I rarely do but recently had such an experience. I was attending a business breakfast listening to a CEO talk about current issues and challenges facing the business community. I must admit that my mind was starting to wander when he said “… the war for talent is a big impediment to growth …” War for talent? The last I heard that phrase was back in 2008, pre-recession. Back then the impending threat was the retirement of the experienced workers who were swiftly approaching retirement age. There were dire predictions about armies of business leaders trading in their ID badges for margaritas on the beach, leaving leaderless organizations to fend for themselves.
The recession with its accompanying dips in the stock market forced many retiree-wannabees to stay employed, postponing the expertise exodus for nearly a decade. Now, a return to more healthy retirement investments combined with the advanced age of senior workers is again causing a brain-drain. What has changed in the nearly 10 years since war was declared on fighting for the best and brightest in the workforce? Read on to hear my take on how this second wave of workforce strategy is different.
THE WAR FOR TALENT: IT’S BACK!
By Dr. Alice Waagen
Back in aught-eight, the main weapons touted in the war on talent were those that centered around attraction, retention and engagement. With more job openings than qualified workers, business leaders were advised to create workforce strategies to attract the best and then keep them for as long as possible. The strategy in a nutshell looked like this:
- Build an “A” Team
- Offer them a compelling reason to stay
- Do whatever it takes to get them to bond with your mission and culture so that they work their tail off
While there is wisdom in these tactics, hindsight shows us some fundamental logic flaws. The first and most pernicious gap between plan and actuality is the belief that employers can drive retention. The cut-throat downsizing/rightsizing/offshoring tactics of the past few decades have all but obliterated the notion of employee loyalty. According for Compensation Force, the average turnover rate in 2008 was 18.7%, in 2016 17.8%. Clearly retention tactics are not overcoming the need for talent to pursue other opportunities.
My advice: forget the concept of retention. Replace it with maximization. Factors outside of your control will influence employees to stay or leave your organization. Focus instead on maximizing their performance while they are with you. Here are my top three maximization tactics:
- Make it a condition of employment that anyone who directs the work of others, from team lead to CEO, provide continuous, timely and relevant feedback and coaching. Not once a year. Not waiting for the scheduled status meeting, but real-time and relevant. Performance and outcomes need constant calibration, both on what is being done and how it is accomplished. People probably will not know how to provide specific, behavior-based feedback, so train them. Show them examples. Celebrate exemplars. Make leaders accountable for a feedback culture.
- At the same time, train everyone in how to provide feedback. Boss feedback is essential but many bosses spend little time interacting with their direct reports in the workplace. A powerful feedback source often overlooked is peers. Create a culture where peer feedback is welcomed and shared and performance will be much more targeted and on track.
- Build opportunities for growth and development for everyone. Enhanced knowledge and skills are literally money in the bank for professionals. Growth cultures create a real positive quid pro quo: Focus your skills on improving the business and we will reward you with even more knowledge and skills for your tool kit.
Retention tactics, by and large, are superficial attempts to convince employees to stay. Pay increases, bonuses, flexible work schedules are great temporary feel-goods but are no defense against compelling job offers that promise growth and development. Maximization tactics produce a win for everyone. Business leaders sense that the investment made in attracting key talent will return value. Employees grow their professional value while developing positive relationships based on open communication and feedback.
And, by the way, growth opportunities combined with supportive bosses and peers are also dynamite retention tactics.