Retaining Your High Performers

Identifying, acquiring and retaining high performing employees, whether leaders, highly skilled professionals or skilled front-line team members is more challenging than ever.

I am finding with my clients that retention may be the biggest challenge they are facing today. The question is, what are you doing to retain your high performers? Do you know why they leave? The standard easy answer may be, it?s the new generations, the Millennials and now GenZ. They want everything today and will change companies in an instant for whatever they think they want and deserve.

Most companies do some form of exit interview and hope to get solid information to help them solve the problem.?Exit interview answers can be superficial to support the departing employees desire to not burn any bridges. However, with good questions they certainly are not a waste of time.

What is the answer to retention in the current market? It?s a very good question and most companies are struggling with it.

Some basic requirements:

Basic offering: Your overall offering must be competitive in your industry, or you need to know why you have decided to not be at parity with your core offerings. You don?t need to try to out Google, Google but you do need to understand what your competitors are offering in terms of compensation, benefits and HR policies so you can clearly decide how your offerings compare.

Culture: Are your mission, vision, purpose, core values clear? In other words what is your culture? How does the work get done and is everyone from the top to the bottom of the organization clear and living the culture? Are you hiring for culture fit?

Onboarding: What is your onboarding process? Do you allow enough time and resources to help every new hire feel valued and that they are a key player on a winning team? Do they get to meet all the key players? Does the new team member have a mentor? Does the new team member have all the tools they will need to be successful? Is there a probationary time period and if so what happens during that period? Does your onboarding reflect the realities of the culture? Will the new team member feel good six months from now when the newness of the opportunity has worn of and reality has set in?

Training: Is every new team member provided with all the training they will need to be successful in their job? Do they know where to get answers or ask for help? Is there a time period when they are considered in training and is there a celebration when that period is complete?

Retention goal: Does everyone know the company retention goal and do all members of management have retention as part of their goals? How often is retention discussed and how often are the retention goals reviewed seriously. If the goal is not being met what changes are made to achieve the goal?

Action plans: Without clear action plans goals are rarely achieved. What action steps have been identified by the management team at each level to support the achievement of the overall retention goal? There is a good deal of research that says employees join companies and leave managers. What action plans are in place at each management level that will support a positive relationship between managers and team members?

The above basic requirements are fundamental to retention. We as leaders are in the people business. We have always been in the people business but in todays knowledge/information economy it is more critical than ever that we realize that no mater what industry we are in or what function within our company, if we are responsible for getting things done through others, we are first and foremost in the people business.

Here is a very brief overview summary of some research I have done over the recent past.

Best Places to Work winners. I interviewed twenty executives from small and mid-size companies in San Diego county with the goal of understanding what they were doing to achieve the success they were achieving including being recognized as Best Places to Work. They all understand that they are in the people business. Although they represented a wide range of industries and included profit and non-profit, they all rated their culture at the top of their reason for success. They all had the necessary offerings to be competitive in their industry but the real difference maker in their eyes is their culture.

Millennials and Gen Z.?In one of my current roles I have the opportunity to meet one on one with Millennials and Gen Z students in the last couple years of their degree program in the College of Business Administration at California State University San Marcos. They are all attending a course that has been specially designed to help prepare them for the realities of their future work life. I meet with around 40 students, as their coach, each semester for about an hour each to talk about who they are, where they are going, why they are going there and anything else on their mind about their future. In the process of these meeting I always ask them what characteristics they are looking for in their future employer. They sometimes struggle with the question but one thing that comes through loud and clear most of the time is the company culture. They don?t all say culture specifically but they do say things like the following:

  • Collaborative workplace
  • Open to new ideas
  • Aligned values
  • A boss that listens and wants my viewpoint
  • Opportunities to grow
  • Flexible schedule
  • Friendly work environment
  • Team environment
  • Strong supportive leadership
  • Respect individuals
  • Takes care of their employees
  • Challenging work
  • Diversity
  • Everyone treated fairly

The tone of there desires is clear, they want to join organizations that put people first. Surprisingly enough, I don?t hear outrages compensation and benefit requests. I do get many comments about the company needing to be stable. There is also a desire to stay with companies for more that a couple years if they can find the kind of work environment demonstrated in the bullets above.

So, what is the core message about retention? There will always be turnover for a variety of reasons, many of which are unavoidable. However; a clear message is as leaders, more than ever, we are in the people business. Whether it is employees, customers, co-workers, bosses and all the other stakeholders in the great game of business, it?s all about people.

If you want to retain your high performers, examine your culture first. Is your culture creating and supporting the kind of a workplace that todays? workforce is looking for and wants to be part of?

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