How software companies can prevent staff from leaving by keeping jobs from going "stale"

Three in five CEOs remain apathetic about addressing talent shortage. Idealog catches up with Colleen Bardsley, Director of HR at Jade Software, to find out the company’s secret to keeping its turnover rate low.

Q: What is disrupting the management of people among technology companies?

A: Companies in the fast-moving technology industry are faced with the common challenge of skills shortages. This comes with the territory as devices, platforms, best practices, and consumer expectations are constantly evolving. But as employers and producers, we need to adapt to these conditions, and embrace change as a given. The challenge is to stay competitive.

Q: How are companies responding to the industry’s skills shortage?

A: A recent PwC survey found that 80% of New Zealand CEOs (and 63% internationally) see the low availability of key skills as their biggest threat to growth. 90% agree that they need to change their strategy for attracting and retaining talent, yet three in five haven’t done anything about it.

We’re in the minority that’s dealing with this threat and getting a jump on the rest of the industry.

Q: What is Jade Software’s approach in ensuring you don’t get caught in the skills shortage trap?

A: The key is to spot skill gaps quickly, and fill them effectively with the people you already have.  HR needs to understand that attracting and retaining top talent is part of the answer, but hiring any mix of skilled graduates and experienced people is never going to be enough.

At Jade we’re committed to developing the high-priority talent that’s already on board. Retention obviously beats eternal churn and recruitment, and one sure-fire way to hold onto staff is to promote learning at work. Jobs that don’t get stale are popular, and employers like people who grow and develop over time.

Q: How do you keep jobs from “getting stale”? And how do you keep your in-house people from getting “stale” too?

A: The way we do things, everyone takes responsibility for our skill pool. Our ‘Results by Design’ program, created by our staff for our staff, is an individualised, flexible learning and growth program for every staff member. It follows global best practices and makes sure that everyone has a practical development pathway.

Colleen Bardsley: "Turnover rate is 7% and people choose to stay..."

Q: So you have an individual career pathway all mapped out for every employee?

A: Yes, everyone in the team, including team leaders, works with his or her manager. They  agree on personal development goals, and who to get feedback from over time. Goals people set themselves are obviously more motivating, and by including leaders and managers we can keep individual growth and development in line with our company’s strategy.

We also have a targeted training needs analysis, which helps us identify the skill and experience gaps that lie between each individual and the role or career growth that he or she is aiming for.

Our 70:20:10 Training and Development philosophy (inspired by research done by Michael M. Lombardo and Robert W. Eichinger on high performance development) then splits the sources we learn from into three unequal parts. Everyone’s exact split is different, with high performers especially likely to vary from these rough percentages:

  • 70% from real life and on-the-job experiences, tasks and problem solving - the most important aspect of any learning and development plan
  • 20% from feedback and from observing and working with role models
  • 10% from formal training.

Q: How successful is this approach? Do you have any success measures?

A: Our turnover rate is 7% and people choose to stay—the average tenure here is longer than ten years. This is a good measure.

No one is better-placed to see where the tech industry is heading than the people who work in it every day. Having people create their own development plans addresses the first part of our puzzle: spotting industry trends early and being ready with new skills.

The training and development that follows both fills skill gaps, and also motivates our people.

Q: Does that mean you never ever have a skills gap within the organisation?

A: We may be prepared but that doesn’t mean we are never caught out. By letting our people determine the development that will help them stay valuable and relevant, and providing a system that helps that growth happen, we’re more prepared for whatever disruption happens next in the tech world.

Some skill set shortages will be unavoidable, despite our efforts. Today, for example, strong demand for UX (user experience) designers is creating competition throughout the industry. In cases like this we need to help develop a pool of talent outside our own walls, and be different from other potential employers.

Q: How do you “sell” Jade Software to potential employees as a great place to work?

A: Keeping graduates engaged and excited about our organisation is essential to our ongoing success.

This is why we set up the ‘Pathway’ program, which works with tertiary and secondary educators and students to promote the development of key skills. The programme makes sure that the knowledge students gain is relevant to employers like us, building a bigger, better pool of potential IT employees. It also gives us a chance to attract tomorrow’s IT workers with a look into the Jade way of doing things.

Your business’s success relies on your people. It’s normal to consider the balance of skills that your team has, but the most common response - inaction – fails to cut it. It’s up to you to keep your staff engaged and to continue learning.

Colleen Bardsley was recruited by Sir Gil Simpson when she was working as a secondary school principal. She is qualified to deliver a range of profiling tools, including Belbin, Hogan, Strong, MBTI, ECI, and FIRO-B. An elite marathon runner and competent sportswoman, Colleen also coaches elite sportspeople, professionals, and leadership teams.