Your Developers Are Leaving You & It’s Not About the Money

If your developers are leaving you, then it’s time to reflect on your Money Mindset.  Do these statements ring true for you?

  • “They’re just going to leave in a year or two anyway, what’s the point in investing in them now? I can’t afford to just throw money away like that.”
  • “We all know developers make 20% increases with every move they make. What company can afford to retain their teams with numbers like that?”

Sound familiar? This mindset would both keep quality people from joining your team, and drive current people away. Furthermore, these statements reflect a huge error in thinking about money and retention. In this blog entry, we will debunk some of the myths…

But first, a little context: these were actual comments made in response to a conversation at a tech event about the importance of building a people plan to deliver on growth projected by a business plan. Hint: this requires internal training and reinvesting in your people on a consistent basis.

The comments have been haunting me for months.

Initially I thought, “his loss! He doesn’t deserve any of the talented people in tech if that’s how he views the people on his team.” Over time, it ate at me. I wondered, how many other managers and executives thought like this? How many had this misconception that investing in people was a wasted investment since they would “probably leave anyway”?

Let’s explore why people who work in software, with highly technical skills, who are in high demand, are actually leaving you. And because I’m feeling extra passionate about this, I’ll even throw in some pointers on why they stay. Spoiler alert: it’s not all about the money.

The Grass is Always Greener
It’s easy to get zoomed in on the details of a current situation, — a single blade of grass, frozen in time — which makes it hard to take a step back and view the whole field of a career and to understand how each discrete experience shapes it. Without a lot of reflection of the overall career, when something comes up that’s frustrating, it’s easy for a developer (or any other person who is in demand) to say, “oh that sucks! There’s a lot of opportunity for me, so I’ll look to see if the grass is greener elsewhere.”

It’s a manager’s duty to provide broad perspective of career paths, to help open doors, and to create opportunities for productivity and engagement. Managers should be clearing pathways to visualize how this project, situation, or experience impacts the overall career and next steps. Then, checking in with that person to make sure it’s a direction they’re interested in and if not, how can you help them? This doesn’t have to mean an exit, it may just mean realigning.

Unclear Futures
When your developers see greener pastures, in the absence of guidance, they tend to see their current situation as going nowhere fast, with no way out but out. I spoke with John Gore, Co-founder of Culturescape.io, He said,

“we see ourselves writing the same code, on the same code base, fixing the same string of bugs, getting frustrated with the technical debt that’s piling up. It’s not clear to see the impact or how these monotonous, and sometimes frustrating, tasks affect my future. Which leaves us wondering, do we want to move into management or do we want to continue doing this thing I love (i.e writing code, developing a product, or designing an interface). A lot of companies aren’t thinking about the future picture of an engineer. So naturally as the technical person, I would think: if I want change, I’m going to have to jump ship and go elsewhere.”

It’s a missed opportunity. The most value comes from an individual that has worked in multiple areas within the company.

Help them map that trajectory.

Employee Engagement and Purpose
As a technical person, you’re going to have a list of a dozen things you want to do from technologies, to career direction, to new roles. It’s up to management to listen to those and come up with unique solutions to help the individual stretch those specific muscles.

Let’s say for instance, someone says, “I want to be a manager, managing X number of people.” As the manager, you should be exploring if that is really what they want or do they want increased responsibility, increased autonomy, a chance to mentor, or a chance for leadership. It’s your responsibility to translate a person’s expressed interest into how it fits into the broader organizational needs.

So is it about the money?
Gore spelled it out pretty clearly: “there is a subset of people where it is about the money, but that is the extreme minority. We’re blessed in technical careers to be white collar, very high paying, and very in demand right now relative to the rest of jobs in America. So I find it’s rarely about the money. Instead, we see it happen all of the time that people leave an organization for a pay cut because it’s a mission they believe in or because it’s a team they have more faith in. So definitely not just about the money.”

I couldn’t have said it better.

Okay, so bonus add here…

Why do they stay?
“A really strong base layer of trust,” according to Fred Lee, SVP of Engineering at Cars.com, formerly of Gamut, Belly, and Enova. “It takes a lot of work to build that trust, and it starts from the top. It’s really necessary for leaders to connect with people they lead and get to know people as individuals, what they want to do, and what their goals are. Then clearly communicating what leadership needs to accomplish so you can work together to achieve goals. Consistency is really important though. This behavior of investing in people and getting to know them as individuals has to be consistent because that is what builds the trust to then do a lot more with a team of people.”

There you have it. It’s not always about the money. Feel differently? Tell me about it.

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