How to Keep Those Talented Employees of Yours From Fleeing to Competitors

Cultivating a culture that identifies potential visionaries and nurtures their skills will boost employee retention. Here's how to do that.

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By Dave Brereton • Oct 16, 2018

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Most people know that the workplace attitude toward turnover differs from that 20 years ago. In the past, working at the same company for decades was a sign of success. Now, for most modern companies, turnover is just the cost of doing business.

Lately, however, employee attrition rates have been on the rise. The Work Institute estimates that 42 million people will quit their jobs in 2018, and that 77 percent of those departures could be prevented. This amount of turnover is about more than just culture or a robust job market. In some respects, it's a referendum on the people in charge -- and that's a problem.

The reason is that employers understand that it takes time for employees to acclimate themselves enough to make meaningful contributions to a company. Employees aren't truly onboarded until sometime in their second year, a process that can be impeded by consistent turnover.

While turnover will always occur, losing your best and brightest employees should be the exception instead of the rule. Young, potential-laden talent is distributed across all parts of a company. It is incumbent on CEOs to create a culture that identifies these potential visionaries and nurtures their skills over the long haul in order to realize results that will ultimately benefit their companies.

Related: Keep Your Talent: 5 Employee Retention Strategies for Long-Term Success

Lead so your best will follow

Seventy-seven percent of CEOs struggle to obtain the necessary skills specific to creativity and innovation, according to PricewaterhouseCoopers' 20th CEO Survey. If business leaders have trouble getting these skills for their companies, how will employees get them as individuals? And, if employees can't get these skills, why wouldn't they go somewhere else to find them?

For example, our company has posted high retention rates in recent years because we have prioritized nurturing talent internally. Our focus on providing employees with opportunities to excel and contribute shows them a path toward leaving a long, indelible mark on the company's legacy.

Long-term employees can be the lifeblood of a successful company. Follow these four strategies to foster increased retention, innovation and improved corporate culture.

Related: The Lifeblood of Success: How to Encourage Innovation at Your Company

1. Keep an open ear.

Listening is both the hardest and easiest thing to do. It is also what nurtures high retention rates. This is something Bill Sandbrook learned when he assumed the CEO role at U.S. Concrete.

When he arrived, according to a Wharton interview, U.S. Concrete's stock was selling in the range of $2 to $6 per share. To change the company's fortunes, Sandbrook spent the first three months establishing a two-way dialogue with customers and employees to find new and inventive ways to turn the company's trajectory upward. Subsequently, the company's stock traded between $44 and $86.35 in the past year.

Sandbrook's example shows the residual impact listening can have. Build a culture in which managers listen, understand and respond to people's insights and aspirations. Listening shouldn't be seen as some easy hack toward retention; it's an intentional effort that empowers people to build their self-worth within the organization.

2. Realize that failure is a given.

One of the worst things a company can do is to treat every mistake as a failure. Mistakes should be seen as an impetus to adjust processes and push professional development. At its heart, a strong company culture comes from leadership and employees embracing mistakes and trusting one another. For example, IBM, one of our current software partners, didn't become a name brand in tech just by its services but by bouncing back from adversity.

Having just navigated the company through Great Depression, IBM president Thomas Watson Sr. couldn't afford many setbacks if he hoped to retain his post. When a salesperson failed to secure a large government bid and offered to resign, Watson declined and famously said, "Why would I accept this when I have just invested $1 million in your education?"

Watson shows how powerful a lesson failure can be. Be open and honest with employees about their mistakes to help them gain confidence. When they know they have the support of their bosses, they are more likely to learn from those miscues and strive to rectify them.

Related: 4 Key Lessons From a Startup's Spectacular Failure

3. Practice integrity at all times.

In his book, Return on Character: The Real Reason Leaders and Their Companies Win, Fred Kiel sought to quantify the value of integrity. In his research, he and his leadership consultancy colleagues asked employees at 84 companies to rank their CEOs on the characteristics of responsibility, integrity, compassion and forgiveness. The research revealed that companies with high-integrity CEOs boasted 26 percent higher employee engagement.

Fostering a culture of integrity means co-creating a working environment free from hidden agendas or favoritism. Consciously avoiding moral compromise builds trust across an organization and allows people to feel good about their day-to-day responsibilities. Integrity runs deep in our organization, and we attribute the longevity of our customers and staff to this important corporate value.

To cultivate this kind of culture, do regular check-ins with all your employees, either through companywide correspondence or regular individual conversations. Share any information that's relevant to them as employees or to their departments. Then, explain to them how their contributions relate to that update and what they can do to get more involved.

Nothing feels worse than being blindsided with information or unknowingly forced into a moral compromise. Inject integrity into every facet of your company's operations in order to cultivate an environment where employees feel they can thrive in both the short and long term.

Related: Why a Balance of Integrity and Innovation Means Success for This Business Owner

4. Invest in your community.

In the 2016 PwC Global CEO Survey, 64 percent of business leaders viewed corporate social responsibility as a way to build trust with clients and employees. Helping to build up your surrounding community is a way to invest in the employees who are part of it.

In this vein of community-building, educator James Watts and I started a school in Montreal called Education Plus designed to help kids who reach that critical point at grade nine and can't quite make it through a traditional high school setting. We have helped more than 1,000 kids over the years, and the support of private organizations like ours is invaluable in its success.

Find where you can benefit the community that the workforce relies on in order to live happy lives. This kind of community investment sets an example that employees can look up to, and the work can have a direct impact on whether an employee wants to stick around for the long haul.

Related: Got a Do-Gooder Gene? 3 Tips for Launching a Successful CSR Initiative

When people are smart, hungry, humble and motivated, it is vital to support their development within the organization. When people feel secure enough to share their ideas and mistakes in an open and honest environment, they get the push they need to put down roots within a company and find ways to grow and make their mark.

Dave Brereton

Founder and Executive Chairman of the board, TECSYS Inc.

Dave Brereton is the founder and current executive chairman of the board of TECSYS Inc., a supply chain management and technology company.

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