alphalist Blog

How to Retain Tech Talent Through the 6 Rules of Engagement


The Talent Wars Are On! It's a candidate market. Other companies might be offering higher salaries, but you have something other companies don’t - a leader committed to making sure employees are happy (which is why you are reading this article).

So how do you keep them happy?

The key to retention is engagement.  The greater the engagement of the employee, the longer they're going to stay with you. And when they're engaged, productivity goes up and profitability follows. 

Furthermore, happy employees attract employees. By solving your retention issues, your people will become your greatest ambassadors. They will say to other talent “Hey, come over here. The water is so nice in this pool, come swim with us.” 

“When you take care of the people you have, you'll never have to worry about getting the people you need.” - Ken Coleman, America’s Career Coach and Ramsey Personality talking on the alphalist CTO podcast episode 56.

How do you do it? I poured over the largest study that Gallup or anybody has ever done on employee engagement. I looked at all the results and I came up with what I believe are six leadership rules for leaders like yourself.  They're very simple -but if you institute them and lead this way with your people, then retention is going to increase and you see greater productivity and therefore greater profitability.

Table of Contents
  • 6 Rules of Engagement
  1. Purpose rule.
  2. Expectation Rule.
  3. Relationship Rule
  4. Recognition Rule
  5. Growth Rule
  6. Crusade Rule
  • The Secret to Retention: Win on the Job. Win at Life
  • FAQ:
    • Does something like ESOP with a cliff and 4-year vesting help with retention?
    • How do I find talent who will easily find their purpose in my company?
    • What are the two biggest factors affecting retention in tech right now?

 6 Rules of Engagement

Purpose rule. 

People need to be using what they do best (talent) doing work they love (passion) to produce results that matter to them (mission).

The tech worker, perhaps more than other professions, cares more about the actual work itself and the results of the work. They need the juice of being able to tackle the right problem and deliver the right result. And if they don't get it, they get bored, and then they're done. So money is nice but it is not everything. This isn't just true of tech workers. This is the idea that we long for meaning in our work. We long to make a contribution. And I can't tell you how many people have called my show recently that took a raise recently and were like “oh, this is great”. But the high of the extra dollars soon wore off and they realise they are not doing something they enjoy. And boy that'll make a person hate Monday mornings quickly.

Therefore your team needs to be spending a majority of their day/week/year (60%+)  using what they do best to do work they love to produce results that matter to them.

Expectation Rule.

Your people need to know what to do, how to do it, and how the results will be measured. 

There needs to be very clear expectations of what a win looks like in your job.  We need to get out of the mindset of punching the clock and we  have to focus on producing results. 

How Expectations Should Be Conveyed

  • What are the results that we as leaders expect of you to deliver?
  • When do we expect you to deliver those? 
  • How do we expect you to deliver those? (as it relates to systems and processes).

With these expectations in place, there is no need to monitor any employee - even one working from home. The only thing I have to worry about is did they deliver the results that I asked? Did they deliver them when I asked them to be delivered? And did they deliver them the way that I wanted them to be delivered? That's accountability. 

The Importance of Responsibility and Accountability in an Autonomous or Remote Team

With clear expectations in place, there can be responsibility and accountability regarding the role. It is only with responsibility and accountability that an autonomous or remote team can succeed.  Or any workforce for that matter.  If an engineer can’t deliver results on their own remotely, I can’t guarantee the results are going to be that much better if they're in the office with you anyway, because then you're having to stand on top of them and that's nannyship, not leadership. So that's on you as a bad hire.

Relationship Rule

Your people must feel cared for by you -  their leader and they must feel connected to their team. 

This is wildly important. This is where belonging comes in and if they feel they belong, you're going to see retention increase. 

Connected with Their Leader

When you really show your team member that you care about them and what's going on in their life, a connection is built, and then out of connection, trust develops, and trust is everything. 

2 Questions to Ask Every Individual on your Team Weekly

  • How are you doing? (personal question)
  • How can I help you win at your role? (professional question)

As a leader, you need to be checking in with their heart and what's going on, because you aren't just leading a professional person, you are leading a person and if they are hurting, they're dragging that stuff to the office with them.  So ask your team, at least once a week how life is going and genuinely care. For example,  “Hey, how's your mom doing? I know she's been sick.” or  “How's your kid doing? I know he has been struggling.” When you genuinely ask how your employee is doing, you become a better leader instantly because you will build a connection with your employee when they realize that you care about them. 

