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You call THAT a retention strategy!?

There are no right or wrong retention strategies. Everything depends on so much on company size, industry, budget, location, customer/product base, whether or not the company is in high growth mode or hanging on for survival, etc. Having said that, I can tell that you that there are most definitely wrong ways to execute on retention strategies.

Let me be clear, I am not commenting on any genuine, well-intended attempt that a company puts forth to try and retain its people. It’s a competitive landscape out there and all is fair in talent acquisition and talent management. I applaud companies for trying innovative ways to keep people, especially when it simply isn’t possible to keep doling out chunks of cash year over year.

Businessman in chainsHowever, as an organization and as a (HR) leader, you have to stay true to the intent of the retention strategy. I believe that retention initiatives are first and foremost intended to keep your good people (duh!) but just as important they formulate part of your employment brand. You become known to current and potential candidates for the types of things you do to keep people. When done right, these can serve as great differentiators or enhancers to your brand and when applied the wrong way, they can severely damage it.

Let me give you an example. I recently came across an organization which invests heavily in the professional development of its technical staff. For anything beyond a conference or seminar, they would pay for the employee to take the course (typically post-secondary or certification based) with a 2-3 year payback period. Meaning, if they paid $3000 for you to become certified in something, if you left before the three mark, you would owe back $1000 for every year of service not completed after that. I.e. you take the course, 1 year later you leave; you owe $2000 – pretty straight forward and pretty fair.

Recently, the company started losing a lot of good talent to a competitor for a multitude of reasons. Some were based on pay, some were based on work culture and some were based on leadership. So what did the company do in response to this? Well, first off, they changed their professional development policy. If you left within 3 years you now owed 100% of the money back…no sliding scale! (Way to address the cultural issue you have!) Talk about using a good retention program for evil…or at the very least, with the wrong application!

A more specific example that occurred with this company is when one of their rising stars accepted a role with a competing company. She went to her manager to give him her two weeks’ notice. This employee had been there approx. 7 years and was a solid performer. So, what was the manager’s response when she resigned you ask? First thing he did was check to see if she “owed” the company anything. Sure enough, 3 years ago they had paid a few thousand bucks for her to take a certification. They told her she would owe the full amount back as she was a week short of the three year commitment. What made this truly slimy was that that this course was taken before their most recent policy change! (i.e. she was still on the sliding scale plan.)

So what did this employee do? She changed her notice period to three week’s (because the company she was going to was more than happy to wait one more week for her) and then she didn’t owe them anything. This was an employee who previously didn’t have anything bad to say about her current employer and was leaving on good terms, albeit for a new opportunity she couldn’t get there. However, this completely soured her on her previous company. She felt like her time there didn’t mean anything and that all they cared about was getting the last nickel out of her.

Now, instead of leaving and speaking highly of her time there, and possibly returning in the future, she left angry, upset and would not refer anyone there. Talk about using your retention program for the wrong reasons! The amount of damage done to this company’s brand in a short period of time is immeasurable. Word quickly got around (the industry and skill set this person works in is very niche) about how her previous company used their retention program as a hammer. Now there are even more employees there looking to move on!

The bottom line is this – HR Professionals, you have to be the stewards of your organizations and make sure this type of crap doesn’t happen. If you have retention issues, the answer isn’t to make your retention program(s) punitive and restricting and create an environment of indentured servitude. You need to dig deeper and get to some root cause analysis about why people are leaving your company. For the company referred to in this post, my guess, based on how this employee was treated, was that they may some short sighted leadership. But that’s just a guess. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of patrisyu/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

 

 

Going to the well once too often

Have you ever heard of the saying, “They went to the well once too often”? It is a 14th century saying that basically means that one shouldn’t repeat a risky action too often or push their luck too far. Unfortunately I have seen this expression play out when it comes to talent and performance management in the workplace. Organizations/managers tend to go to the well once too often with their best people.

