What You Can Do About Retention

John Wellington recently faced a big decision. He had been interviewing for a short while, mainly out of frustration with his current employer. Suddenly, he was faced with an offer from a major competitor. He wasn’t sure what to do. He had mostly been interviewing out of frustration with his current situation. He hadn’t had a raise in two years, and his boss seemed incapable of saying anything nice about his work. John was putting in lots of extra time and was stressed out over the huge amount of work he was expected to complete with few resources. Past employee reductions had left his department short-handed, yet workloads were rising rapidly. He wasn’t sleeping well, and his wife was upset because he never had energy or time for family activities. In many ways John had had it. But he really did feel that his current employer was the better of the two. He liked his fellow workers ó although he knew that several of them were looking as well ó and before the downturn he was very happy. Maybe things would improve soon? Discussion The scenario above is one of the most familiar in corporate America today. Employees who are faced with increasing work, stressed out bosses, lack of incentives, and fear of reductions are about to start a major exodus from their current organizations. Most of them realize that the grass is probably not much greener in another firm, but they are hoping for some recognition and perhaps a bit of relief, even if temporary, from the day-to-day stresses of their current job. Recruiters alone cannot do much to slow this down. But in partnership with human resources generalists and hiring managers, recruiters can contribute to a significant positive change in the rate of turnover. The key is to form internal partnerships where these issues can be discussed and strategies can be tried out. Most organizations use money in the form of salary increases as the primary lever for retention. But we know from many years of research that it’s the combination of workload, career opportunities, hiring manager approach, corporate strategy and culture, as well as money, that all combine to influence a decision. People who feel challenged, and at the same time both supported and encouraged, will often be happy with a little less pay and will stay. Any team that is going to address turnover will have to examine and have a policy and strategy for each of these factors. Recruiters can contribute in several ways. First of all, make internal mobility the most important thing you focus on. Helping employees find new positions may be the best and most direct way you can influence them to stay. But most organizations either erect numerous bureaucratic hurdles that make moving around tough, or they simply do not offer any simple way for an employee to learn about possibilities. The Intranet or some other internal website should be designed so that employees can learn about open positions and apply for them. Work with HR to take down barriers and make it as easy to move between positions as it is to move outside the firm. This probably means that many current practices will have to change. Organizations with low turnover generally follow several rules that guide the internal application and transfer process:

  1. Employees should be able to interview for new positions without permission from anyone.
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  3. Employees should not have to complete any sort of application form, and resumes should be very simple ó if used at all.
  4. Employees should be able to leave their current position within a maximum of two weeks after accepting another offer, even if their old position has not been filled.
  5. Salaries offered should be similar to those an external hire would receive.

Secondly, encourage hiring managers to look inwards and work with you and HR to provide incentives for managers who hire a current employee. Unfortunately, most of us suffer from the same malady: we think that external people are inherently better and more qualified than those we already have. Few managers are willing to invest the time or the money to get an internal employee trained, yet they will wait weeks for an external hire to become productive. Recruiters can play a primary role in encouraging and convincing hiring managers to take a chance on an internal person. If your organization has a corporate university or training function, work with them and the hiring manager to develop on-the-job training or e-learning that could accelerate the time it takes for an employee to gain the needed skills. Work with them to focus on career development, and offer specific training in areas where you are adding staff or planning to add staff. Corporations such as General Electric and IBM pioneered this concept and have a wide variety of specific training tracks that have allowed employees tremendous upward mobility and career growth. Recruiters need to be integrated into this process and aware when people are completing programs so that they can be placed. Some firms require managers to promote or transfer a certain number of employees each year as part of their performance evaluation. Other organizations incentivize the process by lowering internal costs for managers who hire current employees or by allowing them additional headcount. Thirdly, recruiters can help hiring managers reposition jobs to match the available skills rather than seek out only those who are perfect fits. Over the past two or three years there has been a trend to seek out only those people who meet the job requirements in every way possible. I have heard stories of candidates being rejected because they had only two years of a certain kind of experience rather then the required three, when they had every other skill and had met every other requirement! This type of exact matching is expensive and pays little in return. No one is good enough at predicting what the exact set of skills are going to be for every project and job. Hiring people with basic qualifications is often the better decision, as these people not only bring enthusiasm and freshness, but also creativity and innovation. Recruiters need to encourage managers to experiment and realize that most of us are not doing the exact job we were trained to do or even the work our degrees prepared us for. Cisco, IBM, Starbucks and a host of other organizations hire as broadly as they can, knowing that the diversity of skills and backgrounds will more than compensate for any lack of depth. There are probably only about 5% of all jobs that need an exact set of skills and experience for success. Turnover is a complex topic, and no one function or group is completely responsible. However, recruiting is about influencing and selling, and those skills need to be used to change our organizations internally ó not only to bring in the best, but also to keep the best from leaving.

Kevin Wheeler is a globally known speaker, author, futurist, and consultant in talent management, human capital acquisition and learning & development. He has founded a number of organizations including the Future of Talent Institute, Global Learning Resources, Inc. and the Australasian Talent Conference, Ltd. He hosts Future of Talent Retreats in the U.S., Europe, and Australia. He writes frequently on LinkedIn, is a columnist for ERE.net, keynotes, and speaks at conferences and events globally, and advises firms on talent strategy. He has authored two books and hundreds of articles and white papers. He has a new book on recruiting that will be out in late summer of 2016. Prior to his current work, he had a 20+year corporate career in several San Francisco area tech and financial service firms. He has also been on the faculty of San Francisco State University and the University of San Francisco. He can be reached at kwheeler@futureoftalent.org.

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