In today’s tech landscape, engineering talent is one of the most valuable assets that an organization can have. However, increasing attrition rates among developers means that retaining quality developer talent is also one of the biggest challenges for business leaders. Even despite sweeping layoffs in tech, engineers are still in high demand.
At the center of software engineering innovation are teams of developers. Teams of great developers build new products, services and entire businesses – they are the core of modern business strategy. Now that technology teams are being asked to do more with less resources, skilled engineers are more important than ever before.
So what are business leaders to do in this uniquely challenging tech talent environment that has left many engineers burdened with extra responsibilities? Business leaders need to focus on creating an engineering culture that attracts, rather than repels talent. In the tech industry, engineering culture is inextricably linked to business success. Here’s how to create a culture where developers want to stay.
Focus on the Experience
Leaders of all stripes are tasked with ensuring that their employees are supported, engaged, and motivated to do their best work. However, the route to achieving these outcomes can sometimes seem vague and elusive.
Research from Google shows that there are several key pillars for creating a strong organizational culture. The first is psychological safety. It is important for employees to know that they can take risks without feeling insecure or ridiculed. This is especially important for highly creative roles like software engineering where developers are often asked to create something out of nothing. Ensuring space to experiment with new approaches is crucial.
Secondly, it’s important to create an environment where dependability is at the center. This means that team members and leaders alike can be counted on to do high quality work in a timely manner. Developers often face immense pressure to ship functional code on a daily basis. It’s important that they can depend on their team members and leaders to each do their part in order to drive projects forward. This relates to the third pillar of cultural success – structure and clarity. The goals, roles, and plan for execution within a team must be clearly communicated by leadership.
The final two pillars for cultural success are ensuring that the meaning of work is clear, and that they can easily see the impact that their work is creating. For developers, these two components are key. Sometimes, the work of a software engineer can be very routine and can involve an exorbitant amount of time spent on small fixes and updates that seem insignificant. Making sure to communicate the value that your team members bring to the business is crucial in these instances. Prioritizing this creates a strong positive feedback loop for outcomes and for team wellbeing: the more developers see that even difficult work will be valued, the more they’ll be motivated to stay in your organization.
As you continue the hunt for new talent to fill gaps within your organization, don’t forget to focus on making your current employees’ experience so great that they want to stay with your organization longer and do their best work. Additionally, by keeping your current engineering teams happy and supported, you’ll likely see an uptick in engineer to engineer referrals, creating an organic talent pipeline from outside your organization.
Realize that Transparency is Key
Another key facet in ensuring healthy engineering teams is to be as transparent as possible. Information asymmetries can be damaging. What I mean by this is that developers can’t do their jobs effectively if they don’t have insight into the workflows on their teams or don’t have context into decision-making that impacts them.
A great way to bake transparency into your engineering culture is to help them see the impact they are making on the business with their contributions. Utilizing a software delivery intelligence platform can help developers have concrete data showing their progress towards individual and organizational goals. Engineering managers can use this data to celebrate progress on previously invisible work.
Manulife is a great example of an organization that adopted engineering analytics as part of their culture with great success. Manulife set out to create an engineering culture that was based on trust amongst their engineering teams. The concrete data that they used to analyze their engineering process revealed hidden talent within their teams that they may not have found without a data-driven approach. Additionally, it allowed for deeper transparency when it came to promotion decisions within engineering teams.
Employees value transparency because it leads to greater autonomy, communication, and ultimately, better business outcomes. An engineering culture that lacks transparency is sure to be plagued with high attrition and low value delivery to customers.
Empower Your Team to Remove Roadblocks
The role of a developer grows with complexity as new technologies, programming languages, and methodologies are continually introduced. It is up to engineering leaders to help their teams remove potential barriers that are blocking them from being successful in their roles.
As an engineering leader, I am constantly working to understand how to best manage complexity. I have a thesis that as an organization grows, it can only execute effectively on simple ideas, rather than complex ones. This is because there’s this coordination and friction associated with growth and change that generates a huge amount of unknowns in terms of dependency management. If you’re not careful, the complexity associated with a given project can stop it dead in its tracks.
This is where taking a data-driven approach to engineering leadership kicks in once again. Rather than setting targets for your teams that are based on standards with no concrete backing, instead, look at the data associated with your engineering teams to get to the heart of what seems like a complex issue, thus simplifying it. Data-driven insights help organizations manage complexity more efficiently.
Finally, a data-driven approach to engineering leadership also helps team members to remove roadblocks that may be slowing their projects down. Allowing your team to operate in an efficient way while consistently delivering value will make them happier in the long run.
The importance of software developers to business outcomes will only increase in the coming years. The Bureau of Labor Statistics predicts that between 2019 and 2029, there will be a 22 percent growth rate for software engineering roles, which is considerably higher than the average 4 percent growth rate for other occupations. This means that business success is quite literally tied to the success of developer teams.
By focusing on improving the developer experience through transparency, autonomy, and empowerment, organizations can expect more stability in the coming years. The key here is to be committed to using data-driven insights to properly support and uplift your teams. In the current job landscape, culture is king. Developers will continue to demand a stellar work culture, and it’s the job of engineering leaders to deliver it.