Goint to the wellHere’s what I mean – in any given organization, somewhere between 10%-30% of your employees are your top performers or your “best.” The rest of your talent is somewhere between average to good with a small percentage of your staff that are “not quite cutting it.” Those are completely unscientific facts based simply on years of HR work experience; however, since this is my blog, I am allowed to make up stats! I do feel confident that most people would probably agree that if you were managing a department of 10 – 20 people, about 3-6 of them are your “go to” folks. So there you have it, the math works!

Here is the danger in what I have seen/dealt with in my experience. During tough times or boom times (the approach tends to be the same during both) organizations tend to over rely on their best people. Instead of “stretching” their average to good performers, or god forbid, culling and replacing their poor performers, they tend to heap more responsibilities on their best people. Companies and managers tend to continue to push and ask for more and more from their best folks. They take performance excellence for granted. Why do they do this? Because their best people continue to deliver!

You see, those elite folks that you have are driven by a desire to succeed. They never want to fail and they take great pride in their professional brand. However, this approach to mis-managing top talent this way comes with a cost. Sure, you will have a few of your best folks that will be vocal about things. They will be loud and clear about how unhappy they are with the current situation. Most will suffer in silence though. They will put on the brave face as they continue to work more and more hours. They might politely ask for help/more resources or they might possibly express some veiled concern about not being able to deliver. Most won’t say anything though. They will soldier on through. There might be more requests for vacation days and/or sick days as they try and recoup and recharge for the continued onslaught of demands. Most managers won’t clue into this though as they will be too busy continuing to add to the work demands and show their leaders that “they” can deliver.

Beware though – there is a tipping point. You can’t continue to go to the well time and time again with your best people. You see, your best people have options. They can get other jobs. They can and will leave. They don’t have to put up with the incessant demands and unrealistic expectations. Your poor to average performers – they will stay because they usually don’t have options or at least not as many options. If your best talent leaves, are you going to ask more of your poorer performing employees? I doubt it and if the answer was “yes,” then why aren’t you asking for more now instead of jeopardizing the retention of your best folks?

At the very least, in the short term, you had best be rewarding and compensating your best people for their ongoing extra efforts. You can rest assured, that if they have done all the heaving lifting for a 6-12 month stretch (or longer) and all that is in it for them is a 2.5% raise, then you won’t have them for much longer! Don’t go to that (top talent) well once too often. Recognize the warning signs, performance manage the low performers and “stretch” your average to good performers. Those that excel will become part of your elite talent group. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com/Tom Sodoge

Promises, Promises

Leadership is a risky proposition at the best of times. Those that “sign up” to be in leadership roles have agreed to take a lot on their backs and shoulders. Being a leader isn’t for everyone but if you have accepted the leadership challenge, then it is incumbent on you to embrace the role and be the best leader that you can be. Because I believe whole heartedly in developing and supporting leaders, a significant chunk of my blog is devoted to helping leaders become better at what they do. Often what I share is based on lessons learned in my job, my career, my experiences and discussions with others.

Broken Promises

One of the big pitfalls I have seen leaders fall into (often newer leaders, but not always) is that in their exuberance to want to “make a difference” they often over promise and under deliver. Now, my experience has been that that is done with the best of intentions. Meaning, in their role as a leader, they want to effect change, make their imprint on things and do things better for their team/department/organization. Often when they are new to their environment, their excitement and enthusiasm to “improve things” gets the better of them as they try and change everything in the near term.

The danger here is that these leaders bring a sense of great hope with them. For example, a department has been run for years by someone with a micromanaging style with no vision for the future and no focus on developing talent. This person is then replaced with a new leader, one who brings an exciting vision for the future and a renewed employee focus. The employees get excited, energized and (re) engaged. There is optimism and hope abound. The leader asks for their trust and faith to be placed in him/her as they change the way things were. Promises are made and expectations are set. Then…the bubble bursts.

Often these new team/departmental/organizational leaders do not have the actual autonomy and authority to make the promises (changes) that they have articulated to their staff. They had the best of intentions but ran into some form of bureaucracy, or senior management control. Worse yet, they have run into the oversight of a Board of Directors that refuses to take a hit (read: investment) to their near term cash flow in order to make the company even better longer term. The end result – the new leader is now compromised in their role after having rolled out a platform of hope.

