Are you a leader of a developer team? Are you extending it with new people? You’ve certainly faced a situation in which a new employee joins and while they impressed you during the interview, it turns out they’re not meeting your expectations. Or when a recently hired, highly prospecting specialist first is very engaged, but then stops delivering. Sounds familiar? If yes, keep reading, because in this article, we’re going to analyze the causes and propose possible solutions by looking at the following issues:
- Is it better to fix the situation, or take radical steps immediately?
- What to look for when building the team?
- How to prevent employees from getting disengaged and less motivated?
- How to work out a corrective plan?
- How to talk to an employee about a dissatisfactory efficiency and how to communicate the stages of the corrective plan?
Recruitment and matching the team
Where does employee efficiency come from? It is related, among others, to their motivation and competency level. It is then vital already at the stage of recruitment to adequately define and verify these parameters and build a plan for employee development. Before the recruitment, it is also a good idea to consider a wider team context. What does that mean in practice? While selecting the candidates for e.g. a programmer position, you need to focus on their documented knowledge (like fluency in a specific programming language) and work experience (e.g. programming a mobile payment authentication system), but also take a look at the candidacy from the view of the whole organization and adjustment to the team. The experiences of a freelancer, programmer leaving a corporate structure, a start-up developer developing a product, or a developer from a shared services center vary greatly.
Each of them will have different habits, attitudes and ideas about their role in the company. The way of communicating with business, partners and superiors requires entirely different competencies, attitudes and habits. A freelancer will be used to organizing their time and priorities on their own, a start-up developer to dealing with ambiguity, a corporate developer to working in a big team, with strictly defined responsibilities, while a developer from a shared services center will be used to designing with the client’s needs in mind. The differences are also in such elements like: the level of autonomy in tasks, detailedness of reporting and documentation, and the level of multitasking.
Does it mean that hiring people from different types of organizations is doomed to fail?
Quite the opposite! However, in this case, it is important to carefully prepare the onboarding, i.e. the process of introducing the new employee. Already at the stage of recruitment, it is important to have transparency, precision in communication and providing real expectations. So, if the company doesn’t run projects of a type expected by the candidate, doesn’t have specific resources or doesn’t work in a way preferred by the candidate, you need to inform them at the moment of defining the terms of cooperation. It will help you minimize the risk of unsuccessful recruitment and save the time of doing it again.
The candidate’s level of adjustment is also influenced by the organization culture that they have been exposed to. These are the behaviors, norms and values specific to a given organization.
It is important to clearly define the difference between the culture of the company the employee comes from and the culture of the company they are applying for, and the degree to which they are able to adjust to new conditions. Let’s remember that programming skill and knowledge of business reality won’t save the employee from making mistakes if the company requires them to act independently when they are used to asking for permission for everything. That’s why it is important to specify the expected way of functioning in the company and communicate it at the beginning of the cooperation.
Step by step, the rollercoaster, the super-specialist and top talent
The next element of recruitment is recognizing the development dynamics and the type of the employee’s career. You can do it by analyzing the CV and a well-structured behavioral interview.
The main career type are: step by step, rollercoaster, super-specialist and top talent.
While reading this, you may instantly want to hunt for the talents. It is a tempting, but a very short-sighted perspective. The talents alone in a team will start competing with each other after a while and we won’t find anybody willing to do simple and repetitive tasks. A development team must be based on a mutual complementation and matching its members. It is then important to have a member from each type of career.
You need people who will join the team on junior positions and will stay, guaranteeing stability and knowledge distribution, i.e. the “step by step”. Their career model can be explained graphically with stairs that exemplify the successive building of their competencies. A rollercoaster is a person who joins in a spectacular manner, has big competencies and engagement, but their enthusiasm quickly fizzles out. This type of employee may have had some spectacular successes in a corporation (e.g. Google) or a start-up. They are the driving force and process optimization source. Similar to a rollercoaster – they reach above average just to fall down really quickly. A good boss recognizes the moment just below the fall and provides new, exciting challenges. A specialist in a team guarantees quality and fast delivery. They are independent and proactive, but it is important for the boss to encourage their development and interest in industry news.
Adequate defining the type of an employee and matching them with the team guarantees the team’s stability and in a short time, leads to the synergy effect.
Welcome on board – the underrated role of onboarding
“To have the right people on the bus” is a dream of many a boss. In order for it to happen, you need to diligently approach not only the recruitment process, but also the onboarding. In the case of developers, there is a tendency to hire people with strong technical skills, overlooking the soft and business competencies. Filling that competency gap is the objective of the onboarding process. It means precisely presenting the business model and naming the main competencies connected with the successes in a given organization. It is also the ability to present the key values and attitudes in a casual way, basing it on examples. The onboarding activities are carried out with: assigning a supervisor or mentor for the time of the process, various ways of exchanging the knowledge – things like the plan of product and technical seminars, soft skill seminars and team building activities.
