Start-up technology retention concerns

Q: I am a senior manager supervising a group of IT engineers. My company is small with some, but very limited, plans for growth. The growth is projected in 2012. I worry about retaining these employees. They are all smart, eager and are looking for advancement. There are very few rungs above their current positions. We are doing ok financially but don’t have tons of money to spend. Any suggestions? I have never seen a question like this answered so I hope I get picked to receive an answer.

A: Attracting, retaining and even more importantly, engaging, information technology (IT) professionals has been a challenge for the last 20 years, especially in IT-rich hubs like the Boston area. Here are some tips on how to best engage your best employees:


– Compensation. Pay is important but it is not the only factor. For employees to be engaged, their pay must be fair and reasonable. Without a fair and competitive, compensation system, engaging employees is even more challenging.

– Career Development. Employers often struggle with the concept of career development, especially in entrepreneurial companies. Many companies offer a range of training opportunities to their employees to keep them learning and keep their skills fresh. Tuition reimbursement, internal training programs and attendance at conferences and seminars are what we most often see being offered. We have a few clients who are offering “Training Accounts” to employees. Employee are able to access these accounts and use the funds for training of their choice (subject to a supervisor’s approval).

– Career paths. It is difficult to offer a career path with as many steps as large corporations. A few of our clients are developing 4-5 levels that offer their employees some upward mobility. More of our clients are also rewarding those employees who move laterally – especially if they are adding value to a project or are learning a new skill. For those who have “maxed out,” additional training opportunities can be offered as well as compensating that senior-level individual to serve as a mentor to others.


– Work/life benefits. Particularly in technology companies, we are seeing clients use work/life benefits more fully as a way to compensate IT professionals. Some of our clients permit telecommuting on a specific day of the week for some roles. Some offers flexible work hours as long as “core” work hours are covered. Most of clients have moved to a business casual dress environment at least one day per week if not more.

Don Schiavone, Chief Operating Officer of Grasshopper Group in Needham, MA shares his experiences:

One of the things we have been successful at doing here is creating an environment that fosters leaders, not managers. What I mean by this is that we will often present our IT team with a business issue and challenge them with solving it. Our leadership team won’t tell them what to do or how to do it, but rather provides them with whatever resources they need to be successful. With this approach, you do not need to provide more and more ‘rungs’ in the corporate ladder to climb, which just do not exist in a small company. Instead, you create a culture of autonomous leadership that can pull your company into new directions using the innovative capabilities they will invariably develop.

Grasshopper Group is relying on much of the research that many of us know but sometimes ignore in our daily work lives. The joy of completing the task is what motivates many of us. It is the ultimate reward to face a complex business challenge, work creatively and passionately, and find a viable solution. Many of us humans are intrinsically motivated by other things than just money, a title or some other type of extrinsic reward.

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