It is Monday morning and one of your highest performing employees asks to meet with you. He advises you that he has been offered another role with a competitor. He will be paid 20% more in the new role. You begin by asking him if you can do anything to retain him, including matching the new remuneration offer. He asks for some time to think about it, however a few hours later comes back and advises he appreciates the offer, but he is going to accept the new role.
It is a widely publicised topic; how do you retain high performing employees? Every organisation asks the same question “What should I be doing to make sure my best employees stay and are engaged?” The above scenario is common, and you have probably experienced it personally. Often it is put down to “we couldn’t do anything different, he was offered a significantly higher salary” or “he has greater development opportunities with the other role”. However, the reality is, there was probably a lot of things that led to the employee’s resignation that you could have addressed.
Take some time to reflect on your current organisation and assess where you see yourself in each of the below areas. A consistent focus on the below will provide you with a significant advantage in ensuring you are doing everything you can to retain your highest performing employees.
How often do you tell your team members you appreciate them on an individual basis and specifically the reasons why? Think about yourself for a moment and that feeling you get when someone thanks you for something you did or recognises you for your contribution. It is an instant motivator. As leaders, we often assume that our team members know they are appreciated and that they are doing a good job, however if your not verbalising this to them, they are not aware. I am not saying you need to be saying to your team members every day “I appreciate you” however acknowledging the work someone does and the value they add to your team will ensure the employee knows they are valued and that their work and contribution is recognised. Simple statements such as “Thanks so much for your outstanding effort on the JRC project last week, I know you put in a lot of hours and it is greatly appreciated. The client was really happy and that is reflective of your commitment, hard work and high quality outcomes”. Seems simple doesn’t it – but how often are you actually doing it?
You could argue appreciation falls under this category. However, when we refer to recognition, we refer to a manner in which an employee is recognised for their work. Immediately when I discuss recognition with a client, they go straight to financial recognition, but there are so many other ways to recognise your team members. The key with recognition is to ensure that it is catered to the individual employee. As a leader, it is your role to identify how each employee likes to be recognised. Some employees like public recognition and acknowledgement of their work, others would appreciate a day in lieu for all the extra hours they have been working, some like to receive financial recognition, so a bonus or voucher thanking them for their efforts. Don’t be afraid to ask your team members, “how do you like to be recognised, what is important to you?”. Recognition is so important, I cannot tell you the number of times I have heard in an exit interview “I never felt my hard work was recognised”.
Remuneration can be a challenging one, particularly when an organisation does not have the budget to offer the employee a salary increase. The key factor with remuneration is to ensure you have built an environment of trust and are having open conversations with your team members around their salary. At a minimum each employees salary should be increased by CPI each year. CPI is a measurement of the cost of living, outlining the average increase of consumer goods and services purchased by a household. A CPI increase ensures that the employee is not worse off than when they commenced in their role. However, often a CPI increase for a high performing employee is not enough. These individuals are sought out in the market and can get an external offer of between 10-30% extra, particularly as their experience increases during the time they are employed with you. My advice here is don’t wait until a high performing employee comes to you to resign because they have a better offer or comes to you to ask for a salary increase. Be proactive, assess what you can offer and ensure this is communicated to the employee. If you don’t have a budget for remuneration increases, speak to the employee about what else you could offer i.e. an extra week’s annual leave a year, a day in lieu each month, flexibility in relation to hours of work and start/finish times.
When I refer to working conditions I am talking about the type of work the employee is performing, the challenge of that work, the relationships with the stakeholders and colleagues the employee is interacting with, the hours of work, the flexibility and the ability to make a difference. The expectation about working conditions will change from one employee to the next. As a leader, you should ask your team member “What is important to you at work?” Discuss the examples above and ensure you are constantly looking for ways to meet the employee’s expectations. Some individuals thrive in a high-pressure environment where they constantly feel challenged. For these individuals you would ensure they have the opportunity to be involved in projects that engage and inspire them. Others really value flexibility around hours of work to balance work and family commitments. For these individuals you could provide them with flexibility around start and finishing times and the opportunity to work remotely. The key point – don’t assume this is just the ‘organisations responsibility’ and don’t assume everyone wants the same thing.
Investment in personal and professional development
Automatically when I discuss this with a client, their mind goes straight to classroom training and formal qualifications. However, the focus here is on ensuring you are having conversations with your team members around their professional and personal development. Many argue that personal development isn’t the responsibility of an organisation. However, in my experience, when an organisation or leader takes a holistic approach to the team and employees and works with helping them grow both personally and professionally, they have a greater commitment to that leader and organisation and greater job satisfaction. So, what does this actually look like? My recommendation would be to have a conversation with each of your team members around where they see themselves now and, in the future, what energises them both in the workplace and outside. Then you should work with them to develop a plan, which will be a commitment to between 3 – 5 areas that will support the employee’s growth. This doesn’t just need to be work related. It could be that the employee wants to build stronger relationships with their children which requires them to leave every Wednesday at 3pm to take them to sport.
If I was to ask you now is leadership important, my guess is that you would answer “yes”. If I asked you why leadership was important, your answers would probably vary but would be along the lines that “it helps provide direction for the employees, ensures employees are accountable to someone and have someone to go to for support and the leadership team ensures that everyone is working towards the same goals.” I see organisations spend significant amounts of money in leadership development programs, only to get back into the workplace and return to their old behaviours. Leadership is twofold, it refers to the employee’s direct leader and the broader leadership across the organisation. An employee’s direct leader should empower their team members and trust them when they make decisions. They should be consistent in their approach. They should understand the importance of communication and take the time to understand the communication styles of each of their team members. They should be approachable and always have time for their team but encourage them to come with solutions. They should take their time to share their knowledge and expertise to support the growth of team members. They should be confident in making difficult decisions and be transparent around the how and why. Most importantly all leaders in the organisation should invest a significant amount of time in working with each other to ensure collaboration across the entire organisation, meaning ideas and solutions can be implemented quickly, with little resistance. The absence of great leadership can significantly influence the decision of a high performing employees’ intention to stay.
Each individual has their own values, the inherit things that are important to them. Each organisation (whether or not they have defined these) has a shared set of values which are apparent through the behaviours demonstrated by leaders and decisions made. When an employee’s individual values are not aligned with the organisation’s values, they are likely to end up looking for another role. For example, imagine Jenny in your team. Her values are trust, accountability and transparency. If leaders in the business are not accountable for their own actions or constantly blame other departments or if a decision was made that breached her trust, Jenny is going to feel as though she is not aligned with the culture of the business and seek alternative employment.
As a leader, focusing on the above could have a profound impact on your ability to retain your team members and build what is referred to in the HR Consulting world as a ‘High performance culture’.