One of the most pressing issues in today’s workplace is to retain the employees who have already made up their mind to leave the organization or who have already resigned in the quest of greener pastures.
Unfortunately, in many organizations, this is when the quest to retain the employee starts. Suddenly the world of opportunities opens up for the employee inside the organization in the form of the pay hike, promotion, onsite opportunities or transfer.
Usually, the efforts to retain a person after he has decided to leave are futile. But more often than not, the salary or the role offered by the competitor is too lucrative, or the employee has spoken to mentors, peers, and friends and has already convinced himself and his family, or may even feel that the organization’s efforts are too little, too late.
Even in cases where the retention efforts do seem to succeed, it is not without causing a collateral damage; it may tend to leave many of the other employees unhappy and disgruntled due to the perceived unfairness of a new offer or without delivering the message that in order to get something, an employee must threaten to quit the organization. This may happen despite the significant amount of time and effort expended by the management in making the counter-offer. Hence this is, largely, an ineffective way to retain people.
However, the importance of retention efforts cannot be underestimated, especially in emerging markets like India, where there is a stark imbalance between the demand and supply of talent. Now the question arises, how can organizations make more concerted efforts to retain talent?
Instead of making retention efforts after the employee has decided to quit may not have that effect when compared to doing these before the person starts looking elsewhere. Which means asking the questions- What are the actions that will be taken to retain the employee after he has resigned? Can these actions be taken before he starts to think of quitting?
History bears witness to the fact that serious efforts to know what will make the employee stay or leave; and the relevant actions taken based on this understanding can significantly reduce the undesired exits of talent. Although it is easier said than done, engaging proactively with the employees could work wonders and have a very significant impact on the bottom line of the business.
The issue lies in the fact that this approach requires the organization to engage with the employees in a radically different way and by creating an empowering culture where the employees are consistently valued. Moreover, the organization is required to think ahead and be ahead of the curve.
Here are some of the critical steps for proactively engaging with the employees:
Identifying the “must-retain” or the indispensable employees
It is important to focus and understand that everybody is not indispensable in the organization. Every organization has its own priorities; normally these include employees who are critical to long-term success and those who are strong performers/contributors. These are people we do not wish to lose. Now the question to ask is, “how hard will we try and strive to retain this employee if he intends to leave?”
Identifying what will make each of these employees stay in the longer run
If we are able to decipher what will make an employee stay, then there is a high probability that we will be able to do something towards it before the person starts to pack his bags. For example, we can facilitate the employee’s development towards the roles he aspires for, help address issues with his supervisor or even provide a location that meets his requirements. That is, we can plan for a longer term and take constructive steps within the organizational framework to address this pressing issue.
Communication is the key
Often, while the organization is working on its plan for the individual, he is working on his own plan (which often goes beyond that planned by the organization) and since these are not shared, both of them stay unaware of each other's plan. To bridge this gap and address this issue, transparency and continuous communication is needed. The manager is the best person to do this since he forms an important link through which the information traverses to and fro between the management and the employee. When this is done proactively, it helps in building the rapport and credibility of the organization and reinforcing the view that the organization values the employee.
Getting insights into individual’s drivers, motivations, aspirations and gray areas, however, need a significant amount of trust, transparency and a sincere interest in the person. This is possible through open, frequent conversations and a strong sensing by managers who care and are backed by clear actions.
Uniquely tailored plans, co-created with the employee
For an employee what matters the most is the answer to the question - “How can I achieve the targets or goals which I have set out for myself?” That is the reason why there is a need to create individualized plans co-created with the employee. For example, if growth is an important aspect for the individual, co-creating a development plan that helps grow and scale the ladders of success in the organization needs individualized attention. This applies to the other retention efforts as well like career planning, rewards & recognition etc. Apart from fostering a sense of shared ownership, co-creation of individualized plans also helps in calibrating their efforts so that they can be effective.
Are the retention efforts owned by the manager, the HR department or the senior leaders? For retention efforts to be effective, they must be owned by all of them. Their involvement is essential to get the insights into the employee’s motivations, aspirations, and challenges, to find the ways to address these, to execute them and to maintain a continuous dialogue. In many organizations, the initial efforts probably need to start with the ownership of the manager, the HR team, and the senior leadership. As the credibility of the approach builds up, the employee will start recognizing that switching jobs need not be a necessity. He will then start co-owning the approach, thereby becoming a key stakeholder in the implied effectiveness of this approach.
The challenges posed by attrition will continue to plague the markets and sectors but in order to buck the trend the organization will have to show genuine interest in the employee’s motivations, aspirations and pain areas, along with transparent and consistent communication provided these happen much before the employee starts thinking about quitting.
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