One side effect of working at top software companies is the constant threat of attrition. People are highly valued and highly compensated, but there are always companies that will pay more. Engineers are regularly contacted by headhunters and by recruiters at other top companies trying to lure them away. If successful, this pays the new company double-dividends: it increases the hiring company's staff while depleting their competitor.
Keeping your team focused and motivated is a key part of retention, and in ignoring these distractions. Engineers at the top companies are people with choices. To keep them focused and on the team:
- Ensure they're bought in. Make sure they understand the value of what the team is doing, and of current objectives. Foster agreement on the importance of team goals, and ideally that the objectives are the most important thing the team could be working on.
- Listen. Everyone should get a voice in team operation. It's not a democracy, but everyone should get a say. gets their say. If they come up with a better way to execute, or different higher priority work, the team should move to that as quickly as it can, and the person should get credit and kudos.
- Underscore their value to the company. Make sure team members realize their work and their skills are valued, and talk frankly about how they're doing.
- Underscore the job's value to them. Make certain they understand why their work is valuable in the context of the team, the company, and the industry. Emphasize transferable and noteworthy skills and accomplishments.
- Insulate the team from distractions. The manager should handle external requests and interruptions so the rest of the team doesn't have to deal with them. Status reports, same thing. A managers job is to enable the team to focus on getting things done. That means removing distractions and randomization.
- Set expectations. Every job has scut work. Make sure team members understand the need, and buy into doing their share. Show them everyone else is doing their part.
Creating a good environment where people are well compensated, demonstrably valued, and achieving good things for themselves and the company goes a long ways toward keeping a team on task and retaining strong performers. As a bonus, it makes work more fun for everyone.
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