2016 delivered a bumper crop of advice on how to keep your best employees from walking out the door.
HR pundits and talent experts produced literally dozens of articles, blog posts, research reports and videos focused on retention. Here are eight of their key recommendations in condensed form:
- Don’t keep changing performance goals and expectations. While a certain level of fluidity is unavoidable in some organizations, nothing kills retention like continually shifting performance targets. In fact, the most loyal and productive workers are those who know exactly what’s expected of them day-in and day-out. Changing goals and expectations frequently not only drives your top talent crazy but it also leads them to question your leadership, strategy and vision.
- Reward good work. Sounds simple enough, yet lots of employers do it poorly or not at all. If you truly want to reward your best employees in a way that improves retention, you need to learn exactly what makes them feel appreciated. For some it might be a simple pat on the back; others might prefer formal recognition in front of the team or a bonus. Only by talking with your people in advance can you be sure you’ll reward them effectively.
- Provide growth opportunities. Workers get bored when they’re forced to remain in static roles, according to Jacqueline Whitmore, contributing writer to Entrepreneur. That’s especially true of your high-potential talent. She recommends offering them new challenges, ongoing opportunities to learn, and cross-training them in other areas of your business. One additional thing to keep in mind: growth might mean promotion for some of your top performers but that’s not always the case. Some of your best people don’t want to climb the ladder to the c-suite. They love what they do and only want the chance to tackle fresh challenges from time to time.
- Tools, time and training are the easiest problems to solve. This is terrific wisdom from Susan Heathfield, a management and organization development consultant, because it speaks to issues every organization faces no matter its size or type—and these are issues you should be actively addressing anyway. As Heathfield observes, employees must have the necessary means to do their jobs well or they’ll move on to employers who do provide them.
The Seriously Savvy
- Train your people well, then get out of their way. Among the worst things you can do to really talented people are micromanaging them and undercutting their personal creativity. It takes a secure manager to guide people with a light touch, intervening only when necessary, but that’s precisely what the best managers do—the ones who hang onto top talent, that is. Of course, to feel secure enough to get out of your employees’ way, you first have to train them well and set clear expectations.
- Ask your people for their ideas. “When you ask employees for their input it sends the message, ‘We do pay you to think around here’ and it demonstrates that you respect their wisdom, experience, and judgment,” says international business speaker Michael Kerr in a Business Insider article. He calls this the simplest form of employee recognition there is. But remember … if you ask people for their ideas and never implement any of them, it will have the opposite You’ll quickly be perceived as disrespectful and insincere, which will cause top talent to jump ship.
- Allow people to pursue their passions. As Dr. Travis Bradberry writes in his Huffington Post piece, “Google mandates that employees spend at least 20% of their time doing ‘what they believe will benefit Google most.’ While these passion projects make major contributions to marquis Google products, such as Gmail and AdSense, their biggest impact is in creating highly engaged Googlers.” If you’re worried these kinds of passion projects will hobble your organization’s productivity, Bradberry cites studies that show people who are able to pursue their passions at work “experience flow, a euphoric state of mind that is five times more productive than the norm.”
- Hire the best people from the start. Remember, your “best” people are deeply aligned to your organization’s purpose and excited by the work you’ve hired them to do. That’s why they consistently exceed expectations and outperform their peers. It’s also why they usually present a much smaller retention risk. However, hiring and retaining the best people often isn’t cheap. As a recent article in Entrepreneur put it: “To hire and keep the best, you need to pay them the best,” somewhere between 20 and 40 percent above the market rate.
So there they are—eight of 2016’s best retention recommendations. But here’s the million-dollar question …
Should You Even Aim for Retention?
In his recent article for The Wall Street Journal, author Sydney Finkelstein wrote, “some of the best managers not only allow their top performers to leave, but actively encourage it.”
Finkelstein penned the book, Superbosses: How Exceptional Leaders Master the Flow of Talent and spent a decade studying some of the world’s best and best-known bosses including Ralph Lauren in fashion, Julian Robertson in hedge funds, and Larry Ellison in technology. “These extraordinary leaders … weren’t afraid to lose their best people,” wrote Finkelstein. “On the contrary, most willingly unleashed their top performers onto the world, going out of their way to help them land outside opportunities. The leaders I studied built iconic businesses, transformed entire industries and in a number of instances became billionaires not by hoarding great people for themselves, but by mastering the flow of talent through their organizations.”
That’s an astounding insight. But many employers will find it a tough pill to swallow, especially those who’ve felt the financial punch of steadily replacing top performers. A widely cited study by the Center for American Progress puts talent replacement costs at 20% of the annual salary of individuals who earn $30,000 to $50,000 a year and as much as 213% of the annual salary of senior executives and management roles that require high levels of education.
Given numbers like those, business leaders won’t likely be falling all over themselves to help their top people land jobs with other companies. Indeed, when it comes to mastering the flow of talent, employers typically favor the principle of preemptive intervention (attempting to predict which workers are at high risk of leaving so managers can proactively try to stop them). A recent Harvard Business Review article called preemptive intervention “a better way to deal with employees’ wandering eyes than waiting for someone to get an offer and then making a counteroffer.” The reason? Half of all employees who accept a counteroffer from their current employer leave within 12 months anyway.
If you’re interested in staging your own preemptive talent interventions, the eight tips above are a great place to start.
Secondary photo courtesy of Pixabay