Skip to main content

Jean-Michel Lemieux is senior vice-president of engineering at Shopify. Lynsey Thornton is Shopify’s vice-president of user experience.

Changing code is easier than changing culture, or so goes the modern day computer-science proverb.

That might be why the technology industry has the highest turnover rate of any sector, with many Fortune 500 tech companies keeping talent for an average of just one year. Tech companies are laser-focused on recruitment, going above and beyond traditional methods to attract talent – but those efforts are useless if companies are just a revolving door for employees. They’ve got the recipe wrong.

To reverse the turnover trend, tech companies need to prioritize retention over recruitment. In a recent study, Digital Ocean asked 5,000 global respondents about the latest hiring trends in software development. The survey found that the most important factors when choosing a workplace were internal development and growth (39 per cent), a competitive salary (39 per cent) and company culture (38 per cent). The most prominent reason why engineers chose to leave a company? A whopping 49 per cent said it was because of a lack of opportunity for growth and development.

Gone are the days when salary was king. Increasing compensation to win over talent has become a superficial tactic with only a short-term gain. Today, investing in new programs for employee growth and development yields a much longer-term, positive impact on a company.

This monumental shift in motivation comes at a pivotal moment for Canada. The tech sector continues to grow steadily, but to maintain momentum, Canadian businesses need to reevaluate their retention efforts. Keeping talent, not just finding it, is the new mission critical.

What drives your employees? What are they looking for in their careers? How can you help them get there? With enough research, you can answer these questions. More importantly, you can then build thoughtful programs and initiatives around your discoveries. The possibilities are wide-ranging – you could offer new language courses, provide speaking coaching or support continuing education. There’s no one-size-fits-all option, and that’s the beauty of it. You can create a plan that is tailored to your employees, their motivations and their ambitions.

During Shopify’s journey to answer the questions above, one common employee response surfaced in abundance: a dedication and drive for craft excellence. Employees want to know that the skills they’re using today are better and more improved than they were yesterday. Because of this, Shopify seeks to provide the tools required for continual improvement, from peer-to-peer learning to time dedicated to craft exploration. But that alone isn’t enough.

One mistake companies often make is allowing employees to get tunnel vision. Focusing on project techniques and timelines from one discipline alone can prevent awareness of the applied method behind your craft, but also the crafts of others around you. Viewing projects through such a narrow lens prevents employees from seeing the collective impact of their work, and disconnects them from the problems they’re solving. The more removed you are from a problem, the harder it is to find effective, creative and non-traditional solutions.

Commitment to craft excellence means fully understanding the context and impact of your output. How does your craft impact other teams, other products and other people? Consider a cross-functional approach when building teams to avoid traditional silos. Teams can include dedicated members from different disciplines such as data, user experience and engineering to allow employees to learn how other disciplines solve problems, then apply those multidisciplinary skills to their own work.

Shopify doubled down on this strategy this year by launching R&D Summit, a three-day internal event for the entire R&D organization. Nearly 1,500 employees from across the globe came together to focus on craft. Employee-led workshops and talks allowed attendees from various disciplines to improve their skills, learn about the technical aspects of projects and look at the impact their work has on the company. The acknowledgment of interdependencies and respect for others’ crafts has led to increased productivity across the board.

As Canada continues to be recognized as a tech beacon internationally, investing in employee growth and development must become a priority. Tech companies need to fulfill the changing needs of today’s work force. As with all investments, it requires a resource commitment and an intentional and strategic plan. When done well, it will deliver dividends. Investing in employee growth ensures that your team remains challenged, autonomous and effective. This is the recipe for a thrilling work environment – not just during the first few months with a company, but for years and years to come.

Interact with The Globe