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Retaining Top Talents

Harsha Shekar

Senior Engineering Manager at Atlassian

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Problem

As much as motivating team members is one of the hardest tasks for a manager, handling the motivation of high performers is a whole different story. Learning new skills and applying those to projects is hardcore practice for any team member. Not every work in a software team is exciting or challenging for everybody. As a manager, it's imperative to find out what task would suit a peer's skillsets, who can give their best in a project, and how to keep them motivated?

In one of the quarters, I realized that the amount of work we needed to do was critical because it was related to the business roadmap. Furthermore, it involved adopting a few things, such as clearing off some tech debt or adding a specific set of monitoring aspects. I realized that certain people in the team might not be interested in a particular task for a quarter. Upon discussing it with a person in my group, I realized that they might not be interested in those tasks, and enough, they mentioned that those are not what they were excited about.

Actions taken

In such a situation, these are what could have happened:

  • I could have told them that those are what we had for the quarter as business priorities.
  • We could have let go of that team member altogether.

As a manager, I came to the conclusion that the order of priority comes in a sequence 一 the company, your team and then yourself. The person I talked to was a top performer, and they were critical for the company's growth. During the 1:1s and other discussions with the person, they did mention that they were exploring specific aspects of ML. Per my realization, I thought that while they might not be keen on pursuing what we had, I allowed them to explore other opportunities in other teams within the company.

Having tech teams as well as data science teams gave us the liberty to rotate our team members per their availability. Although they were just exploring their existing and newly acquired skills, which made them a not-so-expert, this rotation in the team may have led them to something bigger. Either they might have liked those data-related tasks a lot, or they might know more about how machine learning and AI are merely buzzwords for them.

I approached a few of the data science managers and asked them if there was anything that could be done for one of the company's high performers. Luckily, I was able to find a team where they needed a person for some data cleaning tasks, pulling down data from a third-party vendor only to apply some model to give an output. Perhaps that was not so challenging for a data scientist, but for this candidate, it could be a challenge that they could work on.

I gave them the opportunity as a short-term rotation, which turned out to be great. On the contrary, I realized that we might have lost a gem of a team member if they had shown interest or agreed to do something they were genuinely not interested in. The rotation gave them the chance to keep adding value to the company while growing and learning about new tasks. Given the talk about career growth, it opened up several discussions with other team members.

Lessons learned

  • Don't be afraid to talk to your manager about the growth opportunities. If there is something they can help you with, they would be more than willing to do so.
  • Prioritize the company and its goals above everything, and then your team members. After that, you'll find that all others will fall into its place.
  • The thing about high performers is that their expectations are also to go above and beyond. It can be pretty easy for them to feel bogged down and say that it's not something they are interested in. Try to identify their weaknesses and give them the chance to work on them. That would keep them motivated and challenged towards their work.

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Harsha Shekar

Senior Engineering Manager at Atlassian


Leadership DevelopmentCommunicationPerformance ReviewsCareer GrowthTeam & Project Management

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