Nobody aspires to be "retained," says leadership columnist Michael Santarcangelo. (iStock via Getty Images)

Security teams continue to face shortages, and that leads to headlines suggesting companies need to focus on retaining the talent they have. The challenge is that retention is not the problem we need to solve, and security leaders need to look beyond retention.

Here’s a reality: nobody aspires to be “retained.”

In over two decades of working with security leaders and their teams, never once has anyone confided in me the goal of getting retained.

We have three basic needs

We want to feel like we’re part of something, like we belong. We seek growth, recognition, and a sense of achievement from our work.

We want to feel connected to the team, to our leader, and to the overall organization. Even introverts crave connection. More, we want to embrace the purpose of the team and of the organization.

How this plays out for security leaders: Answer these 3 questions

I ask security leaders about these needs in three questions. How do your answers compare?

  1. Are you growing in your current position, or do you feel stagnant?
  2. Are you contributing your value to a purpose you believe in?
  3. Do you feel recognized for your contributions and the value you deliver?

I’ve noticed a trend in office hours and in private conversations with security leaders who answer "no" to two or more of these questions: they feel ignored, question if the job “is worth it” and are ready to find a new position.

How did you do answering these questions?

Your team experiences what you experience

Each member of your team evaluates their position with the same questions, whether they can articulate them as cleanly.

If your team isn’t growing, contributing, and earning recognition, they feel stuck — or worse, they burn out. This is when they look for other opportunities. Often, this is when panicked leaders offer bonuses or salary bumps in the name of retention, but it doesn’t address the underlying problem of growth, contribution, and recognition.

What to focus on instead of retention

Instead of fixating on retention, focus on helping your team grow, give them ways to contribute, and recognize their value.

In my experience, the leaders who build programs that elevate their team with fresh problems to solve, consistent ways to contribute, and the right amount of recognition never experience a “talent shortage.” They attract the folks they need and keep the team full, even helping their developing leaders find new positions when the time is right.

These things will do more to keep your team members happy and engaged than any retention strategy ever could, and your security program will be better for it.