How do you retain good talent, especially when PM roles are in such high demand across the industry?
There is no doubt that retaining top talent is critical to any organization not only because of the value top talent brings, but also because it takes time to find and ramp up a new hire. While establishing a new team, hiring the right person who is a good fit for the team and the company contributes greatly to talent retention. What I offer to my talented people to retain them are: understanding, recognition and growth opportunities, which are all built on a trusted foundation.
I strongly believe trust is the foundation for any form of relationship, including leadership, partnership, mentorship and any work that requires collaboration. And, trust needs to be earned - it takes a good amount of time to earn and very little time to break.
Over the years, I have found that the concept “Caring Personally while Challenging Directly” as taught in the book “Radical Candor”, has helped me to earn trust from my teams. (I highly recommend this book if you have not yet read it).
- Understand what parts of the job each member finds most interesting and rewarding.
- Identify the strengths and weaknesses of my team members.
- Communicate about each team member's short and long term goals.
- Stay on top of the areas that each member finds most comfortable and challenging.
- Provide positive feedback to validate the value and impact of their great work.
- Motivate effort and behavior even if it does not directly tie to business results.
- Provide the recognition that is tailored to the preferences of each individual’s personality.
- Help them to shine and gain visibility by showcasing goal and impact achievement at team and org level.
- Create on-the-job opportunities for them.
- Treat challenges as opportunities for them to grow.
- Provide on the spot constructive feedback with detailed suggestions.
- Set up a step-by-step plan based on each team member’s goal and interests and check-in and align regularly.
I’ll skip the obvious things - pay well, set a vision, growing company, skill building, career pathing - and highlight some under-rated ones:
- Hire well and have high talent density. Most people who choose a career in Product Management are motivated by self improvement - being around other talented PMs who they admire and who push their thinking is motivating.
- Stay lean. This may seem counterintuitive - isn’t it good to have enough PMs? Honestly, no. If you hire well you want to give people room to grow and stretch.
The worst thing you can do is to staff up too quickly, only to have frustrate your stars who are ready for more in a year (or worse yet, sudden shift in the business which requires you to scale back projects). Having too many PMs will also lead to more work being generated, you then need to resource. It’s far better to have PMs that have 20% too much to do than 20% too little. My rule of thumb is: everyone should be just uncomfortable enough with their scope that they drop a few things, but not so uncomfortable that they burn out.
- Autonomy. People choose a career in product management because they want to make or be at the center of product decisions. Allowing them to do so is one of the most important things you can do to keep them motivated. As a people leader your jobs is to set goals, give context, guide, and identify blindspots. It’s not to operate the product for the PMs on your team. At Netflix we have a value, “Context over control” - leaders should focus first & foremost on setting context so others can make decisions vs. making decisions for them.
- Actually care about them. When I think about the best managers I’ve had they have one intangible thing in common - I felt on a deep level that they actually, genuinely cared about me. This had a ripple effect on every part of my job because I felt supported, was calmer, and did better work. Caring looks like regularly thinking about the growth & success of another person without being asked to. It looks like advocating for or elevating behind the scenes, especially if they are in a disadvantaged position. It’s something that you can’t fake.
I’ve worked in Product across two very different contexts – a company that favored complete alignment versus a company where autonomy was part of their cultural DNA.
While there are a lot factors that contribute to retention (industry trends, opportunities for career progression, compensation), the factors in my daily focus are derived from this definition of psychological safety:
- Meaning – company vision, team purpose, individual contribution, and belonging.
- Mastery – goals and accountability, periodic feedback, recognition, and opportunities to teach/mentor others.
- Trust – in the role and team, clear expectations, ownership (and delegation), open communication.