“What Do You Mean They Quit?!” Don’t Give Your Engineers a Reason to Leave with Notion’s Head of Engineering: Michael Manapat, Change.org’s CTO: Elaine Zhou, and Plato’s CEO: Quang Hoang (Video)

The competition for engineers is fiercer than ever — and that means that companies need to work harder than ever to attract and retain them. Each company approaches this challenge uniquely, but there are a few features consistent in every workplace that are hard to leave.

Co-founder and CEO of Plato, Quong Hoang, the #1 mentoring platform for engineering leaders, helped moderate a discussion between CTO of Change.org, Elaine Zhou, and Head of Engineering at Notion, Michael Manapat, on this subject. Everyone involved has experienced these struggles firsthand, and what they say may help inform how you treat the engineers on your team.

#1. Focus on retaining your engineers from day one

In Silicon Valley, the average tenure for an engineer is eighteen months, and one-third of new hires leave after only six months. The reasons for this kind of nomadism can be complex—compensation, a growing remote-first workplace, morale, or a company’s reputation might contribute to their decision to leave. But these are terrifying odds for start-ups looking to build a strong team.

For a company like Change.org, its non-profit mission doesn’t allow them to retain engineers with the same kind of carrots — like stock options — as other companies. As a result, the company more often foregrounds its mission, which they stress in every part of the hiring process, from the initial job descriptions to the interview to the onboarding process.

Notion, meanwhile, begins with what Manapat calls a “mission alignment check” to see if the prospective engineer values tool-building as much as Notion does as a company. They also work to see if the engineer desires to build a product and not just implement technology. And finally, Notion conducts a “craft and value” interview, in which they determine if the applicant’s past work aligns with Notion’s values. 

#2. Empower your engineers to excel in their roles

Enticing your staff to stick around for the long haul is no small task. But for Notion’s Manapat, retention of engineers boils down to three main criteria:

  • Company Success. Companies must prove they have the growth, revenue, and users to warrant serious talent. How do they sufficiently value and compensate an engineer’s skills in such a competitive market?
  • Individual Growth. Engineers want to see how their work affects the company. How can you show them that their labor doesn’t exist in a vacuum?
  • Career Growth. Notion’s formal leveling system helps employees track their progress in real-time and know whether it aligns with their goals. What professional benchmarks do your employees need to know to ensure they’re in the right place?

Its relatively limited resources, however, have driven Change.org to focus more on an engineer’s individual goals and aspirations. This can take many forms but often involve either external coaching (especially at the senior level, often with a very targeted focus) or internal mentoring (in which senior engineers can impart their skills and knowledge to their more junior cohort). Just as much as sheer growth, some companies must focus on engagement.

#3. How to build a culture where people don’t want to leave

As many options as engineers might have, most people don’t want to wander from job to job or city to city forever. On a purely human level, most employees like to settle down if they find a place that feels like home.

One place where Notion and Change.org differ, however, is their approach to transparency. This debate is nothing new: Google, for example, publicly lists each employee, whereas companies like Stripe have private levels.

Notion prefers the latter approach because they hope it puts the focus more on their content rather than the hierarchy within the company. Change.org, unsurprisingly, believes that transparency more closely aligns with its mission, in addition to encouraging engagement within the company itself.

Whether through compensation or collaboration, there is no shortage of levers or measures by which a company can attract and retain quality talent. So, what approach fits best for your mission?

#4. Key Takeaways

How can you attract the talent you won’t have to replace a year or two down the line?

In such a competitive space, engineers can no longer be wooed purely by financial incentives. They need to know not only that their work is valued but that their values are, as well. As a company, you need to invest as much in your employee’s personal growth as they do.

The best companies can feel like a family, and healthy families support each other and their dreams. So even if your engineers might leave the nest eventually, it’s incumbent on your company culture to ensure that they will never regret the time they spent with you.

More like this at 2022 SaaStr Annual, Sep 13-15 in SF Bay Area!!

Published on July 18, 2022

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