Katarzyna Pachocka-Nowok
VP of Operations
Magdalena Jackiewicz
Editorial Expert
Magdalena Jackiewicz
Reviewed by a tech expert

Employee retention strategies: how we provide our software devs with ample professional development opportunities

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Employees are quitting their jobs or planning to do so at record levels. McKinsey took a closer look at this phenomenon and found there are three equally important reasons for resignations: the feeling of job insecurity, having disengaged and incompetent leaders and lack of professional growth potential. 

In this article, we’d like to share our strategies for ensuring our devs and other staff members have plenty of development opportunities that keep them happy and tied to our company. Many of our developers have stayed and grown with us for years – 73% of them hold senior positions, so we can safely say that our approach works! Having a structured approach to employee retention helps us keep our top talents on board and allows to create dedicated, industry specific teams and offer top-notch staff augmentation services.

We have two development paths and make all the efforts necessary to ensure these actually run in parallel, depending on individual needs. We’re focusing separately on soft skill development and tech skill development.

Soft skill development strategies

Our soft skill development strategies are intended for those employees who would benefit from strengthening specific interpersonal skills – be it because they have just joined our dev team, moved to a different project or advanced to a new role. Here’s how we support their personal growth:

The Clifton Strengths Finder test

You may think that what's-my-personality type of tests are overrated, but we beg to differ. It’s a matter of having the right approach. The Clifton Strengths Finder test (aka Gallup test) requires individuals to answer a set of 177 questions designed to uncover an individual’s top strengths. As such, it’s a powerful self-awareness builder that focuses on positive aspects of one’s personality.

We don’t force any of our employees to take the test, but only invite them to do so. The point is to actually work with employees who want to take it, instead of forcing everyone to take a test they don’t want and label them with the results – it’s a perfect scenario for making sure the employee doesn’t understand the results and doesn’t care about them either.

When it comes to the Clifton Strengths Finder test, we focus on three different paths:

Individual path

To help our employees better understand what competencies they should focus on in their professional growth, we invite them to take the Clifton Strengths Finder test to identify an individual’s top 5 talents, which we then explore in-depth. We never force anyone to take the test, however, as this approach usually backfires and doesn’t bring anything constructive.

The test is used to indicate the direction of development, the talent can be used to consciously plan the career path. Being aware of one’s strengths helps people to apply those strengths to support their career path, no matter if they want to become a manager, a tech lead or an architect.

Group path

The tests are also immensely useful when building new teams. By identifying specific personal traits, we help team members get to know and understand each other better. This in turn helps prevent certain conflicts that may occur because someone was unable to understand another person’s reactions.

Leadership path

Finally, we use the Clifton Strengths Finder test to help leaders identify talents within the teams they manage. They learn about their own talents and then learn to recognize them in their team members. For instance, if the majority of the team members tend to think analytically and the manager tends to focus on task execution, he should then know to be patient with his employees as they may need a bit more time to think the task through, before they start executing it.

Feedback workshops

Our company embraces the culture of feedback - this is always a two-way, non-violent communication focused on improvement. That improvement refers to both skills and the quality of our projects and is something that is present in our day-to-day work life.

We have experienced numerous situations where an employee joined our team and they were either scared of feedback or review sessions, or were reluctant to voice their opinions because they had bad experiences at previous companies. We fight with that. We hire top talent because we want to hear their opinion, we want to be sure that if they know a better solution to a problem we are currently working on, they will say what it is. It’s the key component to professional growth.

To this end, we organize regular workshops that teach participants how to give constructive feedback and implement it into their daily work life. These workshops are also used to promote non-violent communication and peaceful conflict resolution.

Dedicated workshops

Another way we use to boost employee retention are free workshops that are tailored to the different types of needs. We provide three types of workshops:

General workshops

These workshops are available to anyone and are dedicated to developing basic competencies that can be considered as universally useful. They include communication, emotional intelligence in the workplace, wellbeing in the workplace and lots of different topics. Our staff members can sign up for them whenever they want.

Leadership workshops

These workshops are dedicated to junior leaders or those who aspire to advance to that role. The sessions include team management, public speaking, self-management, self-development and other related topics.

Advanced leadership workshops

Current leaders and senior managers have the opportunity to join workshops oriented at developing advanced leadership skills. Last year alone, we conducted over 12 dedicated sessions during which we had trained a total of 50 people. They gave these workshops an overall rating of 4.9/5.0, which proves that these workshops bring value.

Coaching and mediator support

On rare occasions, serious communication problems can occur that will prevent conflict resolution. In those situations, we invite our internal mediator to step in, so that we don’t waste time and effectiveness while we continue to execute our projects. The mediator analyzes the perspective of all parties involved and works to achieve a solution that is satisfactory to everyone. If the process reveals that one or more employees would benefit from regular coaching sessions, we also provide those, as required.

Business English classes

Those of our employees who work directly with foreign clients and don’t yet feel at ease with leading a meeting or having a day-to-day conversation are offered free-of-charge language classes as part of their work time.

