Treat Great Engineers Like Gold

golden stick figure with a loudspeaker

So now to the final discussion in my series.  About Great engineers!  I have been pondering this one, because, for some reason it’s the hardest to provide valuable information about.  Great engineers/employees in general are hard-working, deadline-meeting, project-churning machines that bring value to your organization consistently with a smile on their faces.  What could be wrong with that?!  I’ll guess that nothing is wrong with that, though there is the matter of keeping them as great engineers.  Lack of motivation, disinterest in doing the same ol’ thing, frustration with other engineers, and many more daily occurrences can push their productivity down.  So for a manager, your job is to ensure that they are happy and able to do their duty!

Without further ado:

  1. Meet regularly.  Make sure you understand them and their desires.  You can’t motivate someone you don’t understand, and this goes for any field of work.  If you understand what drives someone, you can design incentives tailor-suited to them.  Please take a look at this article by Paul Herbert on how impersonal incentives can cost you more money.
  2. Once you understand their desires, give them work that fits those desires.  I know, I know, everyone wants the biggest, best, coolest project to do, but not everyone has: put in the work on other projects to merit the good one, has the capacity to finish it on time, has the experience to do it correctly, etc.  You need to gauge your project schedule and determine how best to allocate those resources.  If someone shows incredible enthusiasm, a willingness and ability to finish projects, and a desire to do more than they have been, they likely deserve the highest profile project so they can get their mental gears churning.
  3. When a problem arises, take care of it IMMEDIATELY.  There is nothing worse than your best engineer coming to you and informing you of something not getting done by someone else, or even broken processes.  It is up to YOU, the manager, to rectify any impedances to your great engineers’ working ability.  Problems that go un-addressed lead to disinterest, because obviously if the manager doesn’t care to fix it, neither should I…
  4. Listen to process improvement suggestions.  The great engineers are the one who are utilizing the existing processes the best, so when a deficiency is found by them, they likely are the best person to help you change that.  Ask for their input and guidance, and include them in meetings for those policy changes.  Your best advocate is the one who uses something daily and will directly benefit from the change for the better.  Also, back them up when it comes to discussion.  You don’t want to leave them high and dry after pushing them to go out of their way to fix something.
  5. Be humble enough to allow them to leave.  In fact, I’d argue it’s up to you to encourage them to pursue their best options.  Truly great engineers are in short supply, and while they are giving you 110% of their effort every day and providing you with amazing returns, if your work is not challenging them to be better, teaching them new skills, and otherwise just insufficient for their internal wellness, you are doing them a great disservice.  Labor is not a commodity, and while you want to keep your best resources, by holding them back from other opportunities, they likely will end up leaving anyways without your approval.

I have been blessed to have a manager who listens to me, what I want, where I want to go, and worked to push me in that direction.  I have nothing but respect for him because of that fact.  If there is ever a situation in the future where I can work with, or for him, I will take it without hesitation due to that fact.  If you hide them from their future, you will create negative feelings and selfishness rarely pays off.

How do YOU keep your great employees happy?  Are there any pitfalls you’ve encountered?  Please tell us in the comments!