Now, the struggle is that the employees are told formally or informally that all those promises that were made now need to be tempered. The danger is that this often results in cynicism at best, disengagement at worst. You can almost feel and hear the collective “here we go again” emanate from the staff.

So, my advice for new leaders in that type of situation is to make sure you have a clear understanding of your operating boundaries and parameters before you make promises to employees. Better yet, the old adage of control the controllable’s best applies when first starting out with a new team. That is, promises of things like, better communication, regular coaching, more rigor around quality control, etc. will get you more traction. Employees aren’t looking for the sun, the moon and the stars from you when you first come out of the gate as a new leader. BUT, if you promise that to them, you better be able to deliver. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Picture courtesy of vimeo.com

 

Leadership Secret #9

I don’t know why I picked this as secret #9.  It was a completely arbitrary number but it is my blog so I can pick whatever number I want I guess!  As well, this really isn’t even a secret but more like a tip.  Stay tuned, but first a bit of preamble.

SecretIn my experience and role as an HR Pro I have been fortunate to have worked with some great leaders and managers and some not so great leaders and managers.  The great ones help you drive your organization forward and grow. The not so great ones, well, let’s just say I have learned a ton from them as I have built my experience as an HR Pro.

Often I am asked by managers and leaders (both within and external to organizations I have worked for) to provide tips, tricks, secrets on how to be a better manager or leader.  When I reflect on the good and not so good advice I have given over the years, one thing stands out.  That is, one of the key secrets to being a better manager is to TALK TO YOUR PEOPLE.  Yup, that is where it all starts.  There is no magic, no secret sauce.  It all starts with dialogue.  If you simply make time in your day to talk to your people – in the beginning it doesn’t even matter about what – you will be in the top 5% of all managers.  (In the spirit of Tim Sackett quantitative data science, I simply made that up).

It is UNBELIEVEABLE the number of managers who go day in and day out without talking to their employees.  They are too busy being in meetings, on the phone, or “producing ” something.  The other one I hear all the time is the concept of a “working manager.”  That is, when the manager is responsible for a threshold of billable hours – usually north of 50%.  Which means, at most, they spend half their time on their people…and we all know how that story ends.

So, if you want to get out of the blocks as a better manager, start to talk to your people.  Walk the shop floor at the beginning and end of the day.  Carve out 30 mins a day to spend 5-10 minutes with each of your folks.  Start by asking them what is happening that is impacting their ability to do their job effectively.  You would be amazed at what that little conversation starter can do!

Here is the thing – you need to be sincere.  You have to want to do this.  You need to care.  You need to want to help your employees be better and do better.  If you are not genuine in your approach, they will see right through this…and you probably shouldn’t be a manager to begin with. So, starting tomorrow, when you get to work, talk to your folks.  About anything.  Right away.  Right now.  No exceptions.  No excuses.  No pass throughs.  As well, this really isn’t a secret so feel free to pass this on to anyone.  Your employees will thank you for it.  As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Unsplash.com/London Scout

“HR – what are they good for?”

Unfortunately this was a quote I heard recently while shopping at my local grocery store. This was a large store which is part of an even larger chain of national stores. I overhead this conversation that two employees were having while working the fresh meal counter – the one that serves fresh, on the go lunch meals and basically competes with fast food outlets for business.

The conversation, from what I can tell, centered on the frustration that one employee was having about getting some issue resolved with their shift and subsequent pay – presumably as it pertained to company policy. They were looking for some guidance and support from HR in getting it resolved. I could tell from the conversation that their past experiences in going to HR for help were less than positive so they didn’t anticipate that this experience would be any different, hence the reason (I assumed) that they made that comment.

