5 tips for developing and retaining technology talent in a tight market

Today’s guest post comes from Michael Angstadt, Co-Founder and Managing Partner of atomni.

Every organization, no matter how large or small, inevitably has turnover in personnel. Whether it is due to changes in lifestyle, career moves, or just plain attrition, people switch jobs and great people might move around quite a bit. Especially for technology organizations, the combination of lateral career movement, coast to coast relocations, competitor poaching, independent contracting, and specialized skill sets can make interacting with co-workers feel more like being on a professional baseball team than working at a technology firm.

So how does a business owner or hiring manager cultivate an ecosystem that rewards initiative, caters to the accountable, and fosters an environment that employees have a hard time walking away from? Outside of already commanding a huge brand name or changing the corporate address to Mountain View, Calif., what can business leaders do to make their organizations stickier for techies?

1. Define a corporate culture by developing a voice.

If someone interviewed your company, how would that turn out? Do you even know how your company would answer introductory questions like, “Who is your ideal client?”

Defining how a company will exist within the context of the real world is a crucial component in attracting the right talent. How else does the talent being attracted know the company is the right place for them? Company values, attitude, and work ethic should exude from every seam of the operation, from how meetings are run to what type of pens and pencils are available in the supply closet.

Developing a mission statement or slogan into a holistic cultural concept understood by each team member is a difficult task. This is an evolving process that takes years but is critical to engaging quality personnel in an organization. Create opportunities for resources to feel like they’re contributing to a vision that is greater than themselves and they’ll keep coming back.

2. Compensate in many forms.

It’s easy for hiring managers and employees to get wrapped up with annual salary numbers and increases. Everyone needs to eat, but remember, not getting paid enough is only one of the many reasons people leave a job.

Seemingly benign efforts such as including a team member on a forward-facing conference call, giving credit for hard work in a group status meeting, or just taking the time to explain decisions that affect their day-to-day all go a long way toward making each employee feel like their time, energy, and talent are truly appreciated – even if there is only room in the payroll budget for a 4 percent salary increase this year.

Consider ways to create an organizational structure that distributes accountability across key roles, and institutes recognition systems for employees that strive to deliver results. A surefire way to alienate a great resource is to allow their hard work to go unnoticed.

3. Be a sniper, not a machine-gunner.

Bringing on hires and relying on turnover to qualify the real value-adders can be expensive and tedious. Rapid turnover might even expose valuable trade secrets to competitors. Beyond that, after finally finding a qualified and competent resource to fill a position, restarting the interview process is the last thing any hiring manager wants to do.

Avoid this by making sure to hire great people that can also fulfill the needs of the specific position. An individual with an awesome attitude that might be short in experience could be a diamond in the rough, whereas the overqualified egotistical wunderkind could make everyone’s work life miserable.

Spend some time getting to know interviewees personally and try to connect on a non-work topic. And don’t be afraid to spend a little time or money courting top candidates either.

4. Aim right below your target skill set.

Sure, the ideal candidate would be a self-starting and seasoned UX designer that also knows Ruby, and is driven by overtime, tight deadlines, and chocolate-covered jelly beans. But in this competitive market you’re definitely going to be paying top-shelf prices for that.

One way to get around that is to identify resources that are zealous for knowledge, enjoy a challenge, and are just at the cusp of providing value in their respective discipline. These are people who thrive by jumping (or getting thrown) into the deep end of the pool. Keeping talent on their toes breeds a culture of systemic success and consistent learning, which is important for technology companies.

5. Clear all lanes on the communication highway.

Often employees feel like their only time for negotiation is before they accept a new position. If they’re not happy with their current situation they might assume they need to leave to seek a resolution. Even candid personnel often save their major gripes for their annual review.

Keeping informal avenues of communication open with your team members is a great way to make sure this doesn’t happen. Even just a one-on-one lunch could be enough to keep someone in a frustrating scenario engaged through a difficult project. If team members feel that there are non-punitive outlets for feedback, at the very least issues can be identified before a valued member walks out the door.


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