September 14, 2018

How to Survive When Big Tech Wants to Poach Your Talented Employees


Israel is well-known for its high-tech scene. Startup CEOs here are blessed to be able to mine exceptional talent produced by a very good higher education system and the Israeli military’s investment in developing new technologies. This kind of talent helps startups get closer to market in less time and at less risk. The situation couldn’t be better for most startups.

However, in the past several years, more and more companies from all over the world have stepped up efforts to compete for Israeli talent. They are doing it the best way they know how: by offering increased salaries and more comprehensive benefits to workers. This puts local startups at a disadvantage, as many cannot afford to match the compensation offered by tech giants.

Companies like Intel, HP, and Microsoft have been in Israel for years, but the newcomers like Amazon, Facebook, and Google have forced many of us to think outside the box to find ways to hire and retain top talent.

Thinking Outside the Box to Retain Employees

Like a lot of companies, we at Guardian offer nice perks to entice and eventually hire prospects. But once the big tech companies start coming around, those perks aren’t always enough. We, like many startups, have to fight tooth and nail to keep ours best workers around.

How do we do it? We focus on turning our employees into “ninjas” — highly accomplished professionals in their fields. We help them learn how to work in a small company, and we make sure they continue to develop as professionals. This includes giving our employees the freedom to develop outside of their existing strengths.

Eighty percent of the time, our employees work on things well within their comfort zones. This helps them feel successful, which in turn helps them learn to love what they do. Meanwhile, the company extracts maximum value from the employee’s talent.

The other twenty percent of an employee’s time is set aside for work that is outside of their comfort zone, work that challenges them — which is crucial for professional growth.

We also subsidize English-language education for our employees. Not everyone needs it for their current position, but everyone does appreciate it as a means of personal and professional development. We also put an emphasis on connecting all of our employees to the vision of our company and the impact we will have by transforming the automotive industry and saving lives.

One of my personal favorite retention strategies is our CEO walkabouts. Every few months, each of our 22 employees takes a one-on-one walk with me. We discuss what the employee enjoys about their work, how their job fits into their larger career strategy, and what kinds of skills the employee aspires to learn/develop in order to achieve their goals.

The idea to retain employees through nontraditional strategies such as these hit me like a lightning bolt. One day, I was alerted that an alarm had sounded at our office. It was the weekend, so no one was supposed to be there. I went to see what was going on.

At the office, I found an employee working with a hobby drone. He had it plugged into some of the measurement instruments at our office, which had triggered the alarm. I could’ve chastised the employee, but instead, the thought occurred to me that having sophisticated office equipment presents a wonderful opportunity for our employees. Why not make our tools available to our employees for their own purposes? Now, I actually allocate budgetary resources to allow employees to use company equipment for their own passion projects.

I am happy to tell you we haven’t had an employee leave us in three and a half years, and the average employee stint in Israel is two and a half years. As a CEO, I am convinced that seeking inspired ways to foster win-win situations for our employees will keep them — and your startup — around long enough to get where you want to go.

Gil Dotan is CEO of Guardian Optical Technologies.

Read more in Retention

Gil Dotan brings a rich background in automotive technology, embedded technology, and mobile applications to his role as founder and CEO of Guardian. He has a strong background in sales, B2B and B2C marketing, product development, and business development, previously serving as global sales manager at Jungo Ltd. (now part of Cisco) and VP of marketing at KU. Earlier in his career, Gil was a startup scout for the international technology district at Hewlett-Packard. Gil is a graduate of Tel Aviv University, where he earned a degree in mechanical engineering.