Last night I attended a DartBoston talk with RueLaLa CTO Susan Standiford, interviewed by Terrible Labs’ Cort Johnson. It was a fun and wide ranging discussion, but the bits that stuck out to me were around how Standiford approached the question of retaining technical talent at Rue.
Below are three very wise points she made that many companies can learn from:
Don’t forget to help your best people grow
After describing a fairly intricate review matrix on which her team assesses employees, she pointed out the value of figuring out who the true superstars on the team are. But it’s important not to just give them accolades, raises, and pats on the back, she emphasized. Often, it’s natural to do this, and to focus on growing the other employees to get them to the same level. But superstars need to grow, too. In fact, they usually want to, and want to be at a place that will help them do so.
Create tracks for advancement other than management
This relates to the point above, but Standiford said one change she made at Rue was to emphasize the availability of a “Principle Engineer” track, so that star developers could grow their roles without feeling forced to go into management. An employee’s span of influence and span of control don’t have to be the same thing, she said. By that she meant that a manager controls a number of individuals, and thereby has significant influence. But by creating the Principle Engineer track, she aims to let those whose sphere of control is more limited still have a major influence on the company.
Maslow’s hierarchy of technology needs
Standiford emphasized the importance of understanding what motivates your employees, and she likened the motivations of engineers to the famous psychological paradigm, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. In that hierarchy, humans start with basic physiological and safety concerns, and once those are accounted for, begin to be more concerned with self-esteem, belonging, and self-actualization.
Though she didn’t formalize the comparison, I can imagine drawing something similar for technology workers. At the base of the pyramid there’s a focus on job security, working conditions, etc. As you move up, there’s concern over working on interesting problems, being able to learn and grow, and to be recognized for their work.