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Keep What You Sow: Retaining Tech Talent

Kristen Buchanan

These days it seems like finding talented engineering and product employees is harder than ever (or perhaps more accurately, more expensive than ever).

The whole process, from recruiting to hiring to onboarding, is challenging and full of unknowns. But when it comes to bringing high-quality talent to the team, there’s one question that should be at the top of any director’s list:

How exactly do organizations encourage their technical talent employees to stay for the long term?

From what we’ve found, the key to retaining employees is in their onboarding experience.

Onboarding sets the tone for the employee’s experience at the company and is a catalyst for the new hire’s successful integration onto their team.

That means that for tech companies facing “talent wars” or struggling to fill roles, onboarding has to go beyond the basics. Great onboarding can also help companies bring on junior hires more easily, so it’s really a win-win!

There are a few really simple ways to improve your technical onboarding process. Here’s our go-to list of things to cross off your onboarding improvement plan:

  1. Get your onboarding on the right track before your new hire walks in the door. Make sure the description of the role and the role itself match the values and engineering philosophy the team. Then have your recruiting team look for someone who is not only a technical fit for the position, but also a good match for the philosophy and working style of the company.
  2. Consider how hiring impacts your team. There’s no way around it; onboarding a new team member creates more work for everyone, at least in the short term. Make sure your program deals with the relationships between the new hire, the managers and the existing team members as well as their experiences throughout the onboarding process. When you consider onboarding as a group experience you can ensure everyone on your team is getting what they need to do their best work.
  3. Make things easy for engineers to do their work. That means clear onboarding with an overview week. Engineers should be constantly iterating — it’s critical to understand whether or not the new person can work through the complexity of their new role as soon as possible. Figure out what a new hire should learn, and be competent doing, and when.
  4. Create pairing/buddy program. Buddy programs help new hires acclimate faster and get coding sooner. Socialize pairing or the buddy program with your current team and help them understand the expectations of guiding a new hire.
  5. Follow up — soon and often. Don’t leave your new hire alone too long or too frequently. Ensure you’re creating a psychologically safe environment in which they feel comfortable to try and fail, ask questions, and test things out.

Take a look at your company’s current onboarding process. How does it stack up right now? If you don’t have the basics in place, consider ways to start building them iteratively. You can even engage your new hires in the process!

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