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3 things engineering leaders need to focus on to retain talent

7 Mar 2022

With demand for engineering talent heavily outstripping supply, Pluralsight’s Lilac Mohr explains how leaders can avoid a ‘churn and burn’ culture.

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Agility has been key for businesses to remain successful throughout the pandemic. It became an imperative to learn how to adopt new technologies and adapt to new working models in order to keep delivering for customers during a challenging time.

In fact, a report from McKinsey found that businesses that have embarked on agile transformations have seen operational performance increase from 30pc to 50pc.

This includes improvements in speed, target achievement and predictability by creating visibility on both expectations and real-time performance and by fully dedicating employees to tasks.

As a result, the demand on software teams within organisations has increased substantially, from the increasing speed of programming languages to the expectation of faster delivery.

However, speed is not everything and productivity ultimately relies on engineering leaders – who must focus on building a strong team culture as an agile transformation project is carried out.

The pandemic also caused a shift in priorities – so much so that as we begin to emerge from it, employees are leaving jobs at a rate not seen in more than a decade in some places.

A desire to improve work-life balance and enjoy better benefits like flexible working has meant employers are struggling to recruit and staff. This means maintaining employee satisfaction and protecting team mental health is more important than ever.

This starts with leadership and engineering leaders need full transparency in terms of their teams, how they are working and exactly what motivates them.

Foster a positive workplace culture

Recent estimates suggest turnover in the tech industry in 2021 was around 20pc, but the pressure engineers are under continues to rise with the expectation of delivery standing at lightning speeds. Unsurprisingly, this has created a ‘churn and burn’ culture.

With demand heavily outstripping supply, it is a jobseekers’ market and engineers can have their pick of companies to work for.

In order to retain this in-demand talent, it’s important for engineering leaders to establish a unique and engaging culture within their teams and actively examining it to ensure that engineers feel supported and valued is good practice. However, creating a world-class engineering team environment comprises a few key principles.

Allowing engineers to pursue passion projects and explore their creativity is crucial. This may involve giving them dedicated time to work on developing their skills and pursuing innovative projects.

In addition, leaders need to foster a positive workplace culture for their engineering teams that is built around appreciation, collaboration and psychological safety. Weaving open and honest career discussion and satisfaction check-ins into one-on-one meetings will help employees feel listened to and motivated by their personal progression.

Check up on your employees’ morale

Leveraging data to make informed decisions is also key. The best leaders are often those who use concrete evidence to strengthen their teams. Engineering leaders must use data and metrics to check up on the health of their teams in the current jobs landscape.

In programming, engineers often remain self-contained in their day-to-day activities, leaving engineering leaders with little insights. With an engineering metrics solution, it is possible to obtain better visibility into your team’s workflow and get clear insight into the development process.

This not only helps ensure efficiency and quality, but it can also help to gauge employee success and morale.

Continuous health monitoring with a robust set of metrics will provide leaders with early identification and resolution of friction. A data-driven platform to ensure that individuals’ contributions are ‘seen’ is fundamental.

Monitoring a teams’ daily workflow helps to identify standout employees that may otherwise fly under the radar, as well as flagging those who may be struggling.

It’s important to pay particular attention to metrics that drive employees toward their professional goals and help to remove bottlenecks across teams.

Prioritising constructive feedback and one-on-one conversations with employees is crucial to employee success and retention. Frequent check-ins with engineers that address potential workload issues and general morale are key in ensuring they are thriving personally and professionally.

Adopt a people-first approach

Nothing will ever be as important within a team as the people. Only the engineering leaders who prioritise people through a variety of tools and techniques will reap the rewards and stay ahead of the competition.

When workers are happy, they are up to 13pc more productive, according to research at Oxford University’s Saïd Business School. Clearly, team morale is key for an engineering team to deliver their best work.

With consistent encouragement from their leaders, employees will want to perform to their best ability and, when they do, those accomplishments must be acknowledged and celebrated. Alongside this, they must have the space and autonomy to work in a meaningful way.

As leaders, it is critical to remember to check in with team members as people, before checking in with them as workers.

As the ‘great resignation’ continues, the labour shortage will be exacerbated and businesses will have to compete for talent in 2022 and beyond.

In the face of this, there is a real opportunity for leaders to distinguish teams through their engineering culture. Whether you are cognisant of it or not, a team has a culture. This year, engineering leaders need to shift their priorities by focusing on their people above all else.

By Lilac Mohr

Lilac Mohr is the interim VP of engineering at Pluralsight Flow, a workflow product from Pluralsight aimed at engineering leaders.

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