How to keep your top talent: practical tips for tech startups

It is imperative for tech startups to place a greater emphasis on employee retention. A failure to do so could lead to negative consequences.

Tech startups need talented employees and talented employees need tech startups. It’s a symbiotic relationship that keeps both parties looking for each other. At some point, the employee may overturn this balance and will seek a better career path elsewhere. If you’re an employer and you want to find out how to keep your top talent before this happens, then look no further.

In this post, we will examine the factors that influence top talent employees and the steps you can take to convince them to stay before these thoughts even appear in their head.

Setting the scene: the talent pool context

Tech startups are constantly on the lookout for a range of different positions to start their business with a bang; everything from developers, IT specialists to project managers. Startups need to be flexible and, thus, these employees have to be dynamic and talented. That is, unless it becomes a case of outsourcing as a way to grow your company.

For a great overview of how to define ‘talent’ in the workplace, we recommend starting here.

This becomes a hunt for top talent from the side of employers.

But applicants themselves also choose the best place for them to work and are motivated by a range of different factors. For instance, a hefty salary, career progression or to get valuable experience for the future.

This search from both parties becomes a case of supply and demand on the Human Resources (HR) market. In-demand employees usually know their value and the average exposure time of a resume of an employee in the field of IT is one to two days.

Photo credit: Annie Spratt

It’s becoming difficult to attract this top talent in the first place.

A candidate may plan to come in for an interview, but either reschedules or simply does not have time, thereby cancelling at the last minute. It’s typically a fast-moving process and in the meantime he or she have already received an offer from another company.

At the same time we understand that finding talented employees is only the first step to success. It is also important to keep them in the company, which is often a more difficult task.

Understand the mindset of applicants

Today, hefty salaries and monetary compensation alone won’t keep a team together. Far from it as career growth and development are key factors for any ambitious professional.

As such, we have to consider both tangible and intangible motivating factors.

Moreover, it is important not to forget about the intrinsic motivation, which ideally should become the main motivating force of each employee.

No matter how you influence a person from the outside, if he or she do not have an internal understanding of the meaning of his work or what they want to achieve at the company, no external motivation in the long term will retain them.

In this way, managers needs to identify the professional needs of each employee in the team and respond to them in a timely manner.

Photo credit: Lala Azizli

With this approach both employers and employees win: the employer will achieve the best team results, while employees will receive opportunities for professional fulfillment, self-actualization and comfort in their work.

As a result, performance will be based on the principle of mutual reinforcement between the two.

What areas should an employer focus on to keep your top talent? Here are some practical tips.

  • Company atmosphere
  • Feedback
  • Career growth
  • Training and development
  • Guidance and vision of team leader

Company atmosphere

Having the right company atmosphere is key. After all, this is the place where a person will spend most of his time during a working day.

The company atmosphere is something that you can change and you have to constantly evaluate the mood that is set within the company. A general rule of thumb is to “hire by hard skills, fire by soft skills“.

While emphasizing professional competencies, employers often overlook skills such as teamwork, trust and team atmosphere. It is important to understand that it is quite easy to improve expert knowledge, but it is impossible to change a person’s personal qualities.

That is why, when hiring a candidate, you need to ask yourself who you really want: an ideal workhorse or an energetic and engaged leader that takes responsibility despite failure.

On the other extreme side of this, companies make the mistake of emphasizing too much on personal qualities and company atmosphere so that it can seem almost cult-like.

If you want to keep your top talent, make sure to keep a good balance in this area.

Photo credit: Austin Distel


Feedback is another crucial aspect of the employer-employee relationship. It is imperative for an employee to receive systematic feedback based on his or her performance.

Strong communication between the manager and the team is the foundation of a trusting relationship. The employee should have a clear understanding about what he or she does, what can be changed in the work and what can be improved.

Similarly, recognizing and appreciating the manager’s role in this relationship is a powerful driving force for the employee to move forward and improve his or her performance.

Feedback should, therefore, work both ways. Top talent will want to stay if they know that they are being listened to and understood, which falls in line with the next point.

Career growth

A company without the possibility of career growth rarely leads to intrinsic motivation. Every talented professional wants to develop and advance in his or her position.

Employees value seeing clear goals and pathways for growth. If a person clearly sees his career trajectory in the company with clear development for their career, then greater efforts are made to approach the next level within it.

If this future somehow seems uncertain, then the employee may leave the company at the first opportunity, trading it for a more profitable competitor’s offer.

If you want to know how to keep your top talent, then you have to set career growth ladders of expectations and make sure that employees understand what they should do to get there.

Absolutely no beating around the bush in this aspect.

Photo credit: Clay Banks

Training and development

This next point is complementary to career growth, namely training and development. To help employees grow, it is vital for companies to provide training and development courses.

Over the past few years, one of the most effective tools for attracting and retaining employees is the opportunity to improve their professional skills through corporate training.

This goes back to psychology: when an employee is constantly developing and improving their qualifications, they feel accomplished and want to keep pushing forward.

Guidance and vision of team leader

Entire books have been written about team leadership, which brings us to the next point – the guidance and vision of team leader.

The main quality of a modern leader is the ability to engage, and doing so well.

But there’s a catch in the modern tech startup landscape. In a tech startup, every single member should strive to become a leader as the team is no longer just a group of performers, but a team of leaders.

Tech startups are dynamic and, thus, the pace and scale of change is so fast that every member has to stay engaged as a leader. The ideal team is adaptive and self-sufficient.

You should also re-define what it means to be a CEO (CEOs, listen closely).

The CEO’s role in this regard should be that of a Chief Enabling Officer with the principal task being to guide and train and not to give orders.

It’s all about setting an example. A leader today enjoys authority not because he or she strikes fear, but because he or she is an example to employees.

Where there is trust, there is stronger motivation to develop and to invest in the development of the company.

It’s a win-win: when everyone member of the team wants to improve what they are doing – the business grows organically, and the employees grow together with it.

But before you go!

If you want to learn how to gain a better understanding of business models for tech startups, we have outlined the most important concepts in last month’s list.

See you in the next post!

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