Main image of article Engineering Managers Have Never Been So Important

In a tech environment that is currently rife with upheaval, engineering organizations and leaders are urgently searching for opportunities to create both consistency and confidence for their employees. While assurances from leadership teams can help to quell concern, the real work is in understanding where to focus operationally in order to support retention in an increasingly unsettled environment.

Who is the person for that job? Your engineering manager. Here’s why effective engineering managers are essential to your organization’s success – and why it’s essential to retain them in uncertain times.

Engineering Managers are the Translators of Your Organizational Strategy

Effective engineering managers are resilient, adaptable, and have technical buy-in from their teams, credibility that is earned especially if they came up as an engineer and moved into management. For this reason, engineering managers are a crucial bridge between your organizational strategy and its implementation; they are able to translate business goals and strategy into actual engineering events.

In simpler terms? Great engineering managers are exceptional at explaining the why. They can explain what the team is building and support the reasoning for the work with data and clear direction. This is absolutely critical to the success of your engineering team – because when engineers are not aligned or don’t understand how their work contributes to a broader goal, they will be understandably frustrated.

Engineering managers engage their team in the why and translate goals to be sure that every engineer understands the importance and relevance of the work from a technical perspective. This elevates the performance of the entire team and also supports retention of the most talented engineers.

Engineering Managers are Pivotal in Creating Cultures of Innovation and Growth.

The healthiest engineering cultures empower their engineers to fail. Yes, fail. That’s because risk-taking is imperative to creativity and innovation. Instead of working towards perfection, an effective engineering manager will encourage innovation, allow for mistakes and iteration, and understand that sometimes, you have to completely rewrite things. The ability to empower an engineering team to adopt this mindset and feel confident with risk-taking is the only way to learn, grow, and ultimately exceed expectations.

Excellent engineering managers lead with mentorship, a focus on growth, by providing resources and tools, and by removing blockers – and most importantly, understanding that often, done is better than perfect. A skilled engineering manager will understand how to identify and prioritize the projects that allow engineers to stretch their skills, and the ones that just need to get done. This means engineering managers are imperative to creating a culture of innovation and growth across your engineering teams.

Want to Retain Great Engineers? Start with Great Engineering Managers.

Attracting and retaining great engineering leaders keeps teams happy and healthy, and lowers attrition for engineers, which is critical for your product growth. Remember, a great engineer doesn’t necessarily translate to a great manager. While it is beneficial for managers to have an engineering background, it’s important to distinguish the skills that set a manager apart. Effective engineering managers are resilient, adaptable, have the ability to get technical buy-in from their teams, demonstrate credibility, and have excellent communication skills.

Too often, in the case of a departing engineering manager, companies take their best engineer on the team and elevate them to a manager role. That engineer may think they want it, but once the operational and leadership aspects become evident (e.g., meetings), 80% of the time they don’t want this role. This slows teams down drastically. You lose momentum. And when engineers are frustrated or bored, then they start looking for something new. Once you start losing good engineers, it can snowball, because engineers want to work with other good engineers. This cycle can have a detrimental impact on retention overall. Be strategic about your engineering managers, and you will retain your most talented engineers.

Engineering managers are pivotal leaders. They are the keepers and executors of your organizational strategy and have a direct impact on the satisfaction and retention of your most creative and skilled engineers. So, if your organization is seeking stability, innovation, and growth, it is imperative to remain focused on your managers as the catalyst for all three.

Jeremy Schmidt is Senior Director of Global Talent Acquisition at Codility.