An IT firm is only as good as its people. The U.S. had one million vacant IT jobs last year, but employers are challenged with a talent shortage in fields such as programming, blockchain, artificial intelligence, robotics and engineering.
Workers must possess relevant technical expertise, as well as soft skills to positively impact product and service quality. Therefore, business owners should seek job candidates who take ownership of their responsibilities and possibly grow into a leadership role.
I recently sat down with Omer Khawaja, co-founder and former CTO of ITBoost — an (SaaS) company acquired by ConnectWise — to hear his views on employee attributes that are critical for growing a technology firm.
1. Find the best talent
According to a SHRM survey a few years back, employers want the following traits from entry-level workers: dependability and reliability (97 percent), integrity (87 percent), respect (84 percent) and teamwork (83 percent). One technology entrepreneur, who got a successful exit recently, thinks it’s best to hire promising job candidates who possess the above attributes.
“If companies focus on talent, the experience they’ll achieve from their team will be their copyright asset,” Khawaja says. “Your team can achieve wonders when leaders inspire trust, ownership and empathy. Therefore, entrepreneurs should always keep them motivated, excited, remove obstacles, and work for them. Combine passion and talent in a room, and your company will perform 10 times better. Add compassion and ideas, and you’ll conquer the competition.”
The pandemic has forced millions of professionals to work from home (WFH) and use collaborative apps like Zoom and Webex. WFH gives knowledge workers an excellent opportunity to gain digital marketing skills, learn artificial intelligence or gain expertise in a new coding language. It’s about acquiring skills that will add value for an end-user or end-client. A 2020 PwC survey finds that 74 percent of CEOs are concerned about the availability of key skills. Upskilling gives organizations three times an improvement in innovation, digital transformation and opportunity discovery. These improvements can then come back to the employees after the company continues to grow in the form of raises or more growth opportunities.
“When it comes to acquiring skills, a team must be open and willing to learn and unlearn from the new normal,” says Khawaja. “Companies that are adaptable will survive. That only comes with a steep and aggressive learning ecosystem.”
Learning-inclined companies stay ahead in product development and get acquired quicker, according to Khawaja, who adds, “Team skills are bankable, and businesses should constantly upgrade their employees’ skills.”
2. Seek people with character and urgency
As the SHRM survey shows, HR managers consider integrity as the second-most important trait in new, younger employees. Character is often described as doing the right thing when no one’s looking. It fosters trust and high morale within an organization. By doing the right thing, an employee gains a reputation of being trustworthy, hence they can acquire more responsibilities and make greater contributions to an IT business. For client-facing employees, this increased trust can also create more business for the company, which will help everyone in the long term.
It’s tough for an entrepreneur or manager to delegate to someone who doesn’t always tell the truth and/or someone who may harm the company’s interests in favor of a selfish agenda. Secondly, a sense of urgency is important in today’s hyper-competitive marketplace, where businesses strive to deliver goods and services at the speed of a customer’s desire. Employees must prioritize assignments that are both urgent and important to accomplishing the mission. Many urgent activities, such as emails, phone notifications and some meetings, are merely distractions. To act with purpose means to efficiently accomplish key milestones, not to spin one’s wheels. This is a critical piece to any growing and successful business, and something we can all do more.
3. Contributors must align with your vision
Global consulting firm Accenture pursues job seekers who have a strong interest in technology, are comfortable with the unknown and are proactive. A tech firm’s vision and mission may be understood by employees, but there will be many unknowns, roadblocks and asymmetric data that complicate how to get there. A clear vision that is constantly communicated helps everyone at the office focus on the strategies and tactics for getting there. Employees thrive off of knowing where things are headed and do their jobs better with big goals in mind. If there aren’t either of these, it can be hard to inspire your workers.
“Develop an ability to inspire people,” says Khawaja. “After you have a loyal workforce by your side, share the vision, and align your team because they’ll help you to achieve it.”
But Khawaja also warns managers not to micro-manage people, concluding, “If you want to kill a company, start micromanaging. It’s suicidal. Your job as a founder or C-level executive should only be to facilitate and give direction.”
In other words, let employees do the job you hired them for, thereby offering them more buy-in and fulfillment and increasing your team’s happiness over time.