What’s the Secret to Retaining Tech Talent?

The answer for IT and business leaders facing exodus: Focus on product-led growth to limit the impact of talent departure and team productivity.

Sameer Ahuja, President, GameChanger

February 22, 2022

4 Min Read
black room with single lightbulb lamp implying divulging secrets
Jiri Hojda via Alamy Stock

As we roll into the third year of COVID-19, people from France to Fiji are seriously reevaluating where they live, how they spend their time, and what matters most in their lives. With regards to work, the pandemic obliterated any pretense that most jobs need to be done in an office, lab, warehouse, factory, or other place that isn’t home.

Consequently, working-age people are choosing to leave jobs in droves – especially when asked to return for a hybrid (2-3 days a week) or full-time in-person schedule. This movement has significant talent implications for organizations of all sizes across sectors. For one thing, salaries will continue to rise and people who do not feel rewarded will leave their positions for well-paying, remote-friendly companies.

The answer for employers facing exodus: focusing on product-led growth to limit the business and cultural impact of talent departures.

Product-led Innovation

Most managers think, “We can move faster if we can just find good talent.” I would argue it can be the other way around. A product-led organization already moves fast, using the resources it has to adapt to customer needs as quickly as possible. This culture, in turn, attracts more talent -- becoming a virtuous cycle.

My personal take on product-led growth is that it means launching with -- and maintaining -- a company-wide focus on building what’s right for customers. In practice, this involves keeping end users top-of-mind throughout the ideation, technical design, and prioritization processes -- all without obscuring that focus by considering what business, partners, and investors want. At my company, we keep our work trained on building great products for users, by reviewing user feedback daily, shipping product updates every week, and connecting the product managers, designers, and engineers building the product directly with customers through user interviews and at conferences.

While product-led growth is at the heart of building great software, the philosophy can guide all companies in navigating the evolving consumer demands driven by the pandemic and increased digital adoption. For example, consumers are craving new models for same-day or next-day service at home, including (but not limited to): transportation, childcare, home appliance repairs, HVAC maintenance, furniture, groceries, diapers, and medication.

Outside of the private sector, constituents are craving innovation in all levels of government. Shifting the mission of people’s jobs from simply getting work done to making people’s lives better through better products is a simple, but powerful change

Working in Comfort = Productivity

People work better when they are comfortable. A recent study from Harvard Business School found that commuting can have material impacts on health and innovation.

For industries from science to sports, the threat of breakthrough infections for the vaccinated and contagious cases for everyone else is keeping folks home. Prevailing trends around remote work will only accelerate, helped along by tangible advancements in AR/VR and other immersive technologies. For others, like healthcare, pharmaceuticals, and government, people have no option but to leave the comforts of home to do their jobs. With Omicron sweeping through vaccinated and boosted populations, this dynamic has entered an even newer phase.

The key for any company facing today’s realities is to attract and retain the talent needed to get the job done wherever they are. This may require flexible schedules, remote-friendly HR policies, and Zoom-driven product development. But it’s worth it.

For context, my own company, increased its workforce outside of the New York City metro area from 10% in 2019 to 60% in 2022. While 2021 was a pandemic-riddled year, we were able to increase headcount by 66% -- with 71% of our new hires working in product and engineering. We didn’t ask the talent to come to us, we went to the talent.

Counteracting Fatigue by Rallying Around Customers

As 2022 rolls on, pandemic fatigue continues to clash with the common desire for normal life. People are seeking normalcy in social gatherings, school, vacations, and community. Normalcy at work can also be a positive for many, but no one quite knows what that looks like. A product-led focus on customers can help.

Companies can rally their people around helping customers go back to some normalcy or create a new normal. If employees understand how their customers are changing, adjusting, and fighting to regain some normalcy, there's an opportunity to mirror it for the good of both employees and employers.

About the Author(s)

Sameer Ahuja

President, GameChanger

Sameer Ahuja is currently the President of GameChanger, A Dick's Sporting Goods company. He is a long-time entrepreneur with nearly 20 years of experience as a Founder, CEO or COO of high-growth technology businesses, from startup to late-stage in multiple industries. He co-founded an interactive sports attraction, founded a quant hedge fund, and built a fintech company. Sameer began his career in management consulting at A.T. Kearney and banking at JPMorganChase. He has an MBA from Harvard Business School and a BA in Economics from Columbia University.

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