Tech skill development strategies

These employee retention strategies are applied in those scenarios where an employee wants to advance their career but miss specific technical skills, or they have just joined another team and would benefit from developing additional skills. In those cases, we provide our employees with:

Mentorship program

This is a structured program we launched last year; it’s oriented at helping developers on their career path through exchange of knowledge with more experienced employees. Employees who want to benefit from this program are assigned a dedicated Mentor (we currently have 8 Mentors who cover different technical areas) who overlook their daily work for a maximum of 3 months. Throughout this time, the Mentee will be working closely with their Mentor, looking at how he approaches specific tasks or they will be programming jointly. The Mentee may also be assigned specific tasks to solve on their own and the Mentor will offer code review, consultations and anything else that will help the Mentee acquire new or boost their existing skills.

One of the greatest advantages of this program is that both the Mentor and Mentee work on client projects and solve real-life tasks, rather than random assignments. It begins with setting clear goals for the entire program and ends with setting up further, short-term goals. Our employees highly value this program as they can learn in practice directly from more experienced peers and they have a vast portfolio of skills to choose from.

The mentorship program is oriented at helping employees make the next step in their career advancement. If they go through the Mentorship program successfully, they advance from a junior to mid-level position, or make a transition between technologies.

Training budget

Every employee at RST has an annual budget dedicated specifically to professional development. Every employee is free to spend however they wish (as long as it covers an activity that supports their personal growth), so our HR department purchases access to workshops, online training, books, webinars or covers participation in conferences. If a dev wants to broaden their skills from one of our core technologies and the specific course they’re interested in extends that budget, we are prepared to cover those extra costs as well.

Our unique approach to talent development

When we look back at the McKinsey study mentioned earlier in the article, we can find out how employees understand the lack of growth opportunities. It means they felt: (i) they couldn’t achieve their career goals, (ii) did not have the opportunity to advance in their roles or (iii) felt that their employer wasn’t investing in developing their skills and potential.

To make sure we minimize these resignation factors, we’ve interwoven 3 principles into our daily work life as well as the growth opportunities we offer. All of them are of equal importance:

We ensure internal mobility opportunities

Internal mobility plays a tremendously important role in professional growth as well as employee retention, because it means employees can pursue their career goals and/or advance in their roles. Therefore, we enable our employees to look for new roles within our company at any stage of their career at RST. That concerns developing soft skills, technical skills and leadership skills as well.

With this approach, our employees are free to experiment and try working in different roles. If at the end of the trial period they decide the career path isn’t actually for them, they can return to working in their previous position. In practice, it means that if a technical person is considering a shift to a leadership position, they will receive comprehensive support of an HR Guide and dedicated training sessions throughout their journey. The potential transition process will be planned in cooperation with the HR Guide who will also ensure their previous position remains vacant until an agreed trial period in the new role ends.

We ensure ‘top-down’ professional development opportunities

The top-down approach to development is dedicated to those employees who aren’t certain about their preferred growth path, or aren’t fully aware that they’re missing certain skills while their supervisors or other team members see that. This is where the role of an HR Guide comes into play (more about it in this article). HR has a wide scope of responsibility in our company in that it’s also responsible for coordinating employees’ career progression by indicating possible directions.

To this end, the HR Guide will be interacting with architects and leaders to find out if any of their team members would perhaps benefit from additional tech training. Architects will also flag cases in which an employee could be a good fit for a new team once an ongoing project concludes but would have to develop new skills in order to succeed. Since architects know the devs they work with, they are the best source of knowledge on the potential and strengths of our tech team members.

In such situations, an HR Guide and an architect will consult the employee in question to find out if they would be interested in developing their career in a specific direction. This is coupled with a detailed explanation of what the process would look like, what the role would involve and what measures need to be taken to ensure that transition. However, we never enforce any training or direction of growth without having the employee express their interest in that path (that’s why I put the ‘top-down’ approach in parentheses). If an employee does express their interest, we usually refer them to our mentorship program.

We ensure bottom-up professional development opportunities

Once again, the role of an HR Guide is crucial to ensuring employees can pursue their preferred career path. The Guides will speak with our employees on a regular basis to listen to their needs and preferences. When an employee is sure about the direction of their growth path, the dedicated HR Guide will be responsible for planning that path with them and providing the employee any tools and measures necessary to implement that plan. They will also be overlooking the overall progress of the process and help to solve any issues that may arise.

HR Guides at RST have a maximum of 40 employees they ‘supervise’ (not 100+, like in the case of larger companies), so that they can actually find time for meaningful conversations. They ask employees about their preferred professional development path but also observe them, see how they behave in a team or how they build relations with clients. These activities will be primarily focused on developing the soft skills.

RST’s employee retention strategies

We’re hoping this article provided you with useful insights on the methods we implement to keep our employees on board for years and help them hone their skills while they keep working on our clients’ projects and augment external teams. We believe that professional growth of our dev team is crucial to constantly elevating the quality of our projects, following tech best practices and standards, as well as ensuring quality staff augmentation services. Thanks to our strategies, our employees are equipped with excellent tech skills (not only related to specific technologies such as React, React Native or Node.JS, but also specific industry verticals. We have dedicated teams that specialize in location-based services development, chat app development, media streaming development or data visualization - all of them are also equipped with solid interpersonal abilities necessary to maximize your internal teams.

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