During my tenure as the Commanding Officer of the Navy’s defensive cyberspace operations team, I distinctly remember an exit interview with a civilian teammate. He sat across from me and proudly stated that though he loved our team, he was ready to leave and willing to take a pay cut for the opportunity ahead of him (note: he wasn’t taking a pay cut, but he was willing to).
He enjoyed his teammates, he told me, appreciated his leadership, was motivated by our mission, and felt appropriately compensated. Given that dissatisfaction - and not satisfaction - with any one of those job aspects usually serves as reason people decide to look elsewhere for employment, I was perplexed.
My departing teammate went on to explain: “I am a geek. I love technology. I want to be on a team that uses the latest and greatest hardware and software. I want to be able to connect with the outside world from my desktop. I want to use commercially available tools to do my job. We don’t do any of that.”
Where some might write off such a statement and dismiss it as another misguided millennial, I appreciated the additional data point; one that aligned with a growing trend, a trend that is being ignored by too many.
As a long-time leader, I have grown accustomed to monitoring, managing, and inspiring high morale across a team. In this tight labor market, the competition for talent is stronger than it has been in years.
I’ve seen many articles offering advice about recruitment, incentive, and retention strategies. In fact, I recently read an excellent article that makes a case to leaders that retention, not recruitment will win the war for cyber talent.
Though the article focused on cyber talent, I believe it applies to all areas of expertise. And no matter where we fall on the recruitment versus retention side of the debate, I think we all can agree that compensation, mission, and culture apply to both, as does a leader’s ability to connect with an individual’s motivation. It was Daniel Pink who stated in his TED Talk about “The Puzzle of Motivation” that autonomy, mastery, and purpose formed the triad of intrinsic motivation.
In my departing teammate's case, we had fallen short on enabling a valued teammates quest for mastery.
Many leaders focus on tangible incentives: compensation and time off, as well as increasingly creative perks. Exceptional leaders understand that the interest they take in connecting with and caring for their teammates is even more critical. That care is communicated not only by their willingness to treat them like human beings but also in equipping them for success.
There are many ways to equip others for increased success. There is coaching, training, stretch assignments, and in my world, there is the simple gift of the time, trust, and top cover teammates need to do their thing.
All too often, we overlook the importance of equipping others with access to grow themselves. And equipping others with access may have to be taken more literal than many think.
I do believe that retention is at least as important as recruitment when it comes to the "war for talent." I also think the technology and access we provide our teammates, as well as the risk we assume on their behalf with the way we choose to operate our network matter more than we are willing to admit.
When it comes to building strong teams, leadership matters greatly. And even the best leadership teams can see strong morale dissipate by holding on too long to legacy technology and limiting access to collaboration tools.