Some time ago I was approached by a developer agency HR manager with a question “Why our employees are leaving?”
He was well connected with the employees, good friends with many of them, and for sure knew what was going on under the surface.
Instead of trying to speculate the reasons for people leaving with somewhat meaninglessness explanations, I asked:
“Why your employees are NOT leaving?”
Reasons to leave – Low-hanging fruits
The public reasons why people are leaving the company are typically better salary and/or perks, better office location or other non-work related reasons, and moving to something different type of work (e.g. from an enterprise to a startup, or from services business to a product company).
In reality, also bad management and other personal reasons cause a lot of company changes, but those reasons don’t often surface, or for the manager him/herself, it’s just more comfortable to simply explain that competitor paying “insanely high” salaries…
But after salaries and “perks” are already on the market level, not much can be done. Paying those “insanely high” salaries is not typically an option if the company plans to still stay in the business.
Reasons to stay?
Instead of looking for the reasons why people are leaving, finding the reasons why people are NOT leaving is usually more challenging, but also can be much more rewarding.
Social reasons to stay can be sometimes strong: good atmosphere and work culture, friends working in the same company, and so on.
But good to remember, that it’s hardly a differentiator any more as every company is promoting themselves as “a fun place to work in”. Or have you heard about the company that admitted that their office is just a place to work and stare at the computer screen? No, me neither…
Sooner or later the social reasons alone are not enough, especially for the talented and ambitious employees. They start to look for both something meaningful to work with and their own professional career.
2. Mission and vision
“Why did I walk into this office today morning, instead of to any of the similar companies next door?”
If a company has an inspiring mission, a purpose for its existence, and vision about the future it immediately differentiates it from the companies next door with different missions, or typically, no mission.
Defining an understandable and meaningful mission for a developer agency can be difficult, as the work often is “just” helping the client to reach their goals instead of building own concrete product. But the lack a mission, and the lack of communicating it repeatedly to the employees has caused endlessly people leaving the agencies after one day they ask themselves questions:
“Why are we sitting here? What’s the purpose of my work? Is this going anywhere?”
It easy to say that “no, our employees are not wasting their time with such philosophical questions”, but I bet that at least subconsciously they do. (or you’ve been hiring robots with no free thinking and creativity..?) And at least when they get an offer from another company that communicates well their inspiring purpose and goals.
What can you do?
Sit and write your company mission, the purpose why you and other founders originally founded the company, which is important for you, and why the company exists. Sounds trivial, but typically gets difficult when you finally pick up that pen in your hand…
Then define your company vision, long-term goal what the company will be in the future, how the company will look like, how people outsiders will see and recognize it. A five years horizon is typically good, long enough to actually do things, but short enough for employees to mirror it against their personal career plans.
Avoid fancy words and management jargon in communications, the mission and vision are useless if the employees can’t understand them or dismissing them just as “the latest management fad”.
If you thought that was the hard part, next comes the execution:
Communicate, communicate, communicate, and repeat.
The employees are not going to go and read the new fancy mission statement from the company website or newsletter, you need to tirelessly communicate and explain them.
Involve your employees, make them feel it’s their company and their mission, not just a place they go to work for a monthly salary.
3. “What’s in it for me?”
“Great, so if I help the company to succeed and reach those big future goals, what happens? The big boss will buy a bigger boat?”
Inspiring company mission and vision can help differentiate the company from competitors who only provide a place to sit in front of a computer… and a monthly paycheck.
But people are selfish animals. They need to know and understand “what’s in it for me?”.
A company, department, or team goals are important and can be inspiring, but not necessarily as such motivating for the individuals to stretch to reach them, or even stay in the company if a slightly better offer appears.
What can you do?
Even after understanding the new vision what the company is targeting, many people don’t necessarily automatically think or see how they themselves, and their career plans, fit into the picture.
To play it safe, you can freely assume that none of them does. Not even your key managers.
So, your next job as a manager is to cascade the company vision and goals down into the organization, either directly to each employee (in a smaller company) or to middle managers and continue from them to the employees.
For each individual, explain their personal position now, how their career path within the company fits into the big picture and their personal benefits of making those higher goals happen.
A lot of hard work again? Yes, the rewards are worth it. If you succeed, you not only have employees who are not only staying in the company but also working hard to make your company goals happen. What else could you wish for?
To summarize, set yourself 4 targets:
- Make sure the company is paying at least market salaries, otherwise you make poaching the best people too easy for the competitors.
- Look around at the office, is it a place where people only come to stare at computers and wait for the paycheck? If yes, do something about it. Buy a plant or something…
- Define your company mission and vision, and communicate them tirelessly until every employee understands them.
- Cascade down the company vision and goals in the organizations until every employee knows how their personal career path fits into the big picture, and more importantly, how they will personally benefit from the company achieving those goals.