The Main Attraction?

The main attraction – Satisfaction

Guaranteed to rock the chains that bind you

The main attraction – Your reaction

Guaranteed to leave your tracks behind you

Those words are the chorus to “Main Attraction” from the ‘one-hit-wonder’ 80’s metal band Quiet Riot and they resonate with the topic of attracting talent which caused some heated discussions recently.

I often hear people talking about talent gaps or how hard it is to find the right talent and I wonder if I’m somehow walking about in a parallel universe

Two years ago I left corporate life to immerse myself in the start-up and scale-out community and during that time I have been fortunate enough to work with some incredibly gifted and talented individuals and companies. I have spent time with some amazing commercially savvy technologists – analysts, designers, developers, architects etc. And not just in companies. In some cases it’s been loosely formed groups of individuals who have chosen to work together to solve a particular problem or because they share a common purpose or vision.  

And they’re really not that hard to find. Go to any tech meetup, hackathon or similar and they’ll be there, speaking with eloquence and passion about their latest project.

But they have another thing in common – they don’t want to work for you !!

And It’s not arrogance. It’s just you don’t offer what they want.

You see, for years our companies have subcontracted “talent” to HR departments and their mantra has been one of “recruit and retain”. Find people, develop them into good corporate citizens and then keep the best ones as long as possible. But “recruit and retain” is an agenda that’s all about the company. It was never really about the individuals.

In a hyper connected world where people can share their ideas, passions, purpose; where they can assemble and dissemble as groups or cohorts – is it any wonder that they are turning their back on the structure, rigour and restrictions of the corporate world?.

The problem is not theirs – it’s ours and we need to rethink the solution. My colleague at analyst house the Leading Edge Forum, Dave Aron, talks about traditional HR as “the failed experiment” and he’s right – we are the ones who need to change.

How?? Well perhaps it’s time to stop thinking “recruit and retain” and start thinking “attract, adapt and learn”. Actively seek out  talent rather than waiting for it to find you. Adapt to it’s unique construct – don’t shoehorn it into yours – and then actively learn from it. Then, when the time comes to move on, celebrate departure or deconstruction because you’ve developed as a team, department or company and, hopefully, if you approach all this in the right way, you’ll be referenced in glowing terms making you even more attractive to the next wave.

As the late George Michael put it…

All we have to do now

Is take these lies and make them true – somehow.

All we have to see

Is that I don’t belong to you and you don’t belong to me

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When two tribes go to war …..

According to Bart Perkins in CIO.com: “IT has to take a stand on consumer technology.” He concludes: “It’s better to agree on a corporate policy, publicise it and start budgeting for the projected impact.” I can’t disagree with the latter point, but I also believe consumers will continue to drive this debate: as the new darlings of the tech vendors, they currently hold all the cards.

It wasn’t always this way. The article rightly points out that 10 years ago, most people used more advanced technology at work than at home, whereas now the opposite is true. Today, many employees have better kit at home, and the article notes many also expect their favourite devices to be supported at work. This is indeed the case, but the implications are far more wide-ranging than whether you can bring your favourite gadget to the office. They point to the need for fundamental changes in attitude and approach.

Consumer IT is driving new behaviours and setting new expectations about how we work, as well as the tools we use. There have been too many words/pages written about the role of Facebook, Twitter et al in the workplace, but it’s an undeniable fact that a new generation is arriving with new expectations of a ‘socially enabled’ way of working. To ban or block this behaviour is akin to limiting someone’s vocabulary – you will inevitably get a stilted outcome.

An equally undeniable fact is that the schism between this new consumer (or social) IT and corporate IT is just getting bigger. The focus of corporate IT is narrowing. It increasingly (but rightly) worries about data protection, information security, governance etc, as its world becomes ever more regulated. Social IT, by contrast, moves at a blistering pace, seemingly oblivious to these issues precisely because it is social IT. By definition it’s about sharing, collaborating and networking and thus it’s no surprise most of the publicised innovation is being driven in this area.

Corporate IT is dull and boring – right?? Who’d want to work for a corporate IT department? The networks are slow, the equipment is old, I can’t use my iPhone, it’s so restrictive, so yesterday… If we’re not careful that’s exactly where we’re headed – especially when it’s more attractive to make your money from ‘apps’ and ‘app stores’ rather than actually building applications.

The implications are clear. This debate is about talent not toys. If we don’t act soon we’ll be left with just two types of technology – the interesting (and growing) socially enabled, individually empowered version – where people want to work – and the stilted, highly regulated, narrowly focused version. Oh, and by the way, that’s the one that currently underpins our economy!

This post originally appeared in the  360 degree IT Blog on 14th April 2010