person running through an empty hall with briefcase in hand
PHOTO: Andy Beales

The war for talent is starting. Do you think your company will win?

Gone are the days when programmers and developers clamored to work for the biggest companies. Thanks in part to the rise of SaaS software and the cloud, the democratization of enterprise IT means that if you can’t adapt quickly, you’re going to lose out.

In a job market where startups offer an exciting opportunity to build something great, and don’t care what tools you use to get it done, the relative stability of a job at an established firm is looking less and less appealing. With top-down management styles being the norm, it’s becoming more difficult for larger companies to attract and retain top talent. 

It’s a buyer’s market for the new generation of tech talent, and they know it.

Choosing Between Security and Flexibility

The shift can be seen as far back as when former President Barack Obama first took office. He wanted to bring his Blackberry with him to the White House and was met with skepticism. Security is, of course, a major concern when it comes to the leader of the free world.

Large corporations have also cited their own security concerns when it came to the adoption of new technologies. As an employee or potential employee of a large firm, you were expected to have a good working knowledge of the tools they used in house. Any changes to those tools would have to be discussed, approved and implemented, often taking years to come through.

All of this fuss made sense back then. With reams of sensitive data at stake, corporations were (and are) reluctant to trust their data to new systems. 

Then a shift started. With the onset of the “bring your own device” (BYOD) movement, employees started requesting access to corporate data from their own personal phones. 

Advanced security protocols for devices ensured BYOD was almost universally accepted, but employees had already moved on to other trends, including remote work and more flexible schedules. While these trends have less of an impact on security, coupled with rising job mobility, they put more and more pressure on companies to accept tools that potential employees bring with them.

A Grassroots Revolution

Web-based tools such as Trello, which was recently acquired for $425 million by Atlassian, built its user base out of individuals and ultimately secured large enterprise contracts because of it. 

You can also see the same tactic being used by corporate messaging startup, Slack. With a $3.8 billion valuation, you can bet it won’t be slowing down anytime soon, so IT admins will either need to adopt it or continue fielding employee requests far into the foreseeable future.

We’ve seen this coming for a while now: David vs. Goliath stories from Silicon Valley where startups have been able to recruit top talent just because they’re more flexible and easier to work with than the established giants. Previously, all of this talent would usually end up with the big tech companies, like Google, Microsoft, Intel or IBM.

Large B2B companies will now be operating with B2C solutions, because the customer is also the employee. This bottom-up revolution will take place, if it hasn’t already, in every company — simply because of the talent shortage.  

When I built my own startup, it wasn’t about how it gets done, but that it gets done. Most entrepreneurs think like that. The tools are just a means to an end. If a team is more comfortable using Slack or HipChat to communicate with each other instead of Skype for Business, and that will make them a happy, productive team, it's an easy decision to make.

How to Win the War for Talent

With an estimated shortage of 1.4 million developers by 2020, large corporations have a choice: change or lose talent to younger, more flexible companies. Programmers are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a job. In order to attract the talent you need to drive your company forward, you need to be open to suggestions from all of your employees.

If you look at it from a cost / benefit perspective, you quickly realize it’s more cost effective to adopt these tools. Not only are you keeping your employees happy, but you eliminate the need for training, because they’re already familiar and productive with it.

The costlier decision is to force a top down software that your employees hate using. Training employees takes time, and it can also draw out the hiring process because of the need or desire to find a candidate experienced with the solution you’re using.

The new generation of IT workers have proven to be mobile, often switching jobs to better suit their lifestyle, and IT developers have actually said that pay isn’t a high priority. Pay used to be an advantage when large companies went looking for talent, but that advantage seems to be fading. 

It has become imperative for companies to quickly adapt new technologies to keep employees happy, retain top talent and gain an advantage over the competition. Even the White House eventually gave Obama a phone upgrade!

Whether you’re charged with protecting the president of the United States, or keeping the new hotshot programmer happy by allowing her to use her favorite bug tracking tool, you’ll need to keep an open mind if you want to win the war for talent.