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Retaining Top Developers

by samizdat (Vicar)
on Jun 28, 2007 at 17:54 UTC ( #623956=perlmeditation: print w/replies, xml ) Need Help??

Hello, all -

My company's product development organization is doing some self examination WRT the costs of employee turnover at the top developer levels. Its policy to date has been "schedule it and burn them," and, especially as a former business owner, I have to say that the company's success says that at one time that might not have been the wrong choice.

Our company is a hardware systems company that made its place by making generic PCs better, faster, and cheaper than everybody else's, and getting them into the hands of custoers faster.

Now, as we grow, our products are more and more differentiated by unique firmware and software that we develop, and the costs of losing any one senior software developer are more and more the root cause of schedule slips in new products. Not only do we lose the skills of the developer, we also lose the "tribal knowledge" of how our existing systems work together.

I've found some good links about strategies and concepts for retention, and I'm sure there are more good ones out there.

Spolsky, Joel: "The goal here is to manage by making people identify with the goals you're trying to achieve. That's a lot trickier than the other methods, and it requires some serious interpersonal skills to pull off. But if you do it right, it works better than any other method."

Cramm, Susan: "Succession planning efforts break down because leadership development plans for "high potentials" are driven from a top-down assessment of the needs of the enterprise. In effect, these plans assume the individual wishes to be developed in whatever direction the organization deems necessary.";1388784297;fp;4;fpid;11

Jon Katzenbach, co-author of The Wisdom of Teams and a consultant specialising in workforce performance, says strong performance goals are essential for maximising the value of small teams. "If groups want to achieve team performance, the most important factor is not the leader of the team; it is the clarity around the performance purpose for that group," he says. "The more clear and compelling that is, the more naturally those people will function as a team.";770541663;fp;4;fpid;11

Lengyel, David (NASA): "In addition, we continue to emphasize quality of work-life initiatives such as alternative work schedules, family friendly leave programs, part-time employment and job sharing, telecommuting, dependent day car and employee assistance programs. Promoting SAFETY in the workplace, providing effective awards, recognition and stimulating work will enhance job satisfaction and foster retention."

I'm looking for links that specifically talk about the costs of letting good people walk away. Can you help?

Don Wilde
"There's more than one level to any answer."

Replies are listed 'Best First'.
Re: Retaining Top Developers
by lin0 (Curate) on Jun 28, 2007 at 19:27 UTC
      Thanks, lin0!

      I'm mostly concerned with the business costs associated with defects that would not have happened, schedules that would not have slipped, and late hours that would not have happened to make up for the loss. Standard HR metrics for "hiring replacement costs" exist, but they do not tell a fraction of the whole story, espeically in terms of senior software and firmware developers. The developer.* story was very insightful, and in words, it said what needs to be said. I've added it to my list, but some more numbers would be helpful.

      Don Wilde
      "There's more than one level to any answer."
Re: Retaining Top Developers
by Jenda (Abbot) on Jun 28, 2007 at 19:54 UTC

    Susan Cramm++. Very true. And in a related vein ... "We'll give you anything you want to help you develop. As long as it's exactly what we wanted to give you in the first place. And thinking about it ... we'll give it to you even if you do not want it." That's what my soon-to-be-former employer used to do.

    Plus it distributed a boasting colorful virtual brochure or two each month, sent a dumb looking figure 'round the world through all the offices and took photos of people looking equaly dumb standing around leering like idiots, planned outdoor team-(de)b(u)ilding events (that I luckily skipped), allowed us to analy self-assessss ourselves twice a year and painted the walls pink. Erm. sorry, I'm exagerating. Red, purple, green, blue, yellow and orange.

    Sorry, I had to vent. They did not retain me in the end. Even though I hate any change of place.

      I remember my brand-new high school in '72 where they decided it was hip to put orange doors with m/f symbols in bright purple on the restrooms. I wonder if they're still there... :)

      What struck me about Cramm's article most was that it was targeted towards motivating people who support executives, but its advice resonated for motivating senior developers as well. This research is being undertaken to support a senior Veep who's trying to have a broader motivational effect, and it'll be interesting to see what we come up with as the company has just received an edict from top brass to reduce the number of middle managers... which will dramatically reduce the 1x1 time available.

      Don Wilde
      "There's more than one level to any answer."
Re: Retaining Top Developers
by hangon (Deacon) on Jun 29, 2007 at 07:51 UTC

    This is my opinion based on far too many years working in various corporate environments, while paying attention and observing. Take it for what it's worth.

    You lose employees due either to personal or job related reasons. The personal ones (change of career, desire to relocate, starting a business, etc) you can't do much about.

    As for job related turnover, leadership is the most significant factor in employee retention. More specifically, the leadership of the employee's immediate supervisor. While there are many other factors that can come into play, with the right leadership, many employees will happily suffer long hours, low pay and follow their boss to the gates of hell and back.

    Unfortunately, far too many managers couldn't even lead an ant colony to a picnic. Good leaders may seem to have a natural talent, but many have become successful by actually taking the trouble to learn and practice leadership skills.

    Retaining good leaders is the key to retaining other employees. The latest employee retention *strategies* may be a temporary fix, but like most other management theories du jour, sooner or later they fall short. Cultivating good leadership from the top down is a long term and self perpetuating solution.

Re: Retaining Top Developers
by Grey Fox (Chaplain) on Jun 28, 2007 at 21:09 UTC
    Hi; I found a nice link to It has a nice Cost Calculation tool to show expense's related to folks leaving.

    -- Grey Fox
    "We are grey. We stand between the darkness and the light" B5
Re: Retaining Top Developers
by Fletch (Bishop) on Jun 29, 2007 at 02:55 UTC

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