How to retain YOUR IT talent!

The world is digitalising in a fast pace. Great! Digitalising brings lots of advantages, such as efficiency, working from home, a paperless office, sharing information… or doesn’t it? While it’s true that digitalisation is generally a positive thing, there is one major barrier for us to reach the ultimate digital workplace: shortage of talent. Especially software developers.

Developers are among the most wanted staff on the planet, because there are simply too few of them to execute a digitising society. So, you have to ask yourself: How do I find and retain my IT talent? Research shows that offering perks and a good salary aren’t the only ways to retain your IT talent and prevent them from leaving your company.

Yes, the most important factor in assessing jobs is the salary with 18.3%, but the culture (13.6%) cannot be underestimated. Having a proper internal culture is just as important. And for gender minorities in the industry it’s even most important (Stackoverflow, 2018).

What is a culture that retains your IT talent?

But what is a proper internal culture and how do you go about establishing this? Note that I am not saying the best culture, because there is no such thing (Gartner, 2018, p. 11)! That being said, there are certain elements that allow any culture to be a healthy and rewarding atmosphere that every culture should oblige to.

One of which is knowledge: you can’t expect an employee to behave in a certain way if you don’t explain it. Keeping the team informed about changes and especially WHY these changes are necessary allows the employees to be ambassadors of the new culture.

These ambassadors introduce the new mindset to the others to get everyone’s noses in the same direction: they start correcting each other!

Employees believe the culture will make the organisation more successful and are personally committed to upholding it, thus changing their behaviour.

Employees incorporate the culture into the way they do their jobs and rely on it to guide them through unfamiliar situations (Gartner, 2018, p. 9). It’s as easy as that!

An organisation that has done this very well is the well-respected Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

CASE: The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation (Gartner, 2018, p. 10)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is the world’s largest private charitable foundation. You’d think that the noble goal of the Gates family would benefit the culture, but no. Even this foundation struggled with showing employees what behaviour support the culture and what helps them understand and believe in it.

The CEO drove an effort to define new cultural pillars for the organisation but found that employees didn’t understand the practical implications of them. They needed more detail on what to start and stop doing to live the culture.

The foundation developed a very simple but effective tool to empower employees to make the right decisions. The tool:

  1. Articulates firm-wide goals, including both values (such as ‘Show Respect’) and behaviours (‘Be Transparent’).

  2. Specifies do’s and don’ts for specific scenarios. The list serves as a decision-making tool at the moments that are most likely to test cultural alignment.

  3. Spell out positive results. “If we approach relationships with inclusion, kindness, curiosity and humility, it leads to innovation and collaboration”.

This demonstrates how to design an approach that can simultaneously build the knowledge of employees, change their beliefs and enable the desired behaviours.

But… How?

Here’s where things get interesting. How does a manager get to the point in which all three elements above are transmitted properly? Surely, telling the employees what is expected of them will do the trick. Well, that’s not always the case.

Actually, the more a leader says what he wants to do, the less something happens. Communicating a method of working requires different techniques than changing the internal culture and behaviour, so simply telling what the new culture should be doesn’t work. They key is in operating! Set the example and act according to the changes you want to see made and don’t forget to include all the processes! You can see the results and details in the graph below.

The Gates Foundation did it right: they set goals, they developed a tool, and expressed what’s done properly and they acted according to their own goals, mission, and gave rewards. They told their staff about the goal and tool, but the tool was there to act based upon it, making the transition effective.

EIGHT ideas that could improve YOUR culture

So, what are the ideal cultural elements that software developers would like to see and work in? I’ll start off by revealing a secret: developers are people too! The right company culture often comes down to simple things like making sure people are heard and encouraged.

The (in)famous culture of Google may seem impossible to match – with their food, healthcare, pools, games, and what have you – but it comes down to serving the simple needs in a person’s working day. To find out what those are, we need to look at what specific elements make a good culture good.

The experience of employees of the best 30 technology companies to work for express their thoughts in the same general trends. The chart below was composed by analysing the answers of why a company is pleasant to work in. Developers gave the following answers (Business Insider, 2018):

Work-life balance

Developers are often creative people with their computer being their working station. The traditional 40-hour work week doesn’t suit the modern-day engineers, especially considering that their working station is portable. They find it important to feel freedom in their schedule. Working remotely and managers recognising that there is more to life than work is considered pleasant.

“Most people seem to leave work at work, and everyone is understanding about life getting in the way of work.” – Vmware employee

Employee engagement

Employee engagement is about being invested in- and involving the employee. Companies do this by hosting discussion groups, showing interest in professional development and personal circumstances, and treat them like they are part of the solution that affects the whole company. Offer opportunities for interacting with co-workers, bring a dog into the office, or provide lunch to encourage cross-departmental conversations.

“People across departments are interested in my professional development. We are rarely treated as if we don’t belong as a part of a meeting or solution that affects the whole company. That is to say I don’t think anyone here feels lesser than, or important”– Axon


An office that exposes its employees to engaging activities with co-workers sparks creativity, new ideas, and motivation. New connections and teamwork are a great way to get people to engage and form one adhesive team. It shows people that they are united in making an impact to the world, because individual accomplishments can be overlooked by the creator himself.

Idea sharing

Allowing employees to share their ideas requires more than meets the eye. After all, an idea can be good or bad and sharing it is entering the realm of uncertainty and vulnerability. Letting employees feel they are heard and understood is a great start at making idea-sharing normal in your company. Being transparent when refusing an idea prevents a morale-drop.

Inspiring mission and a big hairy goal

Working together towards the same mission and an awesome goal. If the mission is clear and agreed upon, teams are much more dedicated to reach that mission statement. But that’s not it; more is needed than a statement. An awesome goal should be something that managers base their actions upon. Something tangible that can be felt throughout the company. Steering people in the right direction requires action and inspiration, not just a statement.

Workplace activities

Only a few people manage to focus on a computer screen for a whole day. And even if they do, they don’t have any interaction with co-workers. Workplace activities is a great way to tie all these elements together. By having activities in the office, you create a central place to have a break, take your mind off things, interact, meet, and be creative. In this way the chance of getting a great idea is bigger than when an employee is scrolling through Reddit, Facebook or turning himself into a cat on Snapchat.

“The employees make and drive the culture. We are also given opportunities of a lifetime that we wouldn’t normally receive with another employer. From skydiving, to taking international trips, the possibilities are endless.”– TaskUs


Put some effort into diversity! Depending on your team’s mission, you should either have a diverse team or a more mono cultural team. Mono cultural teams have higher production and multicultural teams have the best creativity and are more innovative. A creative team should consist of different Belbin roles, have speeddates based on 16Personalities, or put different cultures and nationalities together.


Other important factors include accepting mistakes, learning opportunities, creative rewards (even with the smallest accomplishments), transparency, and trust. Those cannot be forgotten as several of these were essential in the Gates Foundation.


There are three key learnings:

  1. Any culture should stand on three pillars: knowledge; mindset; behaviour.

  2. Actions have a much higher success rate than telling. Finding ways to do so, like Bill and Melinda, yields a boost in productivity.

  3. Developers are people too and want to be treated as such! Use some of these examples to make developers comfortable and obtain a relaxed atmosphere in the office.

Good luck with preparing your company to bow to the ever-growing wave of digitalisation and check out our blog for more tips!

Happy Hiring!

Business Insider. (2018, December 30). The 29 tech companies with the best company culture in 2018. Retrieved from Business Insider:

Gartner. (2018). Culture in Action. Gartner.

Stackoverflow. (2018). Developer Survey Results. Retrieved from

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