How to Create an Anti-Poaching Culture at a Tech Company
If you want to protect your business from poaching, start by creating the kind of culture people thrive in.
Staff poaching is one of the harsh realities of the tech world. Competitors are looking to grow their business quickly, and your employees are talented experts who are already fully trained. Poaching is basically a super irritating form of flattery – your competitors want your staff because they’re awesome.
The problem is, you’ve invested thousands of dollars and hours into this wonder, so it’s not something you want to share.
The value of retaining staff is more than just the cost of replacing them. When an employee is poached, you lose knowledge, skills and potential value. You’re also reshaping existing working relationships, and according to a 2018 Gallup poll, this can impact everything from productivity to engagement to overall employee well-being.
“Too much focus has been placed on finding new people and not enough on retaining the ones you have,” says Anthony Koochew, founder and CEO of Microsoft Cloud Azured Experts.
The thing is, you’ve probably hired a few employees from time to time, but it still hurts when it happens to you. So the question is, what should you do to protect your business from poaching?
Koochew recently shared his top tips for retaining staff at Startup Daily’s From Idea to Unicorn event series. Here’s what this seasoned manager, who says “working with good people” was one of his main goals when starting a business, had to say.
1. Invest in retention
Koochew recommends that the recruiting side of your business spend half of its time finding new people and the other half retaining them. This means having open and regular communication channels that are trustworthy and sincere.
If you want to create a poaching-proof culture, find out where the problems are, what’s working well, and what your staff would change if they could. Then take action to make things right.
2. Act quickly and decisively – quickly remove obstacles
It’s not enough to listen to your staff’s feedback, you need 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’m trying to do is if this is something we can do now…act immediately,” he said. “If it’s something small, fix it, get it there. And then, if it’s something bigger, make a plan, commit, and then…act immediately.
3. Remove work barriers
“It’s simple,” Koochew said. “I want my salespeople to sell. I want my engineers to do engineering. I want my consultants to consult. It’s a very simple idea. I try to get rid of everything that bothers me.
This does not mean that you will immediately achieve perfection for all functions.
“I’m going to do the job as well as I can, but I can easily try to make it as good as I can, if you know what I mean.”
4. Realize there is no such thing as “professional or personal”
“I hate it because to me it’s kind of like, well, you can be a sociopath between nine and five, but outside of that, ‘I’m a really nice guy,'” Koochew laughed. . “That does not suit me.”
Koochew talks about bringing personal integrity to everything a company does. “When we talk about culture and values alignment, people need to know that you walk, you talk.”
Any business should reflect the values and aspirations of the people who own it and the people who work there. This means that if you say you’re an “eco-friendly company”, you’re doing things like sourcing your raw materials from sustainable sources and responsibly minimizing and disposing of all waste produced by your business. If you are a “socially responsible” company, you pay a living wage and advocate for social change to increase your stakeholder value.
“When I started the business, I made a commitment that if it ever fit me, if I did something that required me to really change my values, I would leave.”
5. Customize KPIs (or remove them entirely)
In general, Koochew isn’t a big fan of KPIs because they’re not a particularly good measure of the value an employee delivers. They’re notoriously difficult to align with company values, causing employees to focus on things that don’t have the overall impact you’re looking for. They are also often convoluted, vague and difficult to measure.
That’s why he sticks to assigning no more than three KPIs, if he doesn’t assign them at all. “It’s super hard because you always want to give people more, but three is measurable,” he said. “And then I make sure whatever they can do, they’re doable.”
The KPIs set by Koochew are more like flexible goals that can be stretched if the employee achieves them.
5. Don’t sweat the small stuff
Koochew doesn’t like the micromanagement of his staff. He thinks that if he has to look over people’s shoulders to make sure the job is done, they probably shouldn’t be there in the first place.
It cuts both ways. A LinkedIn Learning survey named “micromanaging” the second most annoying quality in a boss*.
Micromanaging shows an employee that a boss doesn’t trust and value them. This is no way to protect your business from poaching – in fact, micromanaged staff are more likely to jump ship than any other type.
Additionally, over time, employees learn to depend on micromanagement and relinquish ownership of their own work, leading to reduced productivity and diversity of inputs. Not to mention the increased stress this places on the manager himself. Micromanagement is exhausting.
*Since you asked: Having unclear expectations was the number one frustrating quality in a manager.
6. Hire smartly
Which brings Koochew to a salient point: Hire people you don’t have to micromanage in the first place. “We can train people on their abilities, but you can’t train fit people.
“It’s much easier to find the right person and train them than to fool around and try to match them.”
The right cultural fit means that you hire people based on a high likelihood that their core personal values and behavior align with your company’s values and goals. Diversity of people and opinions matters a lot, but if you have a firm grasp of your company’s culture and are clear about it during the interview process, you’ll soon know if a potential candidate will fit into your organization.
7. Recognize good work (and even good work)
Once you’ve found the right people, noticing when they’re doing things right is a crucial step in making them feel appreciated. “It’s about being thoughtful, it’s about being serious,” Koochew noted. “Not just saying, hey, here’s a gift card, thank you…It’s about being really specific, calling someone, calling what they actually did…hey, what you did there was really great.”
As Koochew says, feeling good about your job isn’t just about money and benefits, it’s about recognition. It’s your boss who notices when you’ve gone the extra mile. Or when they take the time to check in to see how things are going. It’s all about being seen and knowing that your efforts matter.
8. Manage expectations
If Koochew were ever to get a tattoo, he would have these two words inked: managing expectations. “It’s incredibly important. Manage expectations with customers, employees, whatever you do when you join our company, the first thing you will know is what you are going to do.
It will also tell you what failure looks like as well as what success will mean. In other words, its staff knows exactly what the baseline looks like and the limits within which they operate. Being clear about expectations helps employees stay focused, accountable, and engaged.
9. Lead from the front
If you’ve read this far, it won’t be surprising to learn that Koochew is leading the way. He calls it an “oldie, but a goodie” because it’s just common sense.
He has played every role in his business – from bookkeeping to journaling forms to making calls – which gives him “a certain amount of authority”. He never asked anyone to do anything he didn’t do himself.
It also gives him some understanding and empathy for whoever is doing the job. He is realistic about what he can expect from his employees and he is also realistic about what they can achieve in any role. He will therefore be happy to accept any job that he feels is too much to ask of an employee.
10. Stay humble
“I consider humility a superpower,” Koochew said. “Because what it allows me to do and what my team can do is gather feedback from anywhere, anytime, and anywhere.”
Koochew invites feedback on all aspects of its business. Then it quietly assesses its accuracy and implements it where it makes sense. Staying humble with Koochew means being objective about the feedback it receives – from customers, suppliers and, most importantly, staff. It’s about being open to other people’s opinions and less valuable to your own.
“The last thing you want is to be in your own way,” he said.
For more information on Anthony’s and Azured’s specialist Microsoft Cloud services for businesses, visit 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.
Feature image: Anthony Koochew, Founder and CEO of Azure at From Idea to Unicorn.