This leads us to the second question “How can I help you win in your role?”.  A leader who establishes connection and trust with the first question is going to get a better answer, a more complete, transparent answer on the second question.  Because only when a team member trusts you they will only say things like, "I need some help here", or "I'm struggling in this area-I need some training". Otherwise, they will be too scared of hurting their personal brand with you or potentially getting fired or demoted, 

Time to Be a Servant (Leader) Most importantly, once your team member tells you what they need to win at their job, you need to become like a servant now to help them so each member of your team can win. It is your priority to take their answers to those questions and love on them and serve them. If you do that, people will talk about your leadership, like you are the Wizard of Oz. It's that simple. I really do believe that the simplest, most pure form of leadership there is to ask those questions and actually do something to act on the answers.

Connected with Their Team

I believe all people by virtue of being human are relational beings and we need human contact. Even the greatest of introverts will still need some human relationship and contact. Therefore there needs to be a defining culture (which I would define as shared behaviors) that is demonstrated clearly and incorporates a  relational component so that people don't feel isolated.  This is particularly a challenge with remote work.  However remote companies can do culture well once they realize that working remotely requires a different way of thinking. There is no magic bullet here but I trust the innovative powers of the human spirit to figure out how to make that work so employees are part of a good culture and are not isolated. 

Recognition Rule

Recognize them Publicly. 

You should recognize your direct report in front of their peers and praise and reward them for work well done. 

Recognize them Privately. 

Use one-on-ones to give private recognition and feedback. Let them know that you see what they are doing and that they are doing a great job. Bring examples of the real impact their contribution has made e.g. (“I read this Customer Service Report the other day and you were incredible” OR “You really helped me the other day”).

 Growth Rule 

Your people must be challenged to learn new skills and step into new roles.

“We are creatures of progress. And if we aren't progressing, we start looking.” - Ken Coleman, America’s Career Coach, and Ramsey Personality talking on the alphalist CTO podcast episode 56.

It is therefore important that you as a leader are constantly upskilling your people, giving them new skills, training them, and developing them. And, then as a result of that, give them an opportunity to step into a new challenge.

Crusade Rule 

Your people must see how their work is a part of a cause greater than themselves. 

This is especially true in tech where technologists don't often have contact with the end user. Therefore you need to remind them regularly that if the code they are writing has a transformative product or service on the other end, they are having just as much impact on someone's life as the salesperson or the person who administers the product or whatever.

The Secret to Retention: Win on the Job. Win at Life

The secret to retaining people is to give them an opportunity to win in their job and win in life.  They must enjoy their work and be doing work that they love and that produces results that they care about right now. They will therefore be self-motivated because they get up every day to produce results that they really care about while doing something they enjoy. 

“You gotta show people not just a better job, but a better life as a result of working for you” - Ken Coleman, America’s Career Coach, and Ramsey Personality talking on the alphalist CTO podcast episode 56.

This is a huge part of loyalty and retention but that is not all.  You also need to make sure that what you pay them and the benefits they receive ( including innovative benefits like financial education) help them accomplish their dreams. So they can win at the job and win in life.

In conclusion. In this article we discuss the many things you can do as a leader to engage your team and therefore attract and retain talent.  It all starts with engagement. When you increase engagement, you'll see greater retention, greater productivity, and therefore greater profitability.


Does something like ESOP with a cliff and 4-year vesting help with retention? 

Things like ESOP work great as a reward, not as an incentive. If you don’t engage employees in other ways, you will only manage to retain those people who want the extra money badly enough to endure much misery. However, as a reward, it goes a long way.

How do I find talent who will easily find their purpose in my company?

Write a good job description that shares your narrative well so that those who are attracted to what you do will find you. By being super clear, the people that aren't interested in what you do aren't going apply, or if they do apply, because its just a JOB, you will be able to weed them out in the selection and interview process.

For example, the job description can be structured as follows: These are the problems that we solve. Here's how we go about solving them. And we are looking for someone who is really good at this. That's the talent piece. We're looking for someone who loves doing this type of work, boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. And we're looking for somebody who is, who is wildly motivated to produce these result…

What are the two biggest factors affecting retention in tech right now?

Compensation and Remote-friendly work. But if you follow my 6 Principles of Engagement it will be less of an issue. 

Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman

America's Career Coach @ The Ken Coleman Show

Ken Coleman is America’s Career Coach, the #1 national bestselling author of The Proximity Principle and From Paycheck to Purpose, and host of The Ken Coleman Show. Ken helps people discover what they were born to do and provides practical steps to make their dream job a reality. The Ken Coleman Show is a nationally syndicated, caller-driven show that helps listeners who are searching for something more out of their career.