Being a Manager Who Can Retain People
VP of Engineering at Tide
Many managers tend to think of themselves as great leaders regardless of the fact that people on their teams are continuously leaving. Those who stay are unhappy, their productivity is dropping, and conflicts between team members occur for no apparent reason.
It is easy to turn to excuses and justify your failure to retain people on your team by explaining how they didn’t like the product they were working on or were not satisfied with the salary and/or working conditions. However, your role as a leader is to make your people excited about the product and improve the existing working conditions. No matter what the root causes of their dissatisfaction are, a good manager should create a working environment that would encourage their team members to contribute and thrive.
Every engineer is an individual
You have to recognize that every single engineer is an individual with different needs. The bigger the team, the harder it is to personalize your approach and adjust it to every person’s needs. I differently approach introverts from extroverts, but more importantly, I differentiate between the people who want to have more autonomy to decide how to organize their responsibilities and those who prefer to be micromanaged and meticulously supervised.
A personal and caring approach
It is important to establish a personal and caring approach. Most people are afraid of their managers and have a hard time acknowledging that their managers’ role is to help them, not merely exercise their power. The best approach to changing their perception is by practicing servant leadership.
People want their managers to be transparent. However, as a manager, you won’t be able to communicate everything, but you should be able to explain to your team why you are withholding some information. Also, when you are asking people to do something, you should be able to clearly explain what and why. People are more willing to fulfill their duties when they can understand the broader picture and the role they play in it.
People need to trust you and you should build that trust in actions. You have to be consistent and your words should match your doings. If you do things that contradict your commitments or if you are not transparent, the trust will eventually erode. Don’t overpromise; instead, be accurate and realistic. The team will trust a leader who knows what they are doing and where they are leading the team.
Lead by example
I would never ask anyone to do something I wouldn’t do myself. Sometimes it’s hard for new people to imagine that managers also did some things as juniors, but you are there to share your experience and recollections. Also, be with the team when things become uncomfortable or demanding, not only to take credit for something.
Understand people’s limitations
Asking people to do things they are not comfortable with or pushing them to things beyond an amount they could take is what will make people leave. You should try to balance pushing them out of their comfort zone while not putting them in a situation where they would feel uncomfortable or experience burnout.
Have a vision where you want to go
Not only should you have a vision, but it should be aligned and communicated well. You should be the one to set the vision but also allow the team to propose how to get there. They should feel ownership and be unified under that one vision.
- Think of retention as hiring. Put as much energy into retaining people as you are putting in hiring them. It takes even more effort to retain people, in my opinion. During the hiring, the burden is shared between a recruiter, HR, and you, but when it comes to retaining people, it is you who is responsible.
- Be proactive at the slightest notion of churn. Don’t wait and don’t assume that people will wait for you to act. They will move on.
- There are many things affecting retention and addressing them takes a concerted effort. While you are responsible for keeping people on your team, you will often need a helping hand outside the team.
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