Attracting and Retaining Good Digital Staff

Have you ever watched a nature documentary where a pack of dogs or a flock of birds fight over their latest kill? It is sheer chaos, as each animal fights for their prize with increased desperation.

Recruiting good digital employees feels like a nature documentary. It is beginning to become a jungle out there! Although there is no shortage of candidates, talented designers and developers are much in demand and you can become pretty desperate.

There is a huge demand for good digital staff and it is increasingly hard to compete.Image from

Large players like Facebook or Google make matters worse. They suck up talent with salaries and perks almost no one can match.

Even when you do manage to catch a good person, holding onto them can be just as hard. There is always a better offer and the grass always looks greener on the other side.

If you feel like attracting and retaining great designers and developers is harder than ever, then this post is for you. I want to share with you seven tried and tested methods for getting and keeping the best people. Most interesting of all, few involve a large amount of investment.

That said, let’s start with the obvious.

Get creative in how you reward a creative staff

Although many digital professionals claim that their work is a passion of theirs, they still need to get compensation for it. Without a doubt, salary and associated benefits are still important, but they are not the only way of rewarding your staff.

Start-ups have long used equity as a way to incentivize their staff. And even more traditional companies offer bonus schemes tied to company performance. Yet, in my experience, the most successful way of rewarding employees is something more personal.

The problem with bonus schemes and equity is that payout is about the success of the whole company, not the work of the individual. Instead, reward your employees based on the work they do. The things that they can impact themselves. Their accomplishments.

Also, those rewards don’t always need to be financial. Personalized gifts can often be much more “rewarding”. If a member of staff is a keen cyclist, consider buying them a top of the range bike they have always wanted.

We need to be more imaginative in how we reward staff. A successful scheme should easily show an employee that they’re appreciated. That brings me onto the next point.

Show your staff respect

More than anything else people want respect. They want to know that people recognize their value and their expertise. We show our level of respect for staff in a whole variety of ways. Salary is one way people judge how respected they are, but it is not the only way.

Our management style is a way we show our level of respect for our employees every day. Do we listen to their opinions? Do we bow to their expertise even though, in theory, they are subordinates? Do we undermine them in front of clients or colleagues?

Even when interviewing prospective staff it is important to show respect. Image from Ethan.

Even when we interview prospective employees, we need to be careful to show respect. Always remember that they are choosing you as much as you are choosing them.

One of the biggest ways you can show somebody respect is to allow them autonomy.

Give staff autonomy

Many organizations seem to manage their staff like it’s the industrial revolution. Restrictive and controlling management techniques made sense in the nineteenth century. The days when staff was low paid, low skilled, and lacked motivation.

But today’s digital professionals are highly skilled and motivated. We need to recognize that they are often more skilled in their area of expertise than we are.

We need to stop using management techniques stuck in the industrial revolution. Image from Wikipedia.

As a result, we need to give them a wide degree of latitude in how they do their own work. The more control and autonomy a member of staff has, the happier they will be, but they will also be more productive and more proactive.

A part of giving them autonomy and control is allowing them as much flexibility as possible.

Provide your staff flexibility

The modern employee has to strike a complex work/life balance. Specifically, our “always on” working culture, combined with both parents working in many families, means flexibility is high on the agenda.

Creatives and web developers want to work when they want and where they want. They are looking for employers who care more about delivery than where or when they do the work.

Of course, remote working and flexible time off is not always practical. It makes it hard to build culture or enable collaborative working. So, instead of dictating that people need to work from the office, try creating a more appealing environment.

Create a good working environment

Many office environments are drab soulless places. Places that do nothing to encourage collaboration or conversation. It is not surprising that, when candidates come for an interview, they are less than inspired by the place they will spend the majority of their week.

However, creating a great working environment is more than adding a few beanbags and a good coffee machine. It is also about having the right tools to do the job.

A great working environment is about a lot more than bean bags and pool tables.

I’ve spoken to many digital professionals who prefer to work from home. This is because they have faster Internet connections and networks that don’t restrict access. They can also use their own devices that are often faster and on which they can install their own software.

Not only do these kinds of restrictions damage productivity, they also undermine respect. That is because they treat employees like untrustworthy children.

Of course, sometimes the lack of decent tools has more to do with underinvestment.

Keep investing in your staff

Organizations show how much they value their staff by how much they invest in them, particularly in tools or in training.

Investing in the ongoing training of staff is important in attracting and retaining good people. A good digital professional knows that they need to invest in their skills to keep up in an evolving industry. They know that if they allow their skills to atrophy they will never be able to progress in their career.

Yet, many organizations seem happy to underinvest in this area. They are saying to their staff that they will use them up and spit them out once their skills are out of date.

So, we come to the final and most important aspect of attracting and retaining good staff:  The work itself.

Provide engaging work

If the work you are asking your key talent to do is un-engaging and banal, you will struggle to attract and keep an engaged staff. It won’t matter how appealing the package. If you are after the best you will be unable to attract people without being able to offer them creative and engaging work.

Be careful, though. It is tempting to oversell the work to your prospective designers or developers. When trying to attract new staff, it is easy to paint an idealistic picture of their creative projects, UX/UI tools, and workflow. Unfortunately, this will come back to bite you. You will end up with disgruntled  and demotivated staff and a high turnover rate.

At the end of the day it is that high turnover rate that we all want to avoid. Recruitment is an expensive process and so, if we find good people, we must do everything in our power to hold onto them. If you follow the advice above you should find that people stay with you for many, many, years.

About the Author Paul Boag is the author of Digital Adaptation. He is a leader in digital and user experience strategy with over 20 years experience. Through consultancy, speaking, writing, training and mentoring he passionately promotes digital best practice. More by this Author