4 Rules for Keeping the Staff (You Want) on Staff
Employee retention is keeping CEOs the world over awake at night, but it's not that hard to sleep a little easier.
A few years back, my boyfriend came home saying he’d read an article in Men’s Health on three rules for a successful relationship. He thought it was the most sensible advice on the topic he’d seen to date. Use your imagination to work out the first two of the rules (it has buff men on the cover rather than semi-naked women but Men’s Health is still a men’s magazine at the end of the day). The third was "say thank you."
This is a pretty good rule in all aspects of life, not least the work place.
You can read all manner of business books and articles on retaining talent. Most will tell you that the number one thing employees want is to feel valued. I am absolutely on board with that concept, except being valued means different things to different people: one person will judge their value by the size of their pay check, another by the size of their corner office. Everyone, however, likes to be told "thank you." If we adopted that simple rule into standard business practice, the number of resignation letters being handed in would drop several percentage points overnight.
Before I dive into my other (non-men’s-magazine-prompted) thoughts on this hot topic, let me get one thing out of the way: I’m not sure I even agree with the notion we have to "retain talent." I don’t mind receiving resignation letters. For every person going out the door, that’s one more new idea or new way of doing things coming back in. Yes, it’s a pain having to interview stacks of people, but you usually learn a few things during that process, too.
However, earlier this year, when we interviewed a whole roster of CEOs and MDs on the concerns they had about future-proofing their businesses for a WGSN white paper we were creating, nearly all mentioned retaining staff as a topic that kept them up at night. With this in mind, I’ve been thinking about the things that have kept me in roles, or conversely driven me away from an organisation.
Am I “on the bus”?
I’m not a regular bus taker -- I walk everywhere -- but when I first arrived at WGSN, people kept on asking me if so-and-so was “on my bus.” I was attempting to win over a team largely composed of former fashion designers who couldn’t quite work out why the ex editor-in-chief of a news and politics website was their new chief content officer. Essentially, were they on board with my ambitions? And so, the bus analogy has stuck.
As a general rule, as soon as I’m not bought into a boss’ vision, I’m out. That does not mean that leaders should aim to get everyone on their proverbial bus. (We’re human beings – by our very nature we don’t all think the same way, and we certainly don’t agree on the best way to run things.) But, it’s the job of the person running things to make sure their organization at least understands the color of the bus, the direction it’s going in and, crucially, who’s driving the damn thing. (No more vehicle-related analogies from here on in, I promise.)
Am I still learning?
Companies across the world mistake employees’ need to learn something new with their need to provide vast rosters of leadership and development programs. L&D programs should be standard. They’re not a nice-to-have for keeping good employees within a business, they are just good business practice.
I’m talking about learning a whole new job. We shouldn’t be leaving people doing roles they can do standing on their heads. That’s certainly the convenient thing to do. It keeps a business running smoothly but no one moves forward, so they leave.
From afar, I’ve watched Intel create a gold standard in this field. My brother has worked across multiple teams and multiple countries for the company, and as a consequence, never worked for anyone else. He’s got as many entries on his LinkedIn profile as I do, it’s just each one has the Intel logo next to it. You don’t need a fancy professional development program to make this work. Lust give people jobs they’re not quite ready for, and then surround them with other great people, so they learn quickly in the role.
Am I being challenged?
I really, really hate being told I’m wrong about, well, pretty much anything. But it turns out, that isn’t the same as enjoying being told I’m right about everything. Track back to age 14, and my, in my opinion, unfairly harsh school history teacher. No matter how much time I spent on my essays, they were never quite good enough; no matter how much research I’d done, it was never quite extensive enough. I set out to prove her wrong, and, long story short, history was where I ended up with the A grades, in stark contrast to the topics where, I had it on good authority, I excelled. I might not like people pointing out my faults, or where I lack experience, but I’m far better at my job as a consequence of the criticism.
It is incorrectly believed that millennials shift jobs at a more frequent rate than their parents’ generation. As this cohort grows up, the latest research suggests they’ll stay in their current jobs just as long as the generation before. Instead of worrying about staff turnover, maybe it’s as simple as worrying about getting the most out of the employees that are staying. Treat then as you would be treated yourself. And always remember to say thank you.
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