Understanding Available Retention Strategies: Are You Prepared for Turnover Rates to Double? (Part 3 of a 3-Part Series)

Oct 12, 2009

Parts one and two of this three-part series introduced why focusing on retention is and will be a mission-critical activity as economic recovery continues. The series introduced retention strategies categorized as 1) laissez-faire and 2) all-employee.

In many organizations, the subject of prioritizing positions and people is a highly political one. While many accept that certain roles may exert greater impact on the organization, treating people in those roles differently is a challenging and often avoided activity.

If your organization is looking for truly strategic HR, delivering highly targeted or personalized retention solutions is essential.

Category III: Targeted or Personalized Approaches

This last category, in contrast to the all-employee approach, focuses retention efforts on high-priority individuals and jobs. Once prioritized, it then personalizes or customizes treatment to fit the individual needs of the targeted employee. The primary success measures for this category are turnover rates among targeted individuals and the average time-to-fill high-priority roles voluntarily vacated.

This category of retention strategies often has the highest ROI because it allocates manager time and retention resources to only a small percentage of employees.

Potential Problems with “Targeted” Strategies

Treating all employees the same is an approach that quells the masses but upsets top performers and key innovators who routinely deliver elevated contributions.

Historically, many organizations have opted to upset as few as possible, settling for highly stable organizations versus highly productive ones. Highly targeted strategies will reduce turnover among the targeted group but may actually cause momentary spikes in turnover among bottom and average performers, but is that a bad thing?

15) Regional customization strategy

  • Goals of the strategy – improve retention rates throughout dispersed organizations by varying retention approaches based on the unique problems and needs of each region.
  • Prioritization process – regions with high turnover rates and those with unique turnover causes.
  • Identifying turnover causes – relies on local employee surveys, local exit interviews, and manager experience to identify local turnover causes.
  • Treatments for countering turnover causes – offerings depend on which levers work best in each region. However, best practices and common problems are shared across regions.
  • Benefits/weaknesses – because turnover rates vary significantly in different countries and regions, resources and treatments are targeted for maximum impact. Problems occur in organizations that prefer headquarter control, have weak metrics, and a one-size-fits-all management strategy.

16) Personalized retention offerings to prioritized employees

  • Goals of the strategy – this strategy has the highest potential ROI of all strategies because it uses fewer resources and concentrates them where they can have the highest impact. After prioritizing retention targets, this strategy then personalizes retention treatments to meet or exceed the individual needs of targeted employees.
  • Prioritization process – a corporate-wide prioritization effort is undertaken to determine which individuals would hurt the firm the most financially by leaving (i.e., top performers, innovators, those who occupy mission-critical roles, those who could significantly help competitors).
  • Identifying turnover causes – because only a smaller percentage of your employee population is targeted, prioritized individuals can be interviewed or surveyed before they even consider leaving to identify what frustrates and motivates them. Should a targeted individual quit, a delayed but more accurate post-exit interview can be used for this small group to identify the real reasons for their leaving.
  • Treatments for countering turnover causes – prioritized employees are surveyed to determine what is possible within the firm: what they would want more or less of to be more productive and less likely to leave. Treatments could include coaching, mentors, greater compensation, and stretch assignments for skill development.
  • Benefits/weaknesses – focusing retention efforts on high-priority employees allows limited resources to be targeted and to maximize their impact. The process of prioritizing and identifying individual retention issues and treatments requires some HR time and expertise. Prioritizing and its associated “special treatment” of targeted individuals may also create some us-vs.-them animosity.

17) Flextime/flexplace strategy

  • Goals of the strategy – increases retention rates through flextime and remote work with a significant impact on both retention and productivity.
  • Prioritization process – key employees are identified and those in jobs amenable to flexible work are offered flexible work options with metrics for tracking their productivity.
  • Identifying turnover causes – relies on interviewing or surveying targeted employees to identify those who find this flex option a positive retention factor.
  • Treatments for countering turnover causes – work offerings include flexible scheduling of work hours and location up to 100% remote work.
  • Benefits/weaknesses – because most firms don’t offer flexible options, key people are less likely to consider moving to other firms without them. The flexibility can reduce commute stress and costs, strengthen the family, reduce the firm’s real estate costs, and in addition, increase productivity (firms like Best Buy have realized up to 35% more productivity). Managing remote workers requires effective flex-work processes and managers who can manage their workers without needing to physically watch over them. Not all workers find this option desirable.

Less Frequently Used Strategies

Although not as widely used, these targeted strategies are among the most powerful:

  • Free-time strategy – made famous by Google’s 20% Time, it provides employees in designated job families the opportunity to select their own projects during a percentage of the work week. In addition to retention, it can also have productivity and innovation impacts.
  • Challenge/exposure strategy – this approach increases the opportunities for targeted employees to be challenged with exciting stretch projects and rotations. Employees interested in increasing their exposure in front of executives are also provided with an exposure plan to increase their visibility.
  • Right job placement – the most restrictive of all strategies, it focuses on a handful of high-value employees. Each of these individuals is continually placed in their ideal job with an ideal manager, level of innovation, teammates, motivators, etc.
  • Show them their impact – this education strategy focuses on improving retention rates of key employees who are unaware of the significant impacts of their work. It proactively “walks them downstream” in order to see the impact of their work by meeting and interacting with users and customers.
  • Boomerang strategy – takes a long-term view of employment by assuming that you will lose some top employees. It sets a goal at the time of departure to ensure that employees leave happy. Post exit, the manager and the recruiting function maintain a relationship with key employees and then attempt, over time, to recruit them back to the firm.
  • Diversity tailoring – emphasizes the tailoring of retention efforts to the unique needs of your diverse employee population.

Final Thoughts

Whether you believe that an economic recovery is already occurring, just around the corner, or off in the distance, you can not disagree that top talent will always have options. Focusing on retaining capable talent is a better alternative than suffering through a vacancy and spending resources to replace someone you could have kept.

The longer organizations postpone formalizing a retention strategy and adequately resourcing it to drive results, the greater the chance they will lose valuable resources.

It is my hope that by taking a step back and by viewing this complete list of potential retention strategies, you can better see the limitations of some strategies and realize greater opportunities for the future, when turnover rates explode.