How can I improve employee retention?

Engineers are in high demand – it’s no surprise given that software is running more and more of the world every day. With competition for quality engineers being at an all time high it may seem inevitable that you will lose members of your team to better opportunities. To an extent this may be true but it does not have to be a regular occurrence!

Don’t stop people moving on

Let me start by saying that staff moving to new opportunities is not a bad thing. Everyone should be able to work on what inspires them and provides new challenges to keep them in their toes. Having staff that don’t feel engaged or do not share an enthusiasm for what you do will not be best for your team or your company. Sometimes individuals will see / find / be offered opportunities that better suit them elsewhere and when that happens it seems fair to help them make the move. That said there are many things you can do to provide good reasons that people should want to stay at your company.

It’s not about contracts, restrictions or notice periods – it’s about providing your team with the best possible environment for what you are all about. If someone wants to work in search engines it’s going to be tough to be a better place for them than Google – unless geography is important. If you want to build a business networking platform you would need to understand why someone would want to work for you and not for LinkedIn. The key here is to strive to be the best in your particular field. Don’t settle for “people who were turned down at FaceBook” – they will probably be very bright to have got through even part of the recruitment process, but why would they not choose to work for you as their first choice?

The right environment

Consider what you are offering. Are you focusing on the office environment, or the challenges that you are offering to be solved – or is it all about the ability for every member of the team to be innovating in their daily work? If you know what your particular angle is then you will be better placed to engage, recruit and retain staff in all departments.

Make sure you spend time thinking about how much responsibility you can truly offer each new member of the team. Are your key roles all taken or are you expecting to share out many responsibilities as you grow? If you are structured to have 1 large team this may be challenging – you may look instead at many small teams where each member of the team can be responsible for a certain task or role but for a more focused area of your product (i.e. That area which their team is responsible for).

The future – for everyone

Another important aspect of your company’s appeal should probably be training – how can everyone be learning all the time? What opportunities for progression are you providing for everyone including your top level staff? Remember if you want to recruit the smartest engineers you will need to make sure there is always something for them to learn. I don’t mean to say that you need to have a curriculum laid out – many will excel if you simply provide the freedom to provide their own leaning opportunities – but don’t let this look like a lack of consideration for their future! Providing a general path or outlining particular areas of training you know are important would be a great start.

Lastly I would recommend considering how members of your staff can be involved in shaping your product or how it’s developed. If you have gathered a group who are excited about the product you are building then it should go without saying that they may have a desire to shape it’s future! Do you have a product team who can consult with engineers or testers? Or are you set up with cross functional teams? If so great, but don’t forget to delegate responsibility for product areas to the team completely so they can truly own that area of it’s development! If you’re worried about consistency then make sure each of your designers collaborate on this in a similar way to how your developers must communicate outside their team to discuss technology stacks and deployment etc.

Spread the message

Remember that answering these questions is just the beginning. You need to live all these aspects and continue to encourage your team to make use of the opportunities available.

Advertise what is important to you and for your team, hire based on it and stick to it at all times. You will find that your employee retention increases significantly if you can remember and reinforce why you all come to work each morning.

What’s with this “20% time” gimmick?

Before pressing on with the fact it’s no gimmick let’s step back a minute to what this is. Google and others have notable had 1 day per week (their 20% time) set aside for every engineer or member of staff to work on a completely different project. Some companies have 10%, some put aside 2 days each quarter. Bottom line is that a vast number of companies provide the opportunity for their developers to play with new ideas. This may be related to the work they do – it may be stipulated that it should have business value. It may be a completely free time to explore whatever interests each individual.

How can they afford the loss in productivity?

Seriously? You’re suggesting that people who get a chance to play around with random ideas and innovate without boundaries will somehow be less productive? Not only do most of these companies believe that staff will be more productive at work knowing that they can work on their own interests as well but it’s also a great source of ideas for the product, company or team development.

New technologies can be experimented with, or more product features developed to “proof of concept” stage. You could find that some want to improve the decor in the office or have a desire to explore automation of your processes or tedious tasks. These all sound like wins to me – not just for your product but for the office and company too!

It’s about balance surely?

Maybe. You clearly have a product to deliver and there may be specific expectations or milestones to reach. However consider a shiny new future when your products are developed and directed based on the motivations or interested of your team. Valve does just that – new staff are invited to work on whatever they want! If it’s possible to see business value in what’s being developed then why restrict folk to the work that has been predetermined?

A lot of this builds upon the cross functional team concept where a small team could have complete autonomy to deliver the future of their area of the overall product. Does this fly in the face of planning and delivery? I don’t think so – provided your teams are accountable for delivering value what more could you ask for?