In the current climate, it’s never been more difficult to attract and retain tech talent. Nearly 75% of digital workers have their eyes on new positions, with advancing their careers the main driver for 63% of those planning to move on. 

That data makes one thing clear – that those that commit to supporting career advancement are more likely to retain highly valuable staff. 

Many organizations pride themselves on their ability to develop talent internally, offering employees the opportunity to acquire new skills and move to different positions. But there are pitfalls to simply giving the best talent different responsibilities – they stop doing the work they were good at, and learn a whole new set of skills. 

Take professional athletes for instance – few of the world’s biggest stars, in any sport, automatically become great coaches. Or journalism – what makes a great reporter does not necessarily make a great editor. 

Great developer vs great leader

Software development is no different. Successful software developers do not automatically make successful managers. In fact, quite often the very thing that made a high-performer successful in their last role could hamper their new position. That’s because technical prowess is not the primary attribute of a successful manager. 

Of course, it’s vital a level of technical knowledge when leading a team of tech specialists, but excelling at creating new products or fixing complex bugs is not going to inspire the variety of personalities that make up a team. They’ll all have their own motivations, preferences, strengths and weaknesses, all of which need to be navigated and handled in the right way in order to coax the best performance from both individuals and the collective team. 

Managing developers 

Successful managers understand the types of people in their organization. Everyone is unique, but there will be certain characteristics, defined by their roles, which can help provide insight into how best to lead them. 

If we consider programming disciplines – systems, user-interface/experience and database programmers will all take different approaches to problem solving. A manager may have a team made up of both permanent employees and contractors, each with their own concerns and approaches. Plus, there could well be both cowboys – charging in at the very last minute of a project to save the day – and farmers, who just steadily plow through the task at hand. Both are tasked with making a product effectively and both will respond to different types of management. 

To get to that point, managers need to have built a team in the first place and when it comes to this, there are a number of common challenges that will ring true with anyone who’s worked in tech. Specifically, recruitment, onboarding and knowledge sharing.

The art of recruitment

Many managers make the mistake of assuming recruiters –external or internal – can handle the whole process of sourcing new talent. However, if candidates are to be properly assessed, their leaders and potential future colleagues need to be heavily involved. A recruitment function that has to serve the whole business is unlikely to have in-depth knowledge or experience of reviewing someone’s ability to code. While you can test cultural fit, the intricacies of smaller teams will only be truly understood by the people working in that department. 

Encouraging opinion and ideas from existing team members can help develop an assessment process which is fair, balanced, replicable and more likely to identify candidates that will gel quickly with other employees. 

Prioritize developer onboarding

Once a candidate has been recruited, they need to be onboarded. While this is one term, it’s actually two processes. First, there’s the part conducted by human resources, the employee orientation might include all the paperwork, processes and compliance lists needed to turn a candidate into a legal part of the business. Second – and more important from a productivity and engagement perspective – is functional onboarding. This focuses on getting new recruits up to speed as quickly as possible and comes down to having a welcoming culture and access to the right equipment and services straight away.

Despite this, organizations continue to spend tens of thousands of dollars and many hours attracting and recruiting new employees, but a fraction of that on onboarding new hires. Employers cannot assume that signing a contract means they can take their foot off the gas – this is just the beginning of the journey. They need to ensure that the onboarding process is smooth and reflective of the business. 

Failing to do so could see them losing the new employees they spent so much resources acquiring in the first place. One study found that employees who had a negative new hire onboarding experience are twice as likely to look for new opportunities soon, while 1 in 5 new hires are unlikely to recommend an employer to a friend or family member following their onboarding. 

Organizational drag is another concern which occurs when growing the team slows down output, as everything becomes exponentially more complex. While growing businesses need to bring in new staff to maintain progression, if they fail to nail onboarding, they can actually find they suffer from a dip in productivity. 

The power of knowledge sharing

Communicating and collaboration are vital elements within a happy, productive team – and it’s as valuable to managers as it is to team members. Leaders must listen, while also creating an environment that prioritizes knowledge sharing. This is especially true in the increasingly remote working world many find themselves in, and it goes beyond simply sharing information within a team, but also extends to how teams communicate with other functions, departments and business units. 

Some managers might feel that they risk over-communicating – in today’s environment, that’s not possible, but it’s important to remember that listening is as much a part of communication as talking is. 

Everyone has a unique perspective or knowledge that is not readily available to others – leaders need to find ways of being able to access that understanding and share it with relevant people across the organization. This is where knowing individuals on the team, their preferences and how confident they are communicating, comes in. Pushing an introvert to give a company-wide presentation is pointless. Instead, opt for sessions with small groups or on a one-to-one basis. 

Unlock tech enablement in 2022

The key to leading successfully nowadays is unlocking tech enablement, which refers to everything that can help your workforce be high-performing at scale. From technical onboarding to knowledge sharing, peer and collaborative learning to mentorship, coaching and documentation. 

It is challenging for technical organizations at the moment; businesses need to be able to harness technology to succeed in today’s marketplaces, and engineering teams are under pressure to contribute to that goal. In this environment, managers need to be hyper-focused on supporting their employees to perform effectively, which in turn puts the focus on these leaders and how they guide, develop and motivate their teams. From recruitment and onboarding to individual guidance and how knowledge is disseminated across the organization, technical leaders are in the driving seat for helping software development teams hum.