I recently had an occasion to speak with a young man whose first job out of college is on the sales front lines in a fast growing technology company. I was hearing about the many organizational issues that face him, including unclear job responsibilities, evolving pay plans, and “who’s on first” type confusion. My first thought was that Peachtree Software must have looked that way to many of my employees when I was learning the ropes as a young CEO. For the most part they were kind enough not to make fun of the situation, at least until my going away party when we sold!
Now we are seeing some of the heavily funded Consumer Internet companies grow at such breakneck speed that I have to admire the ability of their management teams to keep so many smart employees on the same page. CEO Mark Pincus of Zynga in particular impressed me at a recent conference, with something like 0-1200 employees in 4 years, half of them technologists. That’s no easy accomplishment.
Now I’m seeing many fundraising presentations that also include a pitch for hiring developers. And, we’re all pretty familiar with the war for talent that seems to have emerged in the Valley. I’m sure some of the more established companies would like to see the establishment of a “no-flee” zone to the option-laden startups. (Sorry couldn’t help that.)
I had occasion today to discuss this with my friend Peter Rosen of HR Strategies & Solutions. He had some interesting words of wisdom on the art and science of motivating and retaining key employees. Much of this is documented on his web site, but I thought I’d share a few words of wisdom from our conversation. If you’ve reached the stage of about 10 employees and are on the way up, pay attention. Here’s a list in no particular order:
- Employees stay around when feel valued and jump when they don’t. It’s important to help them realize their importance to the company.
- “Re-recruit” every day. Always treat employees like you are welcoming them anew into the fold and make the glad to be on the team. (I’m not sure Bobby Knight ascribed to this view, but big-time coaching is different.)
- The high rate of unemployment makes people more scared and litigious than in normal times. Peter is seeing defensive claims being filed by people fearing that they are about to be fired for poor performance. They defend themselves by going on offense first with some manufactured claim of mistreatment.
- There is an art to terminations to avoid repercussions. It’s important to show that the departing employee is still a valued person, even if the particular circumstances didn’t work out.
- You might want to re-read Mr. Rosen’s article “Five Tips for Growing a Thriving Company, originally published on TechDrawl. Those tips all matter when it comes to retaining your best talent.
Those of us in the technology business are always dealing with true talent. Many otherwise very smart people can never be great developers; there’s a gift that must be present somewhere in the DNA. While every business is in its essence a people business, these issues are particularly deserving of management attention where genuine talent is a rare commodity.