All of these elements influence the quality of the employee onboarding and the pace of their adaptation, and consequently, their results. Let’s remember – the onboarding process may seem time-consuming, but its appropriate implementation will translate into a better result of the whole team.
Contracting, i.e. how to effectively define the expectations from the employee
Joining of a new programmer is a perfect moment for the boss to name and examine their expectations. First of all, the boss needs to ask themselves the following questions:
- How do I want the team to communicate with me?
- What is the most important in working with the team?
- What requirements do I have for my employees?
- What specific and measurable goals do I set for my team?
- What attitudes do I expect from my team and what behaviors I won’t tolerate?
- What do I need from the team in a time of crisis, and what do I need on a regular work day?
It is important for the boss to find a good way for themselves and the team to present this contract and make it natural and consistent with the style of communication in the team. The main goal is to provide a partnership manual of mutual relations.
A good contract should be clear, which means that the tasks are to be defined specifically (e.g. with the SMART model), with the known methods of verification, clear areas of required independence and possible support.
The contract is the basic stage of low performance management. In case of difficulties, it gives each of the parties opportunity to call on the provisions from it. The employee can’t justify their mistakes with not knowing the rules and the boss has the grounds to execute specific results.
Autonomy and building engagement – a new model of motivating
Years of trial and error brought contemporary bosses to the conclusion that the simplest things which refer to important human needs are the best motivators. These needs are being noticed and recognized, and autonomy such as being able to work according to your skills and passions, as well as building a sense of being a part of a bigger whole.
That’s why the best companies such as Google, Spotify or Quora motivate their employees based on: transparency in decision communication, openness in sharing one’s thoughts, encouraging employees to share their opinions, and a feedback-based culture ( for example, 360 evaluation).
Feedback-based culture is a clear to sign to the employee that their perspective, problems and needs will be heard, taken into account and used to implement at least minimal improvements. It gives the employee a sense of influence and that their remarks are listened to. To build a feedback-based culture, employees need to be taught how to give feedback in both formal and informal ways. This means supporting attitudes conducive to openness and building team identity based on friendship. Common rituals cannot be overestimated – meals or informal team meetings. It also sends a clear message that taking feedback during planning stage into account is as important as a precise distribution of tasks. Brief daily meetings which start each working day are an opportunity for new employees to learn how to openly express one’s needs and problems. Feedback may prevent discarding big elements of a project since it enables correction at the realization stage.
The difficult art of enforcement
Low performance management is an entire system of specific actions which prevent the boss from the feeling of helplessness when facing an employee’s low productivity. If an employee begins to fail to carry out the tasks, the boss should verify whether all the steps we wrote about (adjusting the culture to the organization, team adjustment, adequate implementation, contract and expectations clarification and regular feedback), have been realized.
It sometimes happens that we stumble upon an employee’s expectation that hiccups and shortcomings will blow over. It is important to react to small issues right away. Waiting is a sign of silent consent to incorrect behaviors and a slow way to a big disappointment.
Regardless of how serious the mistake is, examining the situation will help to clarify what an employee controls and what is dependent on external factors. If the issue is not too complicated, the analysis may be done at the meeting with the employee, encouraging them to present their perspective. A conversation based on partnership may be too difficult, that’s why it’s important to be well prepared to the meeting and ask the employee to do the same. It is important for them to hear that we take the current circumstances into account and we want to solve the problem. Clarifying the task and room for improvement should be the desired result of the meeting. We should give a detailed account of how the realization looks currently as well as what kind of parameters will change, their deadline and the way they will be verified. The same applies to working with attitudes and soft skills, we describe them at behavioral level and build a detailed picture of expectations. The final stage is a realistic estimation of the time needed for the employee to improve and indicate control points over this time when the boss gives feedback to the employee.
Familiarity with what causes lowered effectiveness enables the proper repair steps. The analysis should include skills in the context of the position:
- Is the employee provided with proper resources to carry out tasks?
- Does the employee need extra trainings / knowledge?
- Does the employee occupy a proper position, or would they excel in a different one?
- Does the employee receive tasks that fit their skills, or would they excel in different ones.
You’ve carried out all the steps, but things don’t seem to move in the right direction? Now that you and your employee are aware of the situation, you both have the time to solve it in a way based on partnership. It sometimes entails the necessity to part ways, which could be beneficial for both parties. The company may find an employee who deals with tasks in a more efficient way and will respond to the culture, and a given employee may find a company that will suit their skills and attitude.
Article made in cooperation with Integra Consulting Poland.
Integra Consulting Poland – a training and consulting company whose qualified trainers have been supporting business and public organizations for over 20 years in areas such as training, Lean Management, recruiting, coaching, development programs and work-life balance.