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Some time ago, the company had to downsize due to difficulties, now things are going better, but employees are still leaving the company. There is no budget to increase the salary or benefits right now.

How to manage the risks on the project?

How to motivate people to stay on the company?

Is it ok to ask them to disclose if they looking for other job opportunities? This would make it is easier to manage job allocation.

10 Answers 10

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If people are still leaving, then it's likely that they don't see job security in their current positions -- not surprising, considering the downsizing. I think the first step would be to talk to the team and tell them that things are getting better and that downsizing is over -- many companies overlook this small but crucial piece of communication.

To motivate them to stay, if you know things are going to improve in 1-2 years, you can share that information with them -- whatever little you know. That's the most you can probably do. You can also personalize with them, and tell them that your salary is as frozen as theirs is. I had one manager tell me this, and it did make me feel better.

Asking them if they're looking is tricky; they may lie or deny it, or may feel insecure even if they tell you. It really depends how much they trust you. If they think you may hold it against them, they definitely won't even breathe a hint of it. It also depends how much you trust yourself; will you really treat them the same if you know they're looking to get out?

I would say, if you're really going to be bold and ask them, do it in a smart way: create an anonymous employee satisfaction survey (Google Docs can do it) and ask them if they're leaving, and put an optional field for their name. You can explain your reasons for wanting to know. If they want to tell you, they can; but you're not forcing them to tell you anything they don't want to.

Finally, for managing risks, you probably already have a risk register with a list of risks and their probability and impact (if you don't, make one ASAP!) If it's not used by the team, you can add individuals or people of certain roles leaving (eg. senior developer); if it is shared, make a private version to manage these risks. This is probably not something you want to tout publicly.

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    I agree. Asking them can turn against you, is better to improve the general situation without knowing. Kudos for ashes. – Geo Feb 10 '11 at 12:59
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    I might have to disagree, but only if you are in a position of authority and know things are getting better. I encourage direct reports to keep their resumes updated and interview as a personal skill they need to maintain. It's my responsibility to know what motivates each individual, facilitate their satisfaction, and keep them wanting to stay. But I agree, it could be a risky proposition. This only works if your leadership culture supports it. – CraigV Feb 10 '11 at 19:09
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How to motivate people to stay on the company?

You probably can't. Once companies go down the route of layoffs to cut budgets, that quick fix is done again and again. The survivors almost always have to pick up the work that used to be done by laid off workers, so they feel overwhelmed. In addition, after a round of layoffs, loyalty towards the company is broken as the survivors feel violated. Depending on how badly the layoffs were performed - and this is a case where perception is extremely important - it might never be possible to recover that sense of trust from below.

For senior .NET developers, the market has picked up, and the market wages have gone up a lot since this same time a year ago. You might not have the budget to increase salaries, but other companies do. The "it isn't personal, it's just business" attitude works both ways.

This point bears repeating. Indefinite retention is impossible; employees always quit. The key part is understanding why, and how to leverage this inevitability towards everyone’s advantage.

Finally, I think companies should look more towards a culture of quitting.

  • Very nice link: "a culture of quitting"! +1 – Johnny Feb 10 '11 at 16:03
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They need to see a significant break from the past to stop leaving. This can be a change in leadership, a change in direction or a hit product. It can also be a senior manager spending time with them, building rapport and showing them that their place in the company has changed. Something needs to alter their perception of the company.

You can help push the effort to make these changes by exactly pointing out the cost that the uncertainty is having on the company's projects.

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As a PM or project owner, your project and plan is simply collateral damage to the effects of a downsizing. Once again, the pendulum is swinging back to the other side. We are already seeing resource scarcity geographically, in tech, and related areas.

You can help the situation in several ways:

  1. Talk up your project from an experience and benefits perspective (this will look good on your resume), make your project the most desirable to work on

  2. If the downsizing is over, can you say that the company still a good place to work?,

  3. what's new, unique and different about your project that makes it desirable to work on?

  4. Make the project fun; find small rewards; have a [we accomplished x after hours meetup]; give out project coffee cups; and let people name the project or processes (let go some control and delegate more).

There are a number of ways that you can make your project interesting and important by giving responsibility to others. Let the team and the stakeholders carry the ball and sell the project. If everyone feels a sense of ownership they're less likely to leave.

