*NO PING PONG TABLE REQUIRED the one simple secret that made 96% of our developers love their jobs

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1 *NO PING PONG TABLE REQUIRED the one simple secret that made 96% of our developers love their jobs Written by Ryan Chartrand, CEO of X-Team, a global developer resourcing company that provides full-time developers to companies.

2 Introduction If you lead a team of developers, chances are you ve lost some sleep dreaming about your lead developer getting up and leaving one day out of boredom. Google & Amazon, for example, certainly have that fear, as on average, their developers tend to only stick around for one year. But why? We ve read the management books, we know how to keep people around, don t we? Why is it so hard to keep developers happy? WHAT WE THINK KEEPS DEVELOPERS HAPPY: Autonomy Flexibility Frequent Feedback Great Pay Cool Perks etc. And certainly having these sorts of things can help keep a developer more engaged, satisfied and fulfilled in their job. But they can still result in poor satisfaction results. At X-Team, we had all of those criteria and more, yet satisfaction surveys were far from stellar, our environment was stale, and although developers were productive, they weren t fulfilled. I was still staying up at night fearful that one of our rockstar lead developers would leave at any moment.

3 The Simple Secret But then I discovered one simple secret that made 96% of our developers love their job. (Hint: it wasn t a ping pong table) And like any simple secret, it s going to sound like a no-brainer. In fact, it s likely you re going to be shocked you re not already doing this. So here s the secret in three pretty takeaway sentences that you can plaster on your office wall: Ask them their career goals. Commit to helping them achieve a set of their goals on a set timeline. Deliver on that promise.

4 Ask them their career goals Although step one seems obvious, chances are you haven t actually done it with all of your developers. We thought we knew our developers goals, too, but quickly realized we d been making a lot of assumptions. Their goals also weren t explicitly defined between us, and we had no idea of the timeline in which they hoped to achieve them. We thought one developer s goal was to keep creating innovative Drupal modules. That s what made him happy. Nope. His goal was to open a school to help teach the homeless how to code. Every dollar he earned, every new language he learned, every commit he made...was to get him closer to that goal. And we had no idea about it, because we never asked. Prepare for a jaw drop Not only did their responses shock us the more we dug into their goals, but most of those goals were selfless; they wanted to gain skills that would allow them to help others, either through inspiration, teaching or more direct ways. In doing this exercise of asking developers their goals, we discovered new values within our culture; we learned how important being selfless is to our team. But most importantly, we learned what value they expect from their relationship with us.

5 THE MOST IMPORTANT THING TO REALIZE Great developers decide to work for you because they expect to grow. They re expecting to grow while with you. That s the value they expect from the relationship, and the second they feel like they aren t growing, they will leave. In a talent shortage (as we have today in tech), great developers have the upper hand, and it s up to you to come to the table providing this sort of value.

6 Commit to their goals on a timeline By committing to helping them achieve some of their goals, you re doing something very, very few companies do. You re creating a relationship now where both sides receive explicit value. You get their development help and commitment, and they get your help in growing and moving forward in their careers. This is also a great opportunity to better define your explicit expectations of them. For example, our developers must commit to delivering an extraordinary level of communication & quality to our partners, in return for the value we ll provide them in helping them achieve their goals. You re creating a relationship now where both sides receive explicit value.

7 Be careful what goals you decide to commit to Some goals are very specific and explicit, and others can be much broader and actually contain several goals within an overall goal. Break broad goals into smaller goals that can be achieved in a realistic timeline. EXPLICIT GOAL Get AWS certified. BROAD GOAL Start teaching AWS to other developers. How involved you get in those goals is up to you and what resources you have in your company. For example, if a developer wants to start teaching/mentoring, if you have an HR department with Learning & Development staff, see if you can connect them with a mentor. Resources don t have to come from within though; there are tons of resources online, some free, some paid. Find out how they would like you to contribute to that goal, and then commit to what you can (based on time & budget). Break broad goals into smaller goals that can be achieved in a realistic timeline.

8 Be careful when creating a Growth Timeline Committing to goals is great, but it means nothing if you don t ever get around to delivering on that commitment. That s why it s critical that you explicitly state a timeline in which you will deliver on your promise. For example, if their goal is to get AWS certified, commit to a timeline of helping prep them for the certification and set a date for when the exam will be taken. All too often, developers ask engineering managers for support, and hear something like this: Don t be a Lumbergh: Commit to a timeline, get it on the calendar, get the budget squared away if money is needed, and start delivering on your promises. When you do, they ll deliver on theirs. The world s best developers leave companies because they get tired of waiting to grow. Don t be that company. Commit to a growth timeline.

