Use The Right Approach To Keep The Right People.
Most of us have experienced the frustration of having a high potential employee leave our organization. Whether they left to join another company or to pursue personal interests, it makes us question: what could we have done differently or better to engage them enough to stay? According to research done by Challenger, Gray & Christmas, a Chicago-based Outplacement Firm, 91% of HR Executives believe the war for talent will escalate if the economy stays on it current track and 75% of those polled report that they are unable to fill their current open positions.
This data is a wake-up call for all organizational leaders. Top talent retention is no longer the sole responsibility of the Human Resources function but rather a significant business challenge for the entire Executive Team. Indeed, 57% of 4700 companies surveyed by PayScale.com, cited “Keeping High Performers” as a top business concern, up from 20% in 2010. So what do we do? The key to keeping your best talent is to better understand what makes them excel in your culture and to avoid trying to please everyone and focus more on the individuals that truly make your organizations great.
The number one reason employees leave an organization, based on our research, is the leadership failure of key managers. Given that talented employees will always be in demand and susceptible to being recruited by other companies, it’s more important than ever to improve our leadership practices. If the game is becoming more competitive, we need to change the way we play. It is your responsibility as a leader, regardless of where you sit in your organization, to value and inspire your top talent and make leaving a difficult proposition. Here are a few suggestions for retaining the talent you want to keep:
- Count your stars. If you do not know who they are, it is impossible to recognize their value and inspire them. Be mindful that you do not focus solely on the “high potential” employees. You want to also consider the people whom are most critical for delivering results -and making your organizations successful. Too often we take solid performers for granted and our actions, give them little to be inspired. Recognize that high performers and high potentials are usually the most challenging to keep. They know their value and they are the ones getting the calls from recruiters making them aware that many companies are looking for the their talents. In several organizations we have worked with, we discovered that the practice of identifying, labeling and rewarding “high potentials” can actually make it more difficult to retain them. Beyond putting them into a special program, more consideration should be paid to enhancing their leaders’ skills to inspire them to want to grow and stay within the organization. Rather than just focusing on “high potentials”, we recommend a continuum of talent strategies that balances the value provided by the individual to the investment required to grow and enhance their contribution.
- Don’t just manage—LEAD. If the number one reason our best talent is leaving is their manager/supervisor, the credibility of your leaders becomes a critical component to keeping your most important people. Our research has found that credible leaders perform at a high level on five major attributes: competence (both technical and leadership), character/integrity, courage (both to take action and to listen to the opinions of others), composure (delivering the appropriate emotional response to situations) and demonstrating care and concern for people. Those who consistently master these attributes are an organization’s most effective leaders and mentors. When an organization expects their leaders to elevate their game to constantly improve their leadership capabilities, they will be much more likely to retain their top performers. When leaders are committed to self-improvement, so too are the people that work for them. So, ask yourself “Am I holding the leaders responsible for the impact of keeping top talent?”
- All employees are not created equal—don’t treat them that way. A practice that has been especially detrimental to effective leadership is that of “equal treatment.” We have been taught to treat people the same, and to value them equally. This is not an effective leadership approach in today’s workplace. Why should we treat our worst performers like our best performers and expect our “stars” to remain inspired and motivated? It is a recipe for disaster. If you have people who are outstanding in your corporate culture, treat them as important and special. One of the things we advise clients is when you have employees who are invaluable, take the time on a regular basis to convey to them that they are important and critical to the organization. Most leaders spend too much time coaching and dealing with under-performers. In so doing, we tend to take our best performers for granted rather than continuing to reinforce their value to us and to the organizations.
- Are you rewarding the “right” things? Do you understand the difference between reward and recognition? It is important that leaders continue to find creative ways to reward performance but they should be careful not to think these rewards take the place of recognition. Recognition is all about noticing and articulating value. As people become increasingly restless in today’s workplace—wondering if there’s something better out there—we need to take the time to truly understand what motivates them. This is particularly important as promotions become less frequent as a person climbs the organizational ladder. To continue to challenge and motivate our employees so they will not look elsewhere, we must be willing to break organizational molds. Look for opportunities to leverage the person’s skills to other functions or businesses. Where once it was typical for a talented person to stay in an organization for ten years or longer, two to four years is now increasingly the norm. The bottom line: we must understand what motivates and inspires our people and be creative in delivering opportunities that challenge them.
- Leader as facilitator rather than “boss.” Agility is becoming a critical attribute in today’s leader. In a recent survey we conducted with the American Management Association, agility was ranked as one of the most important skills that organizations felt is necessary to be successful in the next ten years. In addition, it is increasing difficult for leaders to have the knowledge to manage all technical arenas within their responsibility. This poses a major challenge for today’s leader—how to manage and lead when you have less technical knowledge than those for whom you are accountable. Our recommendation is that leaders begin to think of themselves as facilitators rather than as directors. Let’s use the example of a ship’s captain. If the captain takes the responsibility to direct every detail of the ship’s operation, it would have very negative consequences. Instead, the captain, as leader, is responsible for clarity of direction, vision and boundaries. This then allows the crew to have latitude within those parameters. The captain may have discussions about operational improvements but in the end, the crew will operate within the assigned boundaries. If they do not like the boundaries, it may not be the right ship or the right position for them. The key point for today’s leaders is that they need to be in control of the boundaries while allowing people to excel in the mechanics of how to get the desired result. They need not have knowledge about all facets of the operation/function they oversee. This allows for the identification of great talent and ideas without relinquishing leadership responsibilities. Most leaders tend to either under-lead or over-lead. The role of facilitator is more focused on the big picture: putting more time and attention on clarity of expectations and then facilitating toward the desired outcomes.
It takes tremendous effort to recruit the most talented candidates into your organization and then develop them into productive assets. These people have the most opportunities from which to choose. To have the greatest chance of success, we must create a culture that is challenging, fun and rewarding (both intrinsically and financially). Great people attract other great people. And the more great performers that exit through the back doors of your company, the fewer great replacements you will hire. Successful people want to work for a winning team. Nurture and value your top human capital—remember, it is no longer your right to get the best talent, it is your privilege.