda-yadda. The problem is, not everyone backs up the talk, and it isn’t all that hard for employees to figure out when you’re just paying lip service instead of actually investing in training opportunities, both formal and informal.
Jason Hayman, senior research manager at TEKsystems
, notes that companies that do the latter tend to instill greater loyalty in employees because they feel valued and that their career is growing.
"IT professionals are typically more drawn to places that enable them to thrive through continuous training and education, leveraging cutting edge technologies and processes,” Heyman says. “Companies that create an environment where employees can hone their current skills and develop new ones will be able to ensure they attract and retain the best and brightest technology talent.”
Indeed, this is an area where there’s a fine but distinct line between employers who say they care about their employees’ ongoing development and those who actually do something about it. It’s the second group that tends to see benefits in terms of talent retention.
“Employees with in-demand skills want to work for organizations that give them career-development opportunities and resources to hone their skills,” says Lonergan from AWS. “And organizations benefit from having a more knowledgeable team.”
Lonergan cites research from IT training firm Global Knowledge
that found IT pros who completed training in the past year were 30 percent more satisfied in their roles than those who did not, for example.
Note, too, that this is not just about paying for people to get certifications, but also more organic, on-the-job learning.
“Take a 360-degree approach to technical training and professional development,” advises Dave Honaker, director of delivery at Cask
. “Leaders provide their teams access to formal training and certification and
to other non-formal education approaches such as internal and external communities that enable conversations with thought leaders in their areas of expertise.”
Trend: Embrace Emerging Technologies — Because Your Technical People Want to, Too
Here’s one enormous form of enabling new skill development without simply sending people to conferences or reimbursing their certification or training courses: Embrace in-demand and emerging technologies as an organization.
Doing so enables – demands, even – that your people also get their hands on these new tools, platforms and processes, and career-minded people want that. If they don’t get it from you, they’ll look elsewhere. Several of the experts that have weighed in here touched on this, and in general it’s becoming conventional wisdom in IT talent circles: If you’re limiting people’s exposure to the next waves of technology evolutions, they’re going to be updating their resumes.
There’s another side to this coin: Leveraging technology to streamline and improve your own operations can make people’s work lives easier, says Pete Langas, senior director of channel and sales operations at Nerdio
. The firm touts its own cloud IT management platform as a means for helping individual employees in their jobs, but Langas notes the same pitch should apply more widely.
“Others in the industry should utilize these emerging technologies for the same end goal — to make and keep employees happy,” Langas explains. “Have you received feedback that your on-boarding process is too complex? Try converting to a learning management system (LMS) to automate and organize your on-boarding process. The list goes on, but tech companies and partners should always try to lead by example when working to retain employees.”