How to hire the best talent and keep them happy and productive Part 1

Fernando Villalba 23rd June 2017

This blog is the first part of a series which will discuss what to do when hiring the best talent. The second blog will explain what you should be doing once the employee has joined the company and how you can keep their motivation and happiness high across your business in order to get the best out of your team and develop a strong DevOps culture.

First, let me make an important distinction between two kinds of companies:

  • One sees employees as a liability, something they grudgingly must pay for to get by,
  • The other sees employees as the reason for its greatness.

While this distinction may seem somewhat academic, and most companies will fall somewhere in the middle, the way a company sees their employees will define how it will treat them and how happy and productive they are likely to be. A company should work as an organic entity where all employees are vital to its success and you should treat all of them as a valuable asset, not something that’s expensive to maintain who you would gladly drop if you could.

Organisations should want to have a strong DevOps culture, with great talent being scarce, you need to keep motivation and happiness high in order to get the best out of your team and stop them from defecting to other companies.

Here are some things you can do to achieve this:

Give them purpose and autonomy

Many people are already familiar with Daniel Pink’s book called Drive, or his Ted Talk. In it, he makes a very compelling argument. Backed by numerous experiments, he argues that people tend to perform best when they are given high incentives for a dull or repetitive task that requires motor skills and no thinking, but perform worst when cognition and creative thinking is required to complete the task.

His book highlights three factors that motivate employees much more than money (as long as the money is enough so they don’t have to worry about their financial needs);

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

When you are hiring employees, you should always make sure that their goals somewhat align with yours, and be very honest about what you expect them to be doing. You don’t want to oversell here; it is important to manage expectations initially so the employee doesn’t resent being sold a position that’s nothing like he wanted and hence do a disgruntled job.

The goal or the purpose doesn’t need to be clearly defined but your employee should at least have enough autonomy to affect the course of this and be able to create his own goals that align with yours.

Autonomy should be granted once a task is given; don’t micromanage and oversee every little detail, and if the employee has time and encouragement to work on his own pet projects, he may surprise you by bringing some great ideas and solutions to your company.

Offer career advancement opportunities (mastery) 

One of the top reasons why employees leave a company is because of the limited career opportunities and because they feel their progress is being halted. This is not necessarily craving for bigger titles, but they may want to get better at what they do, to improve their skills considerably. Your company should offer an engaging task or objective that allows employees to learn and progress a lot whilst on the job, ideally combined with some training.

Give recognition 

Have you ever worked at a company where you did an amazing job time and again but you never got any sort of recognition for it? Let’s say you worked on an intense project for two weeks and did long hours and at the end produced an amazing result yet it seemed like everyone took it for granted. Did that feel good?

Some Spartans of the task may say that the joy should merely stem from the job itself, and it’s true that this does cause satisfaction as well. However, being told by your colleagues and your bosses that “you did a great thing there” really feels good and adds validation to the task. Even if that recognition is just a pat on the back, it’s better than nothing.

There are several methods to give this recognition and you can get many ideas online, such as office applause (okay maybe a little extravagant), online tools, awards, gifts in the form of hours or days off, vouchers – basically any way you can think to give recognition is better than no recognition at all. And remember the rewards don’t need to be pecuniary  and you don’t have to give it lightly, but when it is rightfully deserved, otherwise it will lose meaning

Pay them as much as you can 

Always pay an employee what you feel he or she is worth, and try to beat market rate if you can. Engineers that work in the DevOps realm are in very high demand and the last thing you want is for them to go looking at job boards and finding out how little they are getting paid in comparison. You also don’t want them to worry about finances, when they should be worrying about doing a great job for you.

If your company doesn’t have the budget and you really cannot provide a better salary than others, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, but at least try to compensate in some other ways such as giving your employees a great purpose, and the autonomy to do meaningful work. Your employees can be very understanding of your financial situation, especially if they feel that you are not deliberately undercutting them and you are doing your best to keep them happy.

Remember, it is okay to start someone at a lower salary if you are still unsure of their worth, let’s say if that person still doesn’t have a lot of experience. But if that employee is doing a great job and you are able to offer them more money, do so before they ask. Employees are less likely to leave if you do take this route, rather than offering a pay rise once they have already made up their mind to leave and it’s too late.

Note that this is not about paying employees millions or giving them bonuses for everything they do. This is about paying them enough money so they don’t have to worry about their financial problems and can therefore concentrate on their job more efficiently.

Give them benefits they care about  

In my experience, I’ve applied to some jobs where the benefits that were offered to me were not benefits at all. For example, one company offered a loan to buy a bicycle – I don’t cycle, and even if I did, I am able to afford a bike without needing a loan. In another one they offered to give you a loan to pay for yearly transport, which also for me, I didn’t see a great benefit, although maybe some would disagree with me there.

Great incentives are those that benefit the majority. For example, providing free meals, regular social events, health insurance, gym memberships or vouchers can be seen as effective method to entice you to apply because they can be used by anyone. If your benefits only helps a few people, or, if they are not a gift, but a loan, then you are not going to entice a lot of people, it would just be waffle within the  employee package.

You don’t have to spend millions on these incentives; that really depends on your budget which you may want to spend on providing a higher salary . But if you are going to provide a benefit, make it one that can be used by most people!

Look out for my next blog which can be found here!

Do get in touch if you’re interested in discussing what’s involved in our DevOps Maturity Assessment or if you have any questions for us. We’d love the chance to discuss how we can help you in your adoption of DevOps. 


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