4 Ways to Keep Good People: A Simple Retention Framework

Keeping good people is never easy. Employment is about relationships: specifically the relationship between an individual with changing needs, increasing experience, growing knowledge, and intellectual capital and an organization that exists in a changing marketplace with ever evolving needs. To maintain the employment relationship, employers have a huge responsibility. First of all, they need to clearly know who their best employees are. They also need to keep their employees informed, help them maintain and develop skills, and encourage them to build networks and internal relationships. None of these things costs much when compared to the cost of recruiting and developing new employees, and none of these are really very hard to do. But to put them into place does require a change of mindset and a willingness to break (or at least stretch) the usual policies and rules that exist in many organizations. Good HR and good recruiting is, after all, about treating people fairly ó but not necessarily the same. Here are those four requirements for building lasting loyalty and a strong employee-employer relationship: 1. Have a performance management system that works. Let employees know where they stand and how they are performing. Offer the opportunity to move within the company to jobs that may fit their skills and interests better. Keep the bureaucracy to a minimum and remove time constrictions. A major reason for employee unease and anger is insecurity over how their performance will be assessed. Very few employees have strategic performance objectives or spend time periodically reviewing their achievements with their boss. Many employees, unfortunately, have goals and objectives that are not strategic and that lead to fear and self doubt. For example, a colleague told me about a recent layoff she was part of. While the employee who was being let go had an excellent performance rating, so did almost every other employee in the organization. The way performance was assessed provided no meaningful information to either the organization or the individual. 2. Keep employees informed. Silence is the greatest enemy of retention. When management does not update the employees on the financial and business state of the company and when rumors can be counted by the minute, turnover goes up and productivity goes down. While some people (usually the “B” and “C” players) hunker down and hide, the best ones start looking. I can’t tell you how many excellent employees who are highly valued have left their employers because of business uncertainty. No one expects assurances or guarantees; what they hope for is an understanding of trends. Are things better, the same, or worse? Are customers leaving? How is sales volume? Relationships thrive on the exchange of information. The organization also needs conduits for employees to let them know about changes in their development, classes taken, and new skills acquired. Employees want the employers to use this information to help them find promotions or new positions within the organization that will offer them a greater challenge or more financial incentive. The two-way communication between employer and employees is as critical as performance management. 3. Educate employees all the time. In bad times, employees have time to soak up new information. Education and development are the cheapest retention tools in your arsenal. We are in a talent war (even if that’s hard to see right now) and everything has to be tried. Locking people into degree or certificate programs is almost a guarantee that they will remain with your firm until they complete the program. Most will be loyal and thankful. And all of them will be better educated and hopefully more productive employees. This is a big plus for large organizations, and you should be capitalizing on this right now. But development can also occur through on-the-job development and through many informal networks and conversations. Every employer should encourage employees to transfer to different positions frequently and institute rewards for managers who let their people go to other departments and who focus on developing their staff. Many employees who leave organizations are simply looking for a bigger challenge or the opportunity to use a new skills or degree. Smart organizations will encourage this and motivate managers to source and hire internally whenever possible ó even if it will require a bit of training. 4. Help every employee build a social network. Employees are frequently devoted to fellow employees and feel strong attachments to them. This is what keeps many people from job hopping. We all know how powerful networks are, and companies that actively promote employee interaction and teamwork have less discontent and less turnover than those that keep employees apart or at odds. I recommend starting clubs and social groups within the company that work and play together. Some companies form college clubs for new college grads that help them become oriented to the firm and meet other new hires. This tends to raise the level of commitment they have to the organization and reduces turnover. Internal networks are powerful binding devices. Encouraging internal blogging, the use of virtual communications tools like SMS or IM, and the use of video conferencing. These can strengthen networks and extend them globally. Knowledge is a powerful retention tool, and naivety and ignorance can best be combated by sharing of ideas and experiences between people from many different firms. There us nothing that I have written here that is new. Employee retention is about applying the Golden Rule: do for employees what you want done for yourself. It is 90% common sense.

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Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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