Stop Bad Habits

So, me, being the nosy HR person that I am and wanting to know the reason for this anti-HR sentiment quipped up with a, “why won’t you talk to HR and how come you feel this way about them?” Because I asked this in my usual (cough, ahem) charming way, the employees decided to actually answer me! In fact, they were only too happy to share their views on HR! Let’s see, I would summarize their feelings as follows:

  • HR is a faceless/nameless entity
  • HR doesn’t care about the employees, they feel they are only a nuisance
  • HR isn’t there to help them
  • It takes too long to get an answer out of HR and most things aren’t worth the fight
  • Half of the time HR doesn’t even know the answer to their question!
  • HR is basically incompetent

WOW! Not exactly a ringing endorsement for the profession is it? In the spirit of full disclosure, I told them that I work in HR for another company and was curious about their take on HR as, unfortunately, I hear this sentiment more often than I would like. They indicated that their feeling is simply more of a frustration of dealing with a faceless, nameless entity that simply doesn’t seem to be there to support them or answer their questions…nothing more, nothing less. They, along with many of their co-workers, were yet to have a “positive” experience with their HR department.

What a shame that our profession still has that, sometimes earned, reputation. How would you feel if employees in your organization described your HR department as being “useless?” If you were to anonymously poll employees at your company, what percent would say that HR doesn’t care about the employees, or isn’t there to help them? I worry it may be more then you/we realize.

I think that as a profession we need to take a serious look at these questions. Present company included, we all need to make sure we aren’t too comfortable in any ivory towers we have built and truly make sure we are positioning our HR departments in the proper way. It would kill me to hear employees in any company I worked for describe the HR department in any negative way, but the thing is you don’t know what you don’t know. So, I think we need to make sure we are always asking employees these questions and that we are prepared to hear the answer and improve accordingly. Let’s make sure that we are there to listen, advise and act when appropriate. Let’s help ENABLE our employees to be successful in their jobs – that is OUR job.

As is part of my HR stump speech, we are all in this together. HR Pros, let’s make sure we continue to unite as a profession and stamp out these negative perceptions that employees have of our profession. Better yet, let’s make sure we are not perpetuating the perceptions by engaging in the type of activity that causes employees’ to feel negatively about HR! As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

 

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Employees only want one thing

There are many things that are important to employees. Depending on who you are, what your current personal, social-economic, familial and educational situation is like, you will have different things that are important to you when it comes to choosing and staying with a company. Some people need to make as much money as they can and are willing to put up with doing a job that is not what they want to be doing, or they will commute longer to make more money, etc.

Conversely, if work/life integration is important, some people will take less money to have a shorter commute, or fewer benefits or less training and development dollars to have a better balance. At the end of the day, the mix you strike as an employer is all about how well you market, recruit and understand your candidates. You need to be able to identify what is important to them, what you have to offer and then see if there is match by selling your employment brand features that you know will appeal to them.

respect saying

However, this post is not about recruiting. It is more about retention. You see, you can do a fantastic job of selling your company and all the great things you offer – whether it is top pay, great location, sexy work environment, professional development dollars, etc.; however, if your company is missing one key ingredient, the entire brand becomes organizationally bankrupt. You see, nothing will ever work out long term for you and your staff if there is no RESPECT.

Respect, and to an equal extent trust, are/is the most important ingredient(s) in your employee value proposition (EVP). No amount of smoke or mirrors, I mean, great compensation and benefits, will overcome a workplace that is void of respect. As well, any efforts made by a company to improve retention, engagement (although I hate that one), and the overall work environment will always be wiped out if your employees feel they aren’t being respected and/or they don’t trust you.

Now, I am not talking about a company that has one or two managers that don’t respect employees. Good organizations that vet their manager/leader types well, have good HR peeps and have support systems established that give employees a method and a voice to address concerns will have the ability to stamp out these types of singular issues appropriately.

The real problem is when your organization has a lack of respect at its core. This often permeates subtly throughout the organization and shows up in different ways, such that it affects managers and employees at all levels. Organizational disrespect is often like mold and rot forming in your house. It starts out slowly and subtly and before you realize it exists, you have a major problem. Quite often a lack of respect in organizations is not what you would typically think of. Most people think of disrespect as managers yelling, embarrassing or berating employees. They also think of disrespect often when it comes to a (bad) manager’s tone, delivery, cadence, etc. I think in organizations that have major respect issues it is much more than this.

