When Poaching Wrecks a Tech Company

Screen Shot 2015-10-20 at 10.01.56 AM

Thanks to a notably low unemployment rate in the technology sector, tech pros with the hottest skills are almost certainly employed, and earning hefty salaries. For many companies, that means the most effective way to obtain that necessary talent is through poaching.

For companies targeted by recruiters and rival HR staff, poaching is an irritating but inevitable fact of corporate life. In the case of Mission Motors, however, it proved a company-killer. Executives from the now-defunct firm, which built electric motorcycles, claimed to Reuters that it died after Apple poached its top engineers.

“Mission had a great group of engineers, specifically electric drive expertise,” former CEO Derek Kaufman told the newswire. “Apple knew that—they wanted it, and they went and got it.”

For almost a year, rumors have flown about Apple poaching automotive-related talent from other companies, with an eye toward building its own electric-powered vehicle. Earlier this month, Tesla CEO Elon Musk took a swipe at Apple’s hiring practices, telling a German newspaper: “They have hired people we’ve fired. We always jokingly call Apple the ‘Tesla Graveyard.’”

Tesla can handle some of its engineers leaving for other firms; it’s a publicly traded company that sells thousands of cars, with a lot of buzz behind it. For startups, though, poaching can prove deadly. So how can a small company prevent top people from leaving? What can management do?

Many firms choose to incentivize employees in a way that compels them to stick around—for example, giving bonuses at the end of the year. Money isn’t everything, however. Keeping your employees engaged—and making sure they’ve bought into your company’s overall mission—is an excellent way to ensure they’ll stay at their desks for some time to come, even in today’s ultra-competitive tech industry.