Aiming for Longer Tenures

The average tenure for software engineers and other tech professions has been around two years for a while now. We seem to have accepted this as an axiom, but I beg to differ. If you’re looking to create world-class teams with an incredible impact-per-engineer, you need a strategic effort to make your tech people’s average tenure closer to 3-3.5 years. Why? How? Let’s get into it.

Are Longer Tenures Really That Beneficial?

Some things benefit from being given due time to develop. That includes talent and people. Extending tenures is a win-win situation with benefits all over.

First, the company gets to have a team that has better proficiency and experience. That immediately translates to a better ROI per employee. Many companies want to invest in better onboarding and training but find it challenging to do so when people leave so quickly.

This experience leads to a deeper, more profound impact. People who have had the time to learn the market, business, and product tend to have more mature and innovative ideas. It is rarely the case that a newcomer comes up with a radical take.

The other side of the coin here is that those employees become more profound as well. Like a character in a good book, they get a chance to become well-rounded. A career made up of short stints is how I see “senior” engineers who didn’t partake in all stages of projects. Staying on for longer increases the chances of experiencing greenfield projects and handling projects that have had time to grow more complex and stale. There aren’t a lot of companies that had their brightest, most successful moments during their first two years.

Similarly, longer horizons mean that coaching becomes that much more impactful. Employees get a chance to mentor the next generation rather than give them a high-five on the way out. Managers have the time to practice genuine career-developing coaching, and the company can more freely invest in its talent.

Steps Forward

Now, assuming I’ve helped you see the benefits (if they weren’t clear to begin with), the question becomes, how do you make that happen? It’s not like you were pushing people out the door. Well, at least not intentionally. In order to make people want to stay on for longer, it is leadership’s role to make people feel comfortable, but not too comfortable, and see that they are growing.

If we say that the benefits include genuine, career-propelling coaching, we have to walk the talk. Each of your managers should be practicing extremely active coaching. Every employee should be setting growth goals and getting help in achieving them. If you’re nodding along while reading this, I advise that you take a second and honestly reflect on how well your leadership team is doing in this regard. A sizeable portion of engineers who leave early aren’t looking for higher pay (and the current market conditions might help relieve that problem as well) but aren’t feeling valued or not seeing themselves growing and receiving attention.

Next, you should also put in place career paths for individual contributors that provide a path of least resistance for career development. It might feel “corporate,” but it can incredibly simplify coaching and reduce turnover. When the only forms of promotion are to management roles, which naturally are limited, you’ll see disappointed people leave someplace else. Compare that to an environment where an ambitious engineer can precisely see which steps she should take to be promoted to the next level.

Setting this up also is also a preventive measure. It creates better expectation setting with potential hires, reducing the chances of bringing on someone in a rush somewhere. Again, the current market trend might make it easier to “educate” hires, so use that to your advantage.

Lastly, I want to clarify that one shouldn’t take this too far. Don’t aim to have people stay at all costs. Attrition, within reason, is healthy for organizations. Having leaders and senior employees make space for others helps inject a fresh perspective. Companies where no one ever leaves are more likely to go into stasis.

If you’re looking for more practical ways to make your team better, reach out or check out the London Leadership Leap this July: An exclusive masterclass for tech executives who want to propel themselves to newer heights, dramatically improve their performance, and start on the path to triple impact-per-engineer.