9 Deliver on your commitment So their goals are explicity defined on a set timeline and you ve committed to helping them; now it s time to deliver and make them aware of it. One of the keys to any sort of employee satisfaction initiative is making sure that they have a visual representation of their growth. When you can show them visually how they re growing while with you, they have little reason to convince themselves to quit. We went so far as to even build a web app to help our developers have a visual sense of their progress that they can access at any time:

10 Deliver on your commitment We plot their goals on a path as individual, creatively named goal cards. Whenever they achieve a goal, we mark it achieved (Green) and other developers get to jump in and write congratulatory comments. Over time, developers started to compete to achieve more goals and grow more than their teammates. Some developers even try to have the longest path of goals to show how big their dreams are. Just check out how long this goals path is!

11 Deliver on your commitment Once you have developers achieving goals, set up a channel in Slack dedicated to celebrating when goals are achieved. When everyone chimes in to give each other high-fives and congrats! messages, the environment of your team will be stronger and more positive than ever before. An environment of growth is, simply put, addicting. Set up a channel in Slack/Skype/Hipchat dedicated to celebrating achieving goals.

12 How to make this really effective We believe so much in this method that we actually hired a team of people to focus solely on it (we have 1 dedicated person per every 20 developers). This team helps each developer realize their goals (if they aren t sure of them), plot them on a path as individual steps, find resources to help them achieve them, and most importantly, bug the heck out of them to make sure they actually work toward their goals. And it s that last bit that makes all the difference. Developers, like most humans today, find it very hard to find time and motivation to work on their careers and goals. We all know we should be writing more blog posts, or contributing to more open source projects, or mentoring others more. Do we have time? Not really. But if you break each goal into very simple, small steps and then bug them often to take one of those steps, they eventually grow and are beyond grateful that you pushed them to do it. Become the coach in their head that helps them fight thoughts of quitting on their goals.

13 HAPPINESS ISN T A RESULT OF SETTING GOALS Happiness is a result of achieving goals. And achieving goals doesn t happen without a lot of nudging and pushing, and this is where you ll need to decide whether you want to take on that responsibility, or if you want to hire someone to do it. Even if it s just a part-time intern, the budget required to achieve these results is minimal compared to the cost of losing a great developer in crunch time.

14 What about when things get rough? Projects can get rough sometimes, and when they do, it s hard to keep people perfectly happy. Our 96% satisfaction rate accounts for those few developers in a bumpy project. But we ve all been through rough patches with projects. Do we quit when the times get rough? Not usually, unless it s happening often. Rough patches do, however, trigger us to question our jobs and whether we should stick around. But ask yourself this: who leaves a company that is helping them grow and achieve their goals? I m going to quit because this company is committed to me and helping me gain new skills and achieve goals that will help me grow my career, said no one ever. People don t quit companies that are committed to helping them reach the next stage of their career. If you aren t delivering on that committment, then you can rest assured they will indeed quit when the going gets rough. The key is to keep delivering on your promise, and on the explicit timeline that was agreed upon. Always reset expectations if timelines change so the relationship won t be damaged. Who would leave a company that s helping them grow and achieve their goals?

15 The company we ve always wanted We ve aligned now at a level with our developers that creates an important bond; it lets them know we re committed to the relationship and their future. Most companies will just keep churning through projects without ever caring to align their goals with their developer s goals. That only causes burnout and unhappy developers who never grow. This method has allowed us to create the company we ve always wanted, where each developer has a clear path that shows them the value they get out of their time with us; that we ll be there as a partner in helping them achieve their goals. Being surrounded by people who are always growing and striving to unleash the best in themselves, and to help each other do it together, is nothing short of inspiring and powerful. An environment of growth is hard to stay away from. Simply put, it s addicting.

16 Want to work with developers who love their jobs? X-Team provides full-time developers to companies looking to scale their development teams with trusted, high quality and happy developers. Join these companies who use X-Team This journey started for me after reading one incredible book called The Alliance, written by the leadership team at LinkedIn. The relationship I described above between employer and developer is inspired by The Alliance framework for how to recruit, manage and retain talent in the modern age.

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