I recently had two separated discussions with two of my colleagues who employ an offshore outsourcing facility in India. Interestingly one of them told me that he had experienced 100% turnover in an 18 month period, while the other had not even a single developer leaving his team for the last two years (!).

This is indeed a remarkable achievement, especially in India with its well known high turnover. What is the secret that my second colleague knows?

Well, basically, he knows that it is really hard work to keep people happy and challenged , yet he is willing to invest (and this is indeed an investment with measurable ROI) this time even though these developers are not on his payroll.

Here are some of my insights on the subject:

“…We invest a lot of time in establishing long-lasting relationship with our developers. There’s no other way, if you want to avoid the huge cost of high turnover. I have been practicing offshore software development for over than 8 years now and I believe this is definitely one of the largest enemies of this field.

We managed to achieve a constant average of 5% turnover per year in the last four years. I think this is a normal turnover that reflects the natural need people have for change. I’ll try to summarize my insights on the subject:

We prefer working with an Easter European facility rather than an Indian one. We found that in general, the Eastern European are more loyal and are not in a constant search for the next opportunity. They value stability and technical challenge more than an insignificant salary raise gained by replacing an employer. Moreover, working mainly with EMEA region I find the Eastern European alternative much more effective, in terms of lesser mentality gaps, closer time zones and lower costs for travel logistics.

We employ an “Ambassador exchange program” – every 2-3 months we send our onsite project managers to work offshore face to face with the offshore team and vice versa – sending offshore R&D team leaders to work on customer site. This serves several purposes: in onsite visits R&D team leaders really start to grasp the customer’s line of business. When they come back to their offshore location they can then provide an added value of understanding their customer’s business objectives and not only the technical requirements, like they typically do – staying in their comfort zone. This helps a lot in the onsite-offshore communication. Also, it gives them a sense of the bigger picture and belonging to the customer’s team which reduces retention.

When working offshore, the onsite project managers, finally understand the difficulty in working offshore – it’s like working in a glass bubble – you hear only some of the voices and considerations yet you are expected to produce as effectively as someone onsite who is fully aware of all the considerations of all stakeholders. When they come back to their onsite location, they communicate the bigger picture to their offshore developers much more clearly, which makes the team much more cohesive.

During these ambassador exchanges we encourage social activity between our project managers and our developers. People who drank beer (or Vodka!) together somehow communicate better even when they are separated again – there’s some “invisible glue” that was created during this social activity. Again, it also strengthen loyalty and create long-lasting teams – people prefer to work with their friends.

We provide training courses as well as professional certifications to our developers free of charge. In general Eastern European value dearly their professional development and achieving industry-standard certifications (in Java, .NET , Scrum etc.) is very important for them.

On top of the benefits that we provide to our developers as an employer, we also encourage our customers to strengthen the corporate brand and sense of belonging in various ways: it could be a small appreciation bonus on a successful delivery, a company event in the offshore location, a vacation sponsored by the customer or even just a simple shirt with the customer’s logo – sometimes that makes all the difference in the world.”

Aviram Eisenberg