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How they Win. Lessons from the Tech Talent War Battlefield.

Article originally posted in Medium.

Over the past few months, my partner and I entered over 70 stunning offices of successful, growing, hi-tech companies to interview the industry’s brightest minds one on one. Our purpose was to uncover the truth behind what makes a company truly sticky from an internal employee perspective, rather than who’s flaunting the cushiest bean bags and fancy espresso bar (though we’re massively impressed by the new wave of office design!)

Our method centered around three lines of questioning for the following personas: HR, middle managers, & individual contributors. We focused our research on intrinsic employee motivation within each company, and aimed to understand the factors that lead those employees to stay, or move companies. Like foam rising to the top, we heard the same sentiments echoing across an overwhelming majority of our research. It’s all about meaning, and it’s all about the manager.

Those of us in the tech world understand that a company’s most precious intellectual property isn’t written in code. The key element of a company’s success (startup or enterprise), is the intangible asset of human capital . Ideas are a dime a dozen in the tech world. What matters most is successful execution- and you need the best of the best to deliver better than anyone else. Attracting and retaining an A team is mission critical to a company’s continued success, and it’s a deeper topic than happy hours and a new-year bonus.

I recently stumbled upon a classic TED talk, and it aligned closely to the results of our recent company research. In his talk, Dan Pink speaks about “The Puzzle of Motivation.” Pink discusses research centered around human innovation and motivation, asserting that three main elements keep people motivated and creative. They are; autonomy, mastery, and purpose.

If we take these ideas of autonomy, mastery, and purpose, to a company context, they can be aligned with a manager’s style for keeping employees happy and engaged. Below are three main ways in which managers and management, can keep company A players in their corner.

Encourage autonomy

The world is your cubicle, in the eyes of today’s tech employees. We’re in a new paradigm of what it means to be working, and what it means to beat work. Gone are the days of shutting the computer at 6pm and switching off the work brain for the entirety of the evening. We’re constantly connected, working from everywhere, and responding in minutes to inquiries from around the globe. As such, employees not only crave- butexpect autonomy in working styles. Managers who encourage jobs to be done and let the reigns of the 9–5 go- can expect employees to be productive whether they’re in the office or working from home. But it doesn’t stop at a spatial or times concept- employees are also expecting to have creative autonomy. And ultimately, this brings out innovative solutions for the company. After all, if you hire stars, you need to let them shine.

Support learning & skill mastery

During our research, we met with Jake*, an incredible salesman (name has been changed to protect his privacy). He’s the tall, handsome, doe eyed type guy who earns the trust of others just by having a chat. Jake rakes in millions of dollars in deals for the company he works in- which is a very complex technology in a B2B market, and he’s definitely earning extremely well. But on an honest level, Jake is simply bored and he wants to stretch his mind a bit. He’s yearning to learn some basic coding skills and thinks it’ll even help him close deals even faster because he won’t need to pull in technical presale engineers to answer deep technical questions. So what’s his ask? He wants his boss to approve a learning and development budget.

Talented people don’t typically stop at what they’re good at- they look to enhance their skillset within the realm of their career. When managers enable this learning and development, their employees are instilled with a sense of pride and connection to the world place increases. Not to mention, the workforce becomes smarter as a whole when they’re more skilled! Double bottom line anyone?

Instill a sense of purpose

A sense of purpose is critical in enabling motivation, and it’s also a major part of connecting with one’s work. If an employee is going to stay in a company for any reason other than the salary (which to be honest- can be replicated easily and then the employee is lost to a competitor), purpose can create stickiness within an organization.

Finding purpose in what one does is a personal journey, but it can be encouraged or even facilitated by a great manager. Taking the time to sit 1:1 and discuss your employee’s motivations and what things are important to them, could help you understand where they find meaning. Connecting this sense of higher purpose and connection to the work at hand is something a manager can facilitate and encourage. As discussed in the HBR article,You’re never done finding purpose at work, aligning one’s professional and personal purpose will contribute to a better experience at work.

In conclusion:

In a world where competition for top talent is fierce, there are a number of bells and whistles to entice people into your company- but the thing that matters most to keeping them, is their emotional connection to the place. Keeping the above ideas in mind will give any manager a framework to attracting and keeping the best in the industry.



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