If you want to poach-proof your business, start by creating the kind of culture people thrive in.
Poaching staff is one of the harsh realities of the tech world. Competitors are looking to grow their business fast and your employees are talented experts who are already fully trained up. Poaching is basically a super-irritating form of flattery – your competitors want your staff because they’re awesome.
The trouble is, you’ve invested thousands of dollars and hours in that awesomeness, so it’s not something you want to share.
The value of retaining staff is far more than just the cost to replace them. When an employee is poached, you lose knowledge, skills and potential value. You also reshuffle existing work relationships and according to a 2018 Gallup Poll, that can impact everything from productivity to engagement to overall employee wellbeing.
“Far too much attention has been put on finding new people and not nearly enough on keeping the ones you’ve got,” says Anthony Koochew, founder and CEO of Microsoft Cloud experts Azured.
Fact is, you’ve probably nabbed a few employees of your own from time to time, but it still hurts when it happens to you. So, the question is, what do you need to do to poach-proof your business?
Koochew recently shared his top tips for retaining staff at Startup Daily’s From Idea to Unicorn event series. Here’s what this experienced manager, who says “working with good people” was one of his primary goals in starting a business, had to say.
1. Invest in retention
Koochew recommends that the recruitment side of your business spends half their time finding new people and the other half retaining them. That involves having open and regular communication channels that are trustworthy and sincere.
If you want to create a poach-proof culture, find out where the problems areas are, what’s working well and what your staff would change if they could. Then, take action to make things right.
2. Act swiftly and decisively – remove impediments quickly
It’s not enough to listen to your staff’s feedback, you have to act on it. For Koochew, this is often most effectively achieved by taking immediate action on a simple show of hands.
“One of the things I try to do is if it’s something we can do right now… act on it immediately,” he said. “If it’s something small, just fix it, do it there. And then if it’s something bigger, make a plan, commit to it and then… take immediate action.”
3. Remove barriers to work
“This is simple,” said Koochew. “I want my sellers to sell. I want my engineers to engineer. I want my consultants to consult. It’s a really simple idea. I try to get rid of anything that’s in the way.”
That doesn’t mean you’re going to achieve perfection for all job functions straight away.
“I’m gonna make the job as good as I can, but I can easily try and make it as not bad as possible, if you know what I mean.”
4. Realise that there’s no such thing as “business or personal”
“I hate it because to me it’s kind of like, well, you can be a sociopath between the hours of nine and five, but outside of that, ‘I’m a really nice guy,'” Koochew laughed. “That doesn’t sit right with me.”
Koochew is talking about carrying personal integrity into all that a business does. “When we talk about culture and value alignment, people need to know you walk the walk, you talk the talk.”
Any business needs to reflect the values and aspirations of the people who own it and the people who work there. That means that if you say you’re an “environmentally friendly company”, you do things like source your raw materials from sustainable sources and you minimise and responsibly dispose of any waste your business produces. If you’re a “socially responsible” company, you pay a fair living wage and advocate for social change on the way to increasing your stakeholder value.
“When I started the business, I made a commitment that if it didn’t ever align with me, if I did something that made me have to really change my values, that I’d walk away.”
5. Personalise KPIs (or remove them entirely)
In general, Koochew isn’t a big fan of KPIs as they’re not a particularly good measure of the value an employee offers. They’re notoriously difficult to align with business values, leading employees to focus on things that aren’t having the overall impact you’re after. They’re also often convoluted, vague and difficult to measure.
Which is why he sticks with assigning three KPIs at most, if he assigns them at all. “It’s super hard because you always wanna give people more, but three is measurable,” he said. “And then I make sure that whatever they can do, they’re attainable.”
The KPIs Koochew set are more like flexible goals that are able to be stretched if the employee achieves them.
5. Don’t sweat the little things
Koochew is no fan of micromanaging his staff. He believes that if he has to look over people’s shoulder to ensure the work is getting done, they probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.
It cuts both ways. A LinkedIn Learning survey named “micromanagement” as the second most annoying quality in a boss*.
Micromanaging shows an employee that a boss doesn’t trust them and doesn’t rate them. That’s no way to poach-proof your business – in fact, micromanaged staff are more likely to jump ship than any other kind.
In addition, over time, employees learn to depend on being micromanaged and give up ownership of their own work, leading to reduced productivity and diversity of input. Not to mention the increased stress this places on the manager themselves. Micromanaging is exhausting.
*Since you asked: having unclear expectations was the number one frustrating quality in a manager.
6. Hire smart
Which leads Koochew to a salient point: hire people you don’t have to micromanage in the first place. “We can train people on capability, but you can’t train fit.
“It’s far easier to find the right person and train them up, than to get the wrong one and try to make them fit.”
The right cultural fit means you’re hiring people based on a strong likelihood that their core personal values and behaviour will align with your company values and goals. Diversity in people and opinions matter a great deal, but if have a strong handle on your company culture and you’re clear about that during the interview process, you’ll soon know whether a prospective candidate will fit in with your organisation.
7. Recognise great work (and even just good work)
Once you find the right people, noticing when they get things right is a critical step in making them feel appreciated. “It’s about being thoughtful, it’s about being earnest,” noted Koochew. “Not just saying, hey, here’s a gift card, thank you… It’s about being actually specific, calling someone out, calling out what they’ve actually done… hey, what you did there was really awesome.”
As Koochew says, feeling good in your job is not just about money and benefits, it’s about recognition. It’s your boss noticing when you’re gone the extra mile. Or when they take the time to check in to see how things are. It’s basically about being seen and knowing that your efforts matter.
8. Manage expectations
If Koochew was ever going to get a tattoo, he’d have these two words inked: manage expectations. “It’s incredibly important. Manage expectations with customers, employees, whatever you do when you get into your business, the first thing you are gonna know is what you’re gonna do.”
He’s also going to tell you what failure looks like as well as what success will mean. In other words, his staff know exactly what the baseline looks like and the boundaries they are operating within. Being clear about expectations helps employees stay focused, accountable and engaged.
9. Lead from the front
If you’ve read this far, it will come as no surprise to learn that Koochew leads from the front. He calls it an “oldie, but a goodie” because it simply makes common sense.
He’s done every single role in his business – from doing accounts to logging forms to being on calls – so that gives him a “certain amount of authority”. He’s never asked anyone to do anything he hasn’t done himself.
It also gives him a certain amount of understanding and empathy for anyone else doing the jobs. He’s realistic about what he can expect from his employees and he’s also realistic about what they can achieve in any role. He’ll therefore happily take on any job he thinks is too much to ask of an employee.
10. Staying humble
“I consider humility to be like a superpower,” Koochew said. “Because what it allows me to do, and what it allows my team to do, is take feedback from anywhere, any place and any time.”
Koochew invites feedback into every aspect of his business. Then he quietly assesses it for accuracy and implements it wherever it makes sense. Staying humble to Koochew means being objective about the feedback he receives – from customers, suppliers and, most importantly, staff. It’s about being open to other people’s opinions and less precious about your own.
“The last thing you want is to be in the way of yourself,” he said.
For more info on Anthony and Azured’s Microsoft Cloud specialist services for businesses, head to azured.com.au.
Watch Anthony’s From Idea to Unicorn session here:
This article is brought to you by Startup Daily in partnership with Azured.
Daily startup news and insights, delivered to your inbox.