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Informatica competes with some of the highest-profile companies in the world for the best tech and sales talent in Silicon Valley

A huge amount of attention is placed on what seems to be an endless stream of technological innovations in our daily lives. Less attention is focused on what goes on behind the scenes to make those innovations possible. The critical factor is the people with the expertise to make innovation happen.

That presents ongoing challenges for companies like data integration software developer Informatica and its chief human resources officer, Jo Stoner. Located in the heart of Silicon Valley, she competes with much larger companies like Google, Facebook, Salesforce.com, and Oracle for talent with the skill sets needed to maintain the pace of innovation and to meet customer demand. At the same time, Stoner must manage market factors and cultural differences that impact her ability to identify, attract, and retain talent from the valley to Bangalore, India, and twenty-six countries in between.

Everyone Fishes in the Same Stream

The competition is mainly for computer science graduates with highly developed technical skills, but also for sales talent. In today’s environment, graduates have a wide range of options for work.

“There are lots of household names to choose from, as well as startups that offer the promise of big financial rewards. There is also a new wave of companies delivering services, like Fitbit, Uber, and Airbnb, that have ‘the cool factor’ and huge valuations. So even though we have a great brand reputation, we’re trying to attract the same talent as they are,” Stoner says.

The fight for the best people has led to an escalation of employment incentives. Aside from perks like free food, commute buses, and other on-campus services and recreational activities, one candidate Informatica had been considering was offered a $100,000 sign-on bonus by another company.

“Who could turn that down? I don’t know what kind of strings were attached, but we can’t compete with those kinds of offers,” Stoner says.

An Evolving Workforce

The shifts in the workforce demographics have also played a role in the evolution of HR priorities and responsibilities. For example, baby boomers are more concerned with long-term employment, planning for retirement, and health-care issues. Millennials, on the other hand, tend to look at their careers as a series of short-term projects rather than worrying about tenure with a single employer.

“There are distinct differences. Millennials often don’t even want a cubicle, let alone a private office. They congregate in community spaces and it seems like they’re always on their phones, but they still produce great work. So there are ongoing challenges about how to effectively manage multiple generations, how to attract the right people who might only be working with us for a year, and how to maintain our internal knowledge base after they leave,” Stoner says.

A New Generation of Values and Priorities

Although Informatica is competitive when it comes to overall benefits, compensation, and equity programs, the company has increased its focus on incentives that relate more to professional satisfaction and quality-of-life concerns. Stoner characterizes these incentives as programs that differentiate the company by being focused holistically on the complete employee.

“Recent reports show that new graduates who can have their pick of jobs will prioritize meaningful work at a company with a good reputation and a higher purpose over the financial aspects. They’re asking about community programs and if we’re a ‘green’ company during interviews. Those kinds of questions would never have come up fifteen or twenty years ago,” Stoner says.

In response, Stoner’s HR team has aligned its initiatives with employee engagement and has invested more heavily in the company’s community involvement over the last five years.

The Best Work of Their Lives

Stoner’s goal is to make Informatica “the place where employees come to do the best work of their lives.” She strives to keep them engaged in work they love in a culture of shared values that supports both personal and company success.

This is critical in the software industry where people and intellectual property are the only true assets. It also changes the traditional role of human resources departments.

“We’re responsible for our people, our human capital,” Stoner says. “HR is a strategic partner in the business. It’s not just about compliance, rules, and policies anymore. It’s about driving business change. Now we’re part of the conversation, for example, when we determine if we have the right talent to expand in a particular market.”

Successful Strategies

Her team’s strategies, initiatives, and guiding philosophies have worked quite well. Not only does Informatica continue to attract top talent, one third of new hires each year come from referrals of friends and colleagues of current employees. And some years, up to 10 percent of hires are “boomerangs,” former employees who return after being less satisfied working at other companies. “Those returning employees may be the ultimate validation on whether we really are building a great place to work,” Stoner says.