Talent Retention in the Virtual World

Are you concerned about retaining your internal virtualization team? You should be! In a tight market, skills and experience in Hypervisors, Storage, VDI, Networking and other related areas are rare and hard to come by.

Your predicament is that demand exceeds supply, which is certainly advantageous from an individuals perspective, but can be tough if you need to retain these skills and experience within an organization. What can you do to safeguard your talent?

Let’s take this common scenario and follow through its natural progression. Imagine a Desktop Administrator whose CIO decided to implement a VDI solution. They attend instructor led training in Virtualization and VMware View and study hard to gain the certification. After much consulting with the vendor, late nights, a few roll backs and an inappropriate amount of caffeine, they successfully implement a VDI solution and are now in maintenance mode. The employer thinks ‘fabulous! I’ve provided new certifications and career development to this individual with the opportunity of invaluable virtualization implementation experience. They must feel well looked after and don’t need anything else from me until salary review time. One could certainly understand how a Manager may make this assumption, but let’s review the reality of this position later.

From the individuals perspective, they first feel ecstatic that the solution was a success and all the late nights and hard work paid off. Now being in business-as-usual mode they start to think about their continued career development. The logical train of though is ‘what next’? ‘how can I extend these skills’? ‘how can I gain more experience?’ and inevitably ‘I wonder if I’m worth more in the market now?’

Gone are the days where we had ‘jobs for life’ and a golden handshake when we turned 60. The employment market is ever changing and individuals are responsible for ensuring they understand the trends and making sure their skills are current. People are now encouraged to own their own career development and be ‘self starters.’

The next step in this scenario is that they look internally and make assumptions (correct or not) about opportunities and future development without necessarily knowing future strategy. After possibly discounting internal opportunities they then start to have a look online at external roles and salaries. What happens now can go either way. If there is a close and transparent relationship with the manager they might feel comfortable having an open discussion about opportunities and next steps. Unfortunately, in my experience this scenario is few and far between. What normally transpires now is excitement of a bevy of new opportunities and tidy hike in salaries and benefits. They are now hot and in demand in a specialist market. Let’s say they subsequently land a primo opportunity after a number of great offers. When the inevitable resignation comes, there’s a scramble as they try to retain the individual, but to no avail. It transpires that they are already excited about your new opportunity and the horse has already bolted.

As an employer, you find yourself in an unfortunate yet predictable situation. Loss of talent is expensive, creates a lot of work and an uncomfortable moment when you report it to the management team and it does not paint you in a good light. ‘Didn’t we just pay $15k for their training?’ ‘Wow, didn’t you see that coming?’ ‘Didn’t you know they were a flight risk?’ and ‘What are you going to do now?’

As the Manager, your whole focus and agenda becomes consumed with replacing this role. If you are lucky, your diary starts to fill up with interviews. If you are not, you may be forced to lower your expectations of candidate requirements and review with with your recruiter and change your ‘must haves’ ‘nice to haves’ skills in the role. Your HR executive and CEO start talking about an increasing ‘cost of hire’. Groan. Been there before? What can you do about it? Quite a lot actually!


Here’s how:

  • Facilitate a discussion immediately. Choose a setting that feels comfortable for both parties for an open conversation. Recognize the success of the virtualization project and provide an appropriate reward. Think spot bonus, extra training, a weekend away, a couple of days off in lieu of extra time worked, be creative! We all love a pat on the back and to feel appreciated. Warning! Think of this of an immediate, short term intervention, rather than a solution. Sound out how your employee is feeling about their role and make a date and time to discuss their career development.

  • Establish a career development plan in conjunction with the individual soon after this discussion. Make it a priority!
    Ask HR for a template and their help to facilitate discussions if you need it. Get the person to identify how they want to develop their career and in what direction. Ask them to consider what skills will help them get from current state to future state and agree areas of development and actions designed to bridge these gaps.

  • Share IT future strategy with the ‘flight risk’ team member.
    Discuss real and potential opportunities and tasks aligned with future plans, commit to them and build into the career development plan. Think training, coaching, shadowing and assisting other team members or yourself in the areas of agreed development. Set them some mini projects, checkpoints and goals. This does not need to cost money, yet can really build skillset and experience.

  • Set regular one on ones (if you don’t already) and make these a priority! All of us will have witnessed the manager who talks about career development yet always delays or bumps one on one individual meetings for a ‘more important’ business meeting. This commitment is paid in full with an engaged staff who feel valued and respected.

  • Build a closer relationship with your team members. Always respond to email requests. It’s only polite! Hold regular team meetings. Follow up when you know someone has had a hard day. Recognize great performance at team meetings. Be approachable. Always make the time when someone needs to talk. Take care of your teams PR, they’ll be recognized for their successes and thank you for it!


After following these steps you should be aware of where your ‘flight risk’ individual wants to go with their career and how soon. This enables you to engage in constructive discussion and agree on a path forward together. It demonstrates that you care about their development and goals and will assist to make the goals a reality. This holistic approach is integral to the health of your team and success of your deliverables. It allows you to be connected, plan accordingly, put succession plans in place and minimize surprises. It’s an investment.

If you create these individual connections with your team members, you can significantly maximise retention and create a closer team with high levels of job satisfaction. Don’t be on the back foot with team moves and suffer high attrition, employ these tactics to increase retention and build connected relationships with your team.


This article was first published by Andre Leibovici (@andreleibovici) at myvirtualcloud.net.

1 comment

    • Sketch on 06/16/2014 at 7:46 am

    I’ve been in this situation – in fact, had it NOT been for a particular company’s unwillingness to invest in its employees, I wouldn’t be where I am today – It was (is) a publicly traded company, and IT is/was a huge budget suck to them. I paid for the class, took vacation for the class, and cert’d out and ASKED them to move me off the shift I was on. Nope. It wasn’t going to happen because there was no place to put me (among other reasons). There was no upward (or even horizontal) mobility in the company because everyone was safe and secure in their positions. People had been there 5 or 10 years and there was no place to go. And in office politics, no one likes new ‘upstart’ with a gleam in their eye and a fire in their belly.

    Training and responsibility are great, unless you’re given no place to go with it. And one thing you nailed on the head was that us “virtualization folks” are full-steam-ahead with the obstacles that we face. If you’re comfortable in your job for too long, you get old, stale and stagnant. BUT, with “company dinosaurs” in the slots “above” you, there is no place to go other then looking elsewhere – so people have to make a decision – stick with a company they may like, or look for challenges, accolades, etc… elsewhere.

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