How to keep your people…and keep them happy

December 3, 2021
Business Growth

There has been plenty written about the ongoing “war for talent” and the post-pandemic (or should that be peri-pandemic?) shifts in the labour market, with articles and features referring to the Great Resignation. Many leavers are not just switching employers to a similar role elsewhere. As this great Long Read in the FT explored, a lot are retraining or retiring earlier than planned. Just as the pandemic has changed the workplace forever, so it has changed people’s perspective on life, with a particular light shone on the role of work.    

But while there has been a lot of discussion about how hard it is to find and recruit good people, not as much has been said about what can be done to retain the talent you already have.

Supper Club members recently benefited from an interesting discussion and presentation on this subject by Rick Snyder, CEO and founder of Invisible Edge. Rick is an expert in organisational behaviour and personal development, the founder of four businesses (so he has first-hand experience to draw on), and an expert in neurobiology and intuition (check out his book Decisive Intuition). An on-demand recording of his session will be posted soon and his slides are attached below.

You probably have a people problem

Rick highlighted that the crisis in retention is global, sharing stats from the US market, where 4 million workers are quitting roles every month (the number peaked in September at 4.4 million). In the UK, research by Monster has found that while almost 5% of workers have already quit (itself a five-year high), 52% of respondents said they want to quit. And while 32% want to leave because they aren’t paid enough, 21% need a new challenge, 18% are bored and 16% can see no career progression. So, it isn't just about the money.  

Employers, managers and founders need to tackle the challenge of retention differently. It’s time to stop focusing on the transactional aspects, such as pay and benefits, and start thinking about the relational elements. McKinsey research shows the big disconnect between employers and employees (see below).

As Rick explained, “The pandemic has proven that employees will leave a job if it doesn’t connect to their values and goals. With fierce competition for talent, and people more frequently resigning, you need to act quickly and thoughtfully. Perks and raises alone won’t cut it. You have to give people a meaningful reason to stay. That reason is a manager who doesn’t see themselves as a taskmaster, but as a facilitator of personal growth and development; someone who knows that if their people are happier, more engaged, and challenged, business results will follow.”

So what can you do?

In order to help your organisation - and its leaders and managers - get this right, Rick proposed some straightforward things for people to focus on, including:

  • Shifting your mindset from micromanager to coach
  • Creating a compelling mission for each role that reports to you
  • Giving developmental feedback that sparks motivation and not defensiveness
  • Bringing it all together in simple, human conversations during 1-2-1s.

In order to really get to grips with the retention issue, Rick suggested thinking about three core elements that drive motivations in a modern organisational context.

  • A strong brand story (the mission motivates me)
  • Clear career pathing (I see how I can advance here)
  • Personal development plans (I am challenged and growing)

Of these, the third is the one that you can most easily influence through regular conversations and dialogue. The essential message was that human conversations and coaching, and a focus on building strong relationships, is what builds engagement. And fully engaged employees rarely quit.

Alongside meaningful work and a clear purpose, it is a sense of belonging that makes a workplace sticky and reduces employee turnover. The way to build this is to create a culture of coaching, to contribute to employees’ professional development (even if there isn’t a very clear career progression or path within your organisation) and to make sure there is sufficient focus on individual and personal growth objectives, as well as any purely business-related goals or objectives.

Some key questions to ask  

When assessing your own organisation and its ability to retain talent, Rick raised some key points to consider, including the extent to which you invest in training leaders and managers to be better leaders and managers. Do you encourage them to focus as much on the softer, human skills, as on harder, technical skills? Do you promote a culture of curiosity and caring, where managers are easily able to check-in with staff? Are leaders and managers close enough to reports to be able to intuitively know when there is a problem, as soon as it arises, and be comfortable raising it with employees before it becomes a reason to leave?


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