All that said, there is a lot of pent up job change desire in the workforce. Many people have weathered the economic downturn waiting to move to a different job, or situation, or to change company. That is some of what we're seeing now.

Don't forget to take care of yourself. Network, keep your resume up-to-date, and stay in touch with all the good folks that move on, by choice or otherwise. Make sure every project looks good on your resume

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Consider, when sharing with the team that the company is improving, using as many factual data elements as possible. Saying "I am here to assure you that the company has turned a corner and is getting better" is nor as compelling as "sales are up by 30% this quarter and the marketing/sales department has revised their sales and revenue outlook for 2011." Additionally, you may want to consider openly chatting 1:1 with individual team members to see if anything folks share can reflect a possible trend to the exits. I definitely agree with the feedback from Mark Phillips above.

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You are stuck trying to balance future possible stability with current uncertainty and opportunity. No matter how interesting you make your project, if people think their future is at risk they will leave.

You have some great answers above an how to deal with it. I'll throw in a different slant. Ethics.

Unless you can absolutely guarantee things will get better, you have to ask yourself if it's ethical to keep trying to tie people to your project. By answering this question, you can find your solution more easily within the great choices presented.

  • Thanks Perry for your answer. Ethics always will be a better way to handle these situations. – Johnny Jun 27 '11 at 12:03
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As I understand things, the answer is probably not how to motivate them but how to stop demotivating them. Are there people left with whom they want to work? Do they have accomplishment and autonomy? Are they given fair compensation (enough to take them off the market)? Do they believe in the company & product enough to feel like they are doing worthwhile work?

http://www.cio.com/article/123406/Stop_Demotivating_Me_

As a software developer, I find it to be wise for my own career, fiscal health, and reputation to not ride a failing company into the ground. It may be as mentioned above, that you need to communicating the end of losses and focus on building new successes. After all, human institutions all run on trust.

Sometimes a key player is laid off, someone the team had confidence in and who made them want to come to work. This person likely had informal authority far out of proportion to any formal authority. Perhaps you had a rockstar who was a great "draw" but whom you've eliminated. This can devastate teams. If that is the case, you might need to bring in a new local hero.

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When this happened - over 2 decades ago - at a company I worked for, I was given the title of Morale Officer! (Besides for my regular job.)

I was given a small budget and was charged with ensuring the company was a fun place to be in.

E.g.: I spent money on ping-pong balls for the ping-pong table, and made sure it was in use, often.

Nosh is always appreciated and was provided regularly.

Part of the trick was to walk around and engage people in conversation; find out what they think and inject positive comments into conversions.

In short: Spend time actively lifting the mood.

The end of the story? The operation was a success, but the patient died. We all had a great time, until the company folded a few quarters later, but hardly anybody walked out on us despite firings every few months.

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Appreciate them. Trust me, nothing works better than that. Make them feel comfortable about coming to you with their future plans; these might be job security, salary, location, or knowledge area. In this way, you can increase the probability of their staying with the company. Arrange an open meeting for each and everyone, so that they can contact you for almost any concern. They will come to you with their concerns and you will get a nice opportunity to know about their real issues (be they personal or professional). Employees should be the first preference as they can impact your business in a direct manner; they call it Employee First Customer Second

Probably, we all know this risk and we keep it as "known-unknown" (as suggested by ashes999) to maintain your risk register. I believe that these risks are already being identified in the planning process area.

  • Thanks Chris for your suggestion. Indeed, this open meeting for each brought good results. – Johnny Jun 27 '11 at 12:06
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"People are leaving" is not the problem itself. The problem is that their behavior affects your project plans. You didn't explain how your problems are affected by that. Can you explain?

If you can't, please try. It's very likely that once you start focusing on plans instead of "getting people back" employees will turn back or stop leaving. They will see that the company cares about the future, not the past.

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    I disagree that people leaving is not the problem itself. It's not the root problem, true; but people leaving IS a problem. Project managers are as much team and human-resource managers as anything else. – ashes999 Feb 10 '11 at 13:16
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    I agree with ashes999, but I also agree with yegor256. Focusing on plans can make things better (long term), but there are some actions to do to make people feel better with their jobs (short term). – Johnny Feb 10 '11 at 15:07

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