Do you ever feel like your developers are ignoring you? Or, that they respond, but with a little bit of attitude?
When working with software engineers, it is crucial to understand a few things about them, the nature of their job, and how to appeal to their interests and values. Employees should never ignore or be disrespectful to their superiors. But when it happens, it is better to dig for the underlying cause than to jump to conclusions.
At the current time, there are more tech jobs than applicants, with nearly 1 million IT jobs unfilled at the end of last year. Most experts predict this trend to continue. Turnover is expensive at the best of times. But when companies are competing so fiercely for talent, it is in your best interest to keep developers around. On the other hand, your organization has to run smoothly. And if you are being ignored or treated disrespectfully, your organization has rough patches that need smoothing.
Once you understand a couple of things about your engineers and how they work, you can tweak your approach and reach a point of mutual respect and understanding.
With that in mind, let’s explore four ways to improve your relationship with the developers on your team, and start getting the kind of responses you need while keeping your workers happy.
Understand Their Motivation
One of the first steps in understanding employees is to discover their motivations. What drives them? In a job setting, most people are motivated by money, but others may also appreciate employee appreciation gifts, recognition, or other rewards. Additionally, people are motivated by mastery, purpose, and/or autonomy. In the case of developers, they are great at creating software that works (mastery). They are driven to produce perfect code that gets the job done (purpose). They appreciate your trust in completing their work independently. Engineers like solving problems. But, as a general rule, they hate organizational politics and are highly sensitive to and critical of marketing fluff.
Choose Your Interruptions Wisely
Engineers may be ignoring you for a number of reasons. But one of the major reasons is they don’t like to be unexpectedly interrupted. Writing code is a time-consuming, meticulous process. Once they are “in the zone,” something as simple as a Slack message or Microsoft Teams message, or an office drop-in can derail their train of thought, adding extra time and brain power to something that is already an intensive process. In order to keep their focus, they often turn off message notifications and check them with their email at certain times throughout the day. If you are constantly bombarding developers with memos about things that don’t affect their day-to-day tasks, they are even more likely to ignore your calls when something truly important comes up.
Another common point of frustration is an overall distrust of management. As presented in this webinar discussing engineers and their perspective on the workplace, many engineers don’t feel like management understands their role and the work they do. Sometimes, leaders even take the credit for work they didn’t do, which, understandably, is not something developers appreciate. Managers also often treat their engineers like objects or robots, since they are so effective at producing results. All of this leads engineers to have a jaded view of executives. And they are not in a huge hurry to make themselves available to them.
Instead, create incentive programs that showcase the skills of your development team. Offer public praise, intrinsic rewards, and opportunities for developers to celebrate when they have completed difficult tasks. Sometimes even a small token of appreciation could mean the world to the recipient. It doesn’t have to be extravagant to make the recipient feel valued. A simple act like getting plants delivered to your software engineers’ office can turn things around. Showing your engineers that you understand that your organization can’t function without them goes a long way to helping them feel valued, and begin to respect the business as a whole.
Build a Relationship of Trust
Engineers want their skills valued and their judgment trusted. As a manager, one of the best things you can do is to invest your energy into your team. Get to know your engineers, their hopes, dreams, and challenges. Take some time to learn about their career goals and plans for the future. Provide opportunities and training for growth and find ways to align their career goals with the growth of your organization. Trust increases between managers and engineers when the engineers feel like the manager is looking out for the team’s best interest, rather than focusing solely on the company’s best interest.
Once you’ve invested the time and energy into your team, be accountable. Effective accountability runs both up and down the organization chart. If you say you will get something for your team, make sure you follow through. You lose credibility and respect from your engineers when you don’t keep your word. You can also build trust with your engineers by speaking their language and showing them you understand the work they do. If you take the time to put yourself in the place of your development team, each of them will be a lot more receptive to you, your advice, and your requests.
Now that you understand both why your developers are ignoring you and how to improve that relationship so they won’t ignore you, you are ready to jump back in. Remember to show respect for your developers and their work. If you need to talk with them, schedule some time, rather than popping in or shooting a message. Take the time to get to know them and support their career growth and potential. Invest in them, and they will invest in your business to help further the company’s goals. In short, developers are like any other individual⸺show respect for them, and they will respect you in return.