In a previous post, we explored some of the ways MSPs can find and attract strong tech talent in a tight market. (According to MSP coach Gary Pica, unemployment in the channel is at 0%.)

Given the competition for great employees, it’s quite possible your team members will receive job offers from other service providers or vendors.

Turnover is costly—there are recruitment costs for the replacement, lost productivity while that’s happening, and ramp up time for the new hire. So smart MSPs will focus on retaining technical staff as much as recruiting them.

Kam Attwal-Kaila, the CRO and president of IT By Design, says the answer is simple: “Culture, culture, culture. If you can create an ideal environment where your employees feel part of something bigger and enjoy coming to work, you’re going to retain them. You’ll be able to meet their financial needs because they’re not always looking for money. They’re looking for more.”

What, exactly, is the ‘more’ she’s talking about? She lists engagement, strong leadership, and the opportunity for personal and professional growth—all of which contribute to a company culture your employees want to be part of.

Cultivate leadership

Rex Frank, president of Sea-Level Operations, says companies with strong leadership have no difficulty retaining employees. On the other hand are the leaders who make what he calls “the classic mistakes.”

“Good leaders praise in public, admonish in private. Bad leaders admonish in public. You’re not going to be able to retain top talent if you’re behaving the second way.”

The trouble is, based on the Myers-Briggs personality test, he believes most MSP owners are IDs—introverted and dominant—which naturally translates to micromanagement.

“There’s a dramatic shortage of leadership in our industry,” Frank says, “largely because people have to adapt their personalities to be leaders. So many MSP business owners are technicians—we don’t always understand that the words we use can impact feelings.”

And, he explains, good technicians don’t like to be micromanaged. “They’ll go find another opportunity. I see that one a lot. If they’re working for a great leader, it’s not about money. It’s about liking coming to work every day.”

One way to encourage a more supportive, leadership-driven culture is what Frank calls ‘one up, one down.’ “Meaning everybody is always learning from somebody—that’s one hand up—and everybody is always teaching somebody—that’s the one hand down. Companies that create that environment tend to have no shortage of good people.”

Communicate, engage, and reward employees

A company newsletter that bridges the gap between departments—or even different geographic locations—can be important, says Attwal-Kaila.

She also suggests at least one employee engagement activity per month. If you have multiple locations, have one in every location. “Try to make sure someone from leadership is at each of those locations, or is at least in attendance when you do the engagement activities,” she adds.

Attwal-Kaila further recommends acknowledging employee birthdays, anniversaries, and especially, recognizing standout individuals.

“Rewards and recognition are very important. Make sure you do those within the first few weeks of the end of the quarter—get everybody together and recognize a great team player. Everybody loves to be recognized for hard work, and it’s important that we as owners not be stuck in the day-to-day business and remember to acknowledge great work.”

It’s key to engage employees in their own growth and success, too. Attwal-Kaila says, in addition to clarity around job roles, employees need clear and concise scorecards on how performance is being measured. “If there’s not effective communication between leadership, their direct manager, and the employee, that leads to dissatisfaction.”

Pica says just as important as communicating success metrics is communicating your MSP’s ways of working.

“Top-performing companies have really strong core values that the team has put together. You start to get people that are feeling part of your purpose. Spending time on those things pays way more dividends than just telling them ‘if you do better we’ll give you $100 more.’”

Invest in your team—both in and out of the office

Since top talent is more motivated by growth opportunities than a slight pay increase, it’s important to work with employees to encourage skill development, says Attwal-Kaila.

“Work on career development plans and leadership plans for the people you’ve identified as good team players. Help build them up within the organization. It will lead them to have a vested interest in your organization and boost retention of candidates.”

While larger channel organizations admittedly have more resources to dedicate to training and development, says Todd Billiar, director of channel sales at IT By Design and former director at VAR Staffing, “there’s also a segment of talent out there that prefers to work for a smaller organization where they feel they can make a bigger impact and grow that way.”

It’s also important to invest in your employees’ work-life balance, Billiar says. “If you’re constantly taking them away from their family after hours and weekends, the engineer’s going to leave because they’re going to have that pressure from home. You have to proactively manage that.”

In fact, one trend Attwal-Kaila is seeing is technicians becoming burnt out and moving to corporate IT.

“They want to be part of the JPMorgan Chase’s of the world where they’re getting more rest and relaxation and family quality time. It’s not necessarily that they’re going to the bigger MSPs—our challenge is the enterprises that are wooing away our talent because they’re so well-rounded.”

Gary Pica agrees. He says employees are more satisfied in their roles if they know, and can see, how they impact the customer. If they don’t see the impact of their role, tickets and projects appear like an endless ocean: “The next wave just keeps coming and coming and it seems pointless to them.”

That’s why, he says, it all comes back to company culture. “When you have someone who’s happy in their job, and passionate about it, and feels connected, they’re not going to jump for $4,000 or $5,000 salary. They’re not going to leave a $70,000 dollar job and friends and comfort and success for $75,000. They’ll come to you and try to work it out.”

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