If you want to make sure you are treating your employees with respect, you need to make sure as an organization you aren’t doing any of the following on a regular basis:

  • Asking for opinions and then ignoring them. In other words, doing employee surveys and then not responding or doing anything to improve specific areas. Nothing shows a blatant lack of respect (time and opinion) more than this.
  • Not communicating to staff. Essentially this falls into the “need to know bucket.” This typically manifests itself in an organizational culture in several ways:
    • employees are not informed about important matters that affect them (ever).
    • employees hear about changes after the fact, or from members outside their organization.
    • the rumour mill is more accurate and detailed then what is cascaded to staff.
    • the organization waits for “perfect” information before communicating anything, because, you know, “we can’t tell them a bit about something and then it turns out not to be true or happen.”
    • all employees hear about changes at the same time – there is no delineation based on role, importance of message, support required, etc.
  • Poor or no change management practices. Essentially organizations that don’t believe or follow any type of basic change management practices are being disrespectful to its employees. You can’t, as an organization, expect to implement significant organizational changes without a proper change/communication plan. This would include things like organizational/structural changes, geographic changes, major acquisitions, changes to benefits plans and changes to performance management practices to name a few.

By just “informing” your staff of something you are not only poorly communicating and not helping them manage change, you are also showing a general disrespect to your employees. The message you send is that whatever the change or information is that you have, it is simply not important enough to you (and your employees aren’t important enough) to be done properly through a communication plan and change management approach. It is simply something that needs to get checked off on the proverbial “to do list.”

Believe me when I tell you that in almost all organizations you have smart people that work for you. They “get” this stuff and understand the subtle message here. They know when they have been shown a lack of respect and they know when the message is “you aren’t important enough.” They may not voice their displeasure, but you will feel it through a lack of productivity, increased absenteeism and ultimately attrition. Oh, and that employment brand you have been working on marketing to new candidates to help improve your recruiting efforts…good luck with that.

Ironically, out of all the things companies can do to improve their brand, as well as their recruiting and retention efforts, communication and change management, for the purposes of showing respect to your employees, will be the CHEAPEST “initiative” or “program” you will ever launch. I just don’t understand why some companies don’t get that. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Kathy Kimpel/Flickr.com

Breaking up is hard to do

Break ups are tough – both in your personal and professional life. Sometimes, despite the best efforts of both parties, things just don’t work out. Often enough, one side wants it to work out more so then the other side does. Typically, the other person knows this and when they have made the decision to move on (instead of trying to work things out) they often use the line, “it’s not you, it’s me.” Important to note here, it doesn’t matter if I am referring to personal or work relationships here!

Breaking UpHere is the thing, as employers, we sometimes have to face the fact that sometimes things just aren’t meant to be between employer and employee. You can try and make things work, you can do your best as a leader and/or HR Pro, but it simply doesn’t work. The reason being, the other party has their mind made up in terms of what they want (to do) and there is no changing their way of thinking.

Case in point, my good friend Brian who works as a Sales Manager recently experienced a break up with one his employees. “Roger” came to Brian’s company a few years ago with a solid base of experience and a good track record, albeit, he had a bit of tendency to change jobs every 2-4 years. Brian took a chance on hiring him and for the first two+ years things really paid off. Roger took to Brian’s approach and flourished under his leadership and quickly became one of Brian’s rising stars in his department.

Brian, whom I consider to be a great manager, did all the right things when it came to Roger. He coached him on a regular basis and invested a lot of his time advising and mentoring Roger and supporting his development. When Roger expressed an interest in doing and being more, Brian invested in leadership training and broader technical sales training for Roger. Brian kept the lines of communication open with Roger and always made sure he and Roger were aligned in terms of Roger’s career goals, etc. Year over year, Brian invested in enhancing Roger’s knowledge, skills and abilities and Roger continued to receive pay increases above the norm due to his job performance.

