This is chapter three of the three-part series:
"A Complete Guide to Capital Efficient Engineering Teams."
Every manager has felt, at one time or another, the sheer panic of unexpected employee turnover. The time and cost of finding a viable replacement, the disruption to the team, missed deadlines - none of it is fun. When we think about employee retention, we usually think about how to deal with it when it happens.
As an engineering manager, taking a proactive approach to employee retention, rather than a reactive approach, mitigates the risk of turnover before it even starts. We’re not saying to create an extensive list of turnover contingency plans, or to prevent employees from leaving all together. No one stays forever. We’re talking about identifying the key factors for turnover and using insightful techniques to proactively manage accordingly.
Through our work with hundreds of engineering managers, we’ve found that the root causes of poor employee retention include; mis-hiring, lack of effective feedback, and burnout. The good news? These are all factors that can be proactively managed to significantly lower the risk of turnover before it becomes a problem. Here’s how.
Start With Fixing Hiring
Mis-hiring is an unforgiving wheel in the cycle of employee turnover. Think back to your last hire that turned over. Were they really a good fit? Or, just “good enough” at that moment to fill an immediate need? Hiring more thoughtfully is a sure-fire way to improve your rate of employee retention because you’re starting at the source.
Audit Your Hiring Process
The fit of a new hire is a clear way to predict your ROI and employee retention from the beginning. A quality hire is a candidate who aligns with your team’s culture, shows interest in the work your team is doing, and has a passion for the company’s big-picture goal. You can mirror those qualities to guide your recruiting and interview process to ensure a candidate is the right fit. Aside from technical abilities, start a conversation with a candidate about their career goals and passions. The more aligned you are with the candidate on these dimensions, the more likely they are to add real value to your business. That doesn't mean they'll never leave; but it does mean that they have a vested interest in doing what's best for your company's mission. That's a huge win for ROI.
Outsource as a Retention Resource
Doing all the necessary prep work to recruit and vet candidates yourself in the midst of “turnover panic” may be a luxury few firms have, even with all the resources in the world. Outsourcing is your remedy for hiring highly qualified and engaged professionals more efficiently, so you can focus on the real work. By engaging with our bench of fully pre-vetted and experienced senior-level engineers, you eliminate the risk and overhead of traditional hiring. Our freelance engineers have a proven higher ROI by staying on engagements longer than traditionally-hired FTEs.
Provide Feedback Effectively
You’ve heard the saying time and time again- “communication is key”. This is especially true for managing engineering teams, especially on a large scale or across multiple teams. Lack of communication, but more so lack of effective feedback, is a key deterrent to employee retention. Poor or infrequent feedback leads to confusion and frustration for your engineer, which leads to apathy and burnout, ultimately opening the door for turnover. Effective feedback is a recipe that calls for equal parts constructive feedback and positive feedback, all baked into clear expectations and transparency. This ultimately elevates alignment and avoids turnover.
Providing constructive feedback for your engineers closes the loop between the customer and code. When providing feedback, give the full picture to your engineers after a client's or higher management’s review of their project. This provides a better understanding of what the customer wants, and how that should inform their next steps.
Alignment on projects and the customers’ needs improves retention by eliminating isolation in the development process, giving your engineers a transparent answer to the “why?” of the project and establishing a widespread team connection.
As a manager, you can’t be all work and no “thanks”. So, offering positive feedback is equally as important as constructive feedback. Giving the right amount of recognition to reinforce efficient and impactful work shows appreciation for your engineer’s efforts. Teams that feel their work is recognized and appreciated are more motivated and purposeful with their work, which decreases the risk of turnover. There’s even really cool employee appreciation software like 15Five to implement shouts to your team in your everyday workflow.
Burnout is a cumulative result from a lack of feedback, feeling undervalued, and being overworked. As with any ailment, there are different stages of burnout. Burnout doesn’t simply appear out of thin air. It gradually grows, and if early signs and symptoms aren’t tended to, it graduates to its final stage - quitting.
Implement Pulse Checks
Lucky for you, burnout is not a new concept, nor exclusive to your team members. This works in your favor because if you recognize when you’re feeling burnt out, you can recognize when your team displays signs of burnout early. Some early signs of team burnout may look like:
Increased cynicism and negative attitude toward work
Decreased output and quality of work
Keeping a pulse on the wellbeing of your team by noticing those early stages of burnout helps to address the problem head-on. That way you can take action proactively to mitigate burnout-related issues to lower retention risk by keeping your team engaged and stabilized.
Being flexible to mitigate issues of burnout on your team means giving them the space to tell you what they need and offering solutions. This can be done by utilizing one-on-ones as a platform to ask for feedback on possible implementations they think could benefit the team. If you’re managing teams on a large scale, frequent one-on-ones is a larger lift, so utilizing resources like Officevibe gives your team access to the same type of feedback forum. Both methods of communication allow you to survey answers, identify your team’s needs and move forward with actionable initiatives to mitigate earl stage burnout to avoid turnover.
Stay Calm and Be Proactive
Calm the panic of turnover risk with the preparedness that comes with managing proactively. Not every team is the same, so we get that these initiatives may not be the exact cure that works for yours. So, ask yourself: “what can I do to proactively manage the needs of my team to improve our retention?” If you're interested in starting with hiring as your first proactive initiative try a new hiring model that reduces turnover. We’ll help you hire professional freelancers to add to your existing team. You can get in touch with us or get straight to sourcing by posting a job.Check out the other chapters of our Complete Guide To Capital Efficient Engineering Teams for an applicable roadmap on how to conserve capital when building, managing and mitigating turnover with your engineering team.