This article was first published by Oliver Wyman here.
In today’s war for talent, it is common for the focus to be on attracting talent in order to offset any attrition an organization may have experienced. While this strategy is essential, leaders must also diagnose the root of the problem and think critically about why their top talent is leaving in the first place. As tech roles touch almost every part of a business today, having the right retention strategies to combat rates of turnover is crucial. How can you ensure that your workplace is not a constant revolving door for tech talent, and you have both an environment where technologists want to join as well as an environment where they want to stay? Based on many years of building and managing high-performing technology teams, we’ve identified four retention strategies to mitigate the risk of attrition.
Value Your Technologists’ Time and Expertise
Think about what percentage of technologists’ time is being spent on activities that aren’t related to their core purpose or on non-promotable tasks. Software engineers, for example, typically want to create amazing applications and platforms, and data engineers enjoy building data pipelines to keep data flowing for both engineering and business innovation. It is important that companies focus on the removal of toil to let technologists design, code, and innovate.
For example, a technologist may join a company because the company promises exciting roles and responsibilities related to engineering that will allow them to lead and mentor other engineers as well as do experimental prototyping using the latest and greatest technologies. These technologists come on board expecting they’ll influence the direction and culture of the organization. However, if they eventually find out that the majority of their time is actually spent on making presentations in PowerPoint and having to navigate company politics, leaving very little time to be close to the technology, innovation, or their team, they will rightly conclude that their time is neither being optimized nor valued.
Exit surveys reveal what toil means to a technologist and give important clues about how to address this. Being mindful of the tasks your technologists are doing that aren’t contributing to their growth and development is an essential part of being an employee-centric organization and ultimately retaining talent. While there will always be stray jobs to be done, reducing the strain on your tech teams who are taking on more non-job-related tasks than necessary will prevent them from becoming demotivated and frustrated.
Foster Innovation by Providing the Right Hardware and Software
A common complaint from technologists is that they are asked to achieve outcomes using outdated technology and must jump through hoops of bureaucracy in order to influence change. Most abhor corporate processes that keep them from meeting the goals they have been asked to achieve. While certain processes and regulatory controls in industries such as financial services, healthcare, or transportation are in place for a reason, it is possible for the risk management environment to be adjusted.
The four-year-old laptop that needs to be rebooted twice a day to function, the six-month approval process to use a new cloud-native service, the nine-month wait for a new test or staging environment to be deployed, or the underpowered build server that slows the team down, all reinforce that what a technologist needs to do their job efficiently is not really valued by the organization. The cost of recruiting a software engineer, for example, is from $28,000 to $36,000, assuming you have a great candidate value proposition. A tricked-out laptop and widescreen monitor that would put a smile on nearly any developer’s face costs about $3,500. Chief Financial Officers would be wise to think about the tradeoffs of focusing on maximizing employee device and server depreciation to manage costs.
Make Sure Your Technologists Feel Heard
Take the time to listen and connect with your tech team members about their career paths, and ensure you’re aligned with how they want to progress and the opportunities for them to do so. Don’t assume, for example, that all technologists want to be promoted into management or leadership roles. Is there a place for those who want to stay makers? For those who are interested in management, is there ongoing training and mentorship, including soft skills, to set people up for success? If not, use data insights to support career development, especially with your diverse colleagues.
Equally as important is your tech talent’s ability to provide candid and consistent feedback of their own. It’s vital to have a system in place for 360 feedback to support engagement, morale, and job satisfaction. Take regular polls in your teams on a range of topics to ensure you’re identifying cultural, career, and organizational risks early on. Capture feedback about senior leadership from junior and senior team members, peers, as well as colleagues inside and outside of technology teams.
By taking a proactive stance on listening, your tech teams will feel engaged with not only their roles, but with their impact in the organization. Above all, don’t have a team culture that is based on tenure rather than merit, and always reward people who help bring your organization forward – even if that means being promoted above their manager. An essential element of retention is making sure that everyone, whether they’ve been at the company for a few weeks or a few years, is being heard and supported in their career.
Make Culture a Core Value Proposition
More than ever before, today’s incoming work force takes corporate values seriously. This includes how much companies give back to the community, volunteer initiatives, and what organizations are doing to promote diversity (which is a huge gap that needs to be addressed in the technology sector). A valuable tool to utilize is Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) such as gamers, racial and ethnic groups, people with families, or LGBTQ+, for example. Encouraging, and most importantly, protecting the time your team wants to spend on social engagements in your organization provides space for them to build community and belonging.
It’s common for teams and individuals to get bogged down in their day-to-day functions and lose sight of the bigger picture. In hybrid working environments where teams are mostly remote, the risk of people getting siloed and feeling isolated can lead to resignations. Encourage cross-pollination between technical and non-technical people to build rapport and provide visibility. Set up show-and-tell sessions where, for example, engineers can mix with product managers, data scientists, business analysts, etc., to help fuel the spirit of ideation and innovation.
Crowdsource ideas, using Slack polls or Trello, for example, to make your technologists feel their ideas are interesting and matter, and keep the mood fun and engaging rather than transactional. Creating a unique employee experience where voices are heard, and people can engage seamlessly with each other is necessary for reducing burnout and attrition.
Retention Through a Team-Centric Culture
High turnover can reflect poorly on an organization and losing your tech talent can have a sizeable impact on your organization’s ability to meet its goals to compete successfully. Keeping them is a high priority, but can be a challenge in today’s workplace, often characterized by burn-out and disruption. However, what you can do is establish a more supportive and adaptable environment where your people have their needs prioritized, feel valued and respected, have their good work recognized, and are confident that they fit within the organization.