Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 1)

Retaining top performers in today’s competitive environment remains a puzzle for many organizations. There are many reasons for this. Some that are uncontrollable - like a natural drive some people have to look for new challenges that are clearly outside a particular organization or simply desire for a career change. But there are also elements of retention that are completely in control of an organization. Related: 5 Ways To Attract (And Keep!) The Best Employees A successful retention strategy involves putting all the pieces of a complex puzzle together – retention efforts will never be completely successful if pieces are missing. This is a primary reason for the continued struggle with retention – related to statistics that show over 65% of employees are currently “seeking other opportunities. Too often, an organization’s efforts are limited to putting only one or two pieces of the puzzle into play. There are excellent resources available on most of the puzzle pieces - from organizations that specialize in recognition, or training, or motivation practices. But, at a minimum, I would argue that:


Successful Retention = f (Objective Expectations, Compensation, Training, Recognition, Feedback, Organizational Culture, and…)
This looks like a very complex formula – and it is. And to begin, think about the complexity of this “formula” from a mathematical standpoint. The formula suggests that each of these factors can contribute to the success – or failure – of a retention strategy. Plus, there’s the important element of “interaction” that suggests the right training and the right recognition might yield 2 + 2 = 5. But at the same time, it acknowledges that the right training and the wrong recognition might yield 2 – 2 = -5. This represents the complicated, sometimes frightening, struggle to craft a successful retention strategy.

Objective Expectations

The first factor listed in the formula is “Objective Expectations.” It is listed first only because it is often a factor that is optimized – or minimized – before a person even begins a job. Here’s the worst example from my experience (unfortunately, I’ve been involved in too many bad examples). As the consultant for an organization in the “entertainment” industry, I was asked to completely re-design their new employee orientation program. New employees attended the program before starting their jobs. As a basic introduction to the program, I would ask the new employees the typical “name, home town, and ‘what department are you going to be working in’” questions. Although it was shocking at first, the most common answer to “which department?” was “I don’t know yet.” This answer became an expectation that lasted the entire year. These new employees didn’t even know what department they were going to be working in – much less what the specific expectations might be. They might end up in customer service, food service, security, or maintenance. The organization’s turnover was close to 100% annually. One employee quit after four hours on a job that was “not what I expected.” Management guru Ken Blanchard has stated for decades that expectations between employees and managers are often out of sync. He’s posited that a simple experiment proves this the majority of the time. I’ve conducted this experiment with scores of employees/managers as part of different consulting/training projects. The employee and the manager are asked – separately – to identify the top ten “expectations” for the employee’s position. The majority of the time, not only are there serious mismatches in the “ranking” of the items, there is are several items that appear only on one of the two lists. One clear solution to this “Objective Expectations” struggle is to acknowledge that typical job descriptions rarely describe clear expectations, much less the expectations of superior performance. Performance-Based Hiring guru Lou Adler (www.adlerconcepts.com) developed the solution: “If you want to hire (retain) top performers, first define superior performance.” Sounds much like Stephen Covey’s “Begin with the end in mind.” A Performance Profile is a document that should be used before a new employee accepts a job and begins work. It should be used as a basis for recruiting, interviewing, and orienting a candidate. During an interview, a candidate should clearly be challenged with “Here’s what our best employees do in this position…” The following should be clearly specified: What the best employees in this position accomplish during the first year, during the first six months, and during the first 30 days on the job.
For a large “camping’ organization, we discovered that the “best” camp counselors “get to know their campers personally (by name) by the end of the first day and build on that relationship throughout the week.”
It was easy to communicate this in recruiting materials, as part of the interview process, and clearly as part of the training provided both new and returning counselors. They knew what was expected of them. This is the first step in solving the retention puzzle. Next: Compensation – It’s Not Just Money.

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About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at www.farcliffs.com.   Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here. Photo Credit: Shutterstock

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