“It’s the Culture!”

November 30, 2017

Last month I went to the Hampton Roads (HR) Cyber Summit and at the end of the day was a panel discussing the various problems of cybersecurity businesses in this area. The audience and some of the panel members stressed how Hampton Roads needs to market the kind of lifestyle offered here – like the beach life (Virginia Beach) or the colonial lifestyle (Williamsburg). Using more economic language like the “push” and “pull” factors, one discussant talked about how we need to be like other big cities that are targeting 1-2 mega-investors to bring specific businesses to the area. In doing so, the rate of adoption of this business and their partners become self-sustaining and creates growth in this area.

As I listened to this discussion, I felt the panel was missing a bigger point.  I was encouraged when I heard the last discussant talk about the lack of innovation in Hampton Roads area as a reason for some of our current issues. In particular, we don’t have enough people who take a current product, system, or process and modify it to create something new (i.e. innovation). I agreed with this discussant as he claimed that when it comes to the way we think about “innovation”, there is too much emphasis on trying to start something totally new while neglecting to leverage what we already have. We need a paradigm shift in problem solving so that we fix  current problems with a critical mindset, using new methods to improve the current products, processes, and services, creating something that is different than what it was originally. Too often organizations deny true learning opportunities as well as the time and space to innovate, and I believe this happens in both the workplace and academia.

I believe that the panel missed one of the most important questions organizations shold ask themselves when discussing attracting their workforce (or any workforce more generally): “What are you doing to retain and develop (or grow) the workforce they currently have or attract new talented people?” All too often organizations think a big signing bonus or the paycheck is the answer, and this panel was more focused on the economic or marketing local lifestyles. I won’t dispute that these are valid factors to consider and address as a means to attract new people to the area and/or your business. But I think they are short-term solutions.

The structure of work over one’s lifecourse has changed so that we no longer stay in one career for 20+ years, nor does the future workforce want it (e.g. Millennials) . I believe that many professionals (as well as other disciplines) who leave their job is not necessarily for the money. It is because of the organizational culture in which there is the lack of connection, lack of opportunity for personal growth which may lead to lack upward mobility, and lack of truly meaningful work.

I don’t believe that professionals in this field, and in many others, do not do their work merely for a paycheck. Nor will the paycheck be all that retains employees in the long run. It may ATTRACT them at first or even retain them for a little while longer (e.g. via bonus, raise, or promotion).  However, I have talked to too many teammates and all too often they leave because of the reasons just stated in one way or another.

I like to believe that people want to work for something – they want to be connected to the organization’s mission and they are contributing to something bigger than themselves. For some of us, work is tied closely to who we are, our identity. For me, I am my most authentic self when I am doing meaningful work. Work is very personal.

The problems that cybersecurity programs in academia and organizations may have in attracting and retaining good workers may be less about the economic or lifestyle push and pulls, but rather its the culture. Organizations need to prioritize shaping their culture so that their people feel connected, they have opportunities to grow and develop both personally and professionally, and make work meaningful. When such a culture is prioritized and actively shaped by its people, they will attract others who want to join their team and keep them.

Reflection:

  1. What are you doing to attract and retain teammates?
  2. What kind of culture does your organization shape?
  3. What are reasons why you would (or have) left a job?

 

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