In 1969, my aunt graduated from university and joined IBM, the dominant player in the nascent tech industry at the time. She remained at “Big Blue” where she met and married my uncle, and rose up through the management ranks, until their joint semi-retirement exactly 30 years later. She recently told me, “the only way you could get fired in those days was to murder someone, embezzle or steal”. The most remarkable part of that story is that a woman could forge a successful career in what was then a completely male bastion; she was one of only four women in her department of 400 and the only one not in an administrative role.
Contrast that to our industry today. On gender diversity, we have made reasonable progress, although we are still far from declaring victory. On employee retention, anyone who spends time reading CVs will know that the average tenure at a company is around 3 years, with many companies suffering chronic attrition of over 50% per annum. Yet my experience at Cloudera over the past seven years, running teams ranging up to 100 people, has been the opposite. Last year, attrition on my team was below 3%.
This has been even more rewarding over the past year given that counter-intuitively, the pandemic is pouring fuel on what was already a red-hot war for technical talent; it is common to receive multiple approaches from competitors in any given week, almost all of which are politely declined. That loyalty is a conscious choice that each colleague makes every day, and has to be earned. The billion-dollar question is how?
Step one is of course to hire the right people in the first place. Every company talks about being “people-centric” , but often business leaders are unable to articulate specifically what they mean by that, or worse use nebulous notions of “culture” and “values” to mean “people who are a reflection of myself”, killing diversity.
“Moneyball” style hiring isn’t just for baseball. At Cloudera, we live and breathe data, and use analytics to identify what are the commonalities among the incumbent superstars in each role. The resulting insights are often surprising, for example as a technical consultant, experience of working with customers, or expertise in our specific technology, was not strongly correlated with success. We discovered it is people who have a track record of independently learning the latest technologies who consistently outperform. It turns out that paying people well to practice their hobby generates an infectious enthusiasm for the products, which rubs off on the team, and our customers.
Attracting the right talent is key, but then how do you keep bright people motivated? Leadership expert Dov Seidman said: “trust is the only legal performance-enhancing drug”. Trust relies firstly on openness, which of course means celebrating success and making people feel appreciated, but even more importantly being honest and direct when someone falls short, and giving them the support and coaching to improve. It is common to encounter people emotionally scarred by the erratic and unpredictable behaviour by managers at previous employers, and there is nothing more demoralising or detrimental to the business. Trust also depends on authenticity; people will be naturally suspicious of managers who adopt a completely separate persona, and vocabulary, when at work.
Loyalty can never be taken for granted, it needs to be continuously nurtured with trust. It starts by gaining insight from our own data and analytics, and understanding how to make data-driven decisions to develop better programs to support an employee’s lifecycle within the organization.
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