At the same time, Brian’s department continued to grow and he added more and more staff. Some of the new staff were junior and some came with more experience then Roger. However, Brian continued to make it clear to Roger that he was his #2 and he continued to pay for Roger’s training and development and kept coaching and mentoring him. A few months back, things began to change. After each training course he went on, Roger started to ask for more money. As Brian continued to develop him, Roger wanted more money because he thought he was continuing to become “more valuable.” Brian did all the right things; he spoke to Roger about how he would continue to reward him based on his performance. He explained how Roger was paid and what percentile he was in, etc. and made it clear the training and development was in investment in Roger, not a pay for skill model. In short, Brian was as transparent with Roger as he could be. He continued to paint the picture as to what Roger’s (bright) future was and would look like at the company. Three months later, Roger quit.

So what happened? Brian was devastated when Roger put in his resignation. Brian started to question himself and his management approach. What did he do wrong? What should he have done differently? I had to reassure Brian that there was nothing he could have done differently nor should he have. Roger told him it was time for him to move on to a different challenge, but the reality was that Roger was (mostly) leaving for more money (salary). You see, in his career, Roger was never told “no.” He was used to getting what he wanted, when he wanted it. In his previous jobs, he either got more money or he moved on for more money. He used paid training as a way to build up his personal portfolio to leverage it for more money with his current or other employers.

Some secondary reasons also emerged. Turns out, Roger was a bit insecure. Despite Brian’s constant communication and reassurances, Roger panicked when growth occurred and other talent was hired. For some innate reason, he didn’t feel like the “top dog” anymore and he felt threatened/insecure in his role. It is possible he tried for a money play because he thought he might not be as “valuable” to Brian with more staff on board.

Brian found out about these things because he has a great HR team at his company who did a thorough job with stay interviews and their final exit interview with Roger. During his exit interview, Roger indicated that he was moving on for money (contrary to what he told Brian). Brian was confused as to whether Roger was really moving on for a better opportunity or if he was just using this as a way to get more money from Brian (something Brian stuck to his guns on).

As well, the industry Brian works in is pretty small, so he found out about some of Roger’s insecurities (through others) after Roger had left. All of which, left Brian feeling a bit down. Worst of all, for both Brian and Roger, Brian came to find out that Roger left for $6K more in salary and is by no means happier in his new role/company, but he is, however, “making more money.”

I had to “counsel” Brian not to take this personally. Sometimes things just don’t work out – they just aren’t meant to be. You can do all the right things as a manager; however, if your employee is hung up on wanting/thinking they need to make $1k, 2k, 5k more, you won’t get them past that, no matter what else is happening. That is, if direct cash compensation is the #1 driver of job satisfaction, there will always be an insatiable appetite to have/make more. Additionally, employees that can only focus on making the next dollar more will never get past being told “no.” They will always make their next move for more money and more money alone. That in turn will make them happy for the short term, but in another 2-3 years, they will need to move on again.

The best move for Brian is to live and learn. He made the right call – he wasn’t going to be held hostage by giving more money just to retain Roger. Roger was competitively paid and well supported by Brian. As tough as it was for Brian, this breakup was almost inevitable. Brian had to let Roger make his decision and move on. If he didn’t, and gave Roger more money, they would be revisiting that conversation every 6-12 months as the “Roger’s” of the world are always focused on how/why they should/need to be paid more (than everyone else) and they are simply incapable of seeing the bigger picture. At some point in time, the “Roger’s” hopefully reach a level of career maturity whereby they can look at a total employment compensation/experience package and make better (employment) relationship decisions. Until then, the “Roger’s” will continue to cycle through different jobs to make a few bucks more. As I told Brian, sometimes it’s not you…it’s them! Break ups are tough and you need to move on. No amount of relationship evaluation was going to make the Roger situation work out any differently. I advised Brian to broaden his evaluation of the talent on his team. He needed to invest more of his time and energy into development a few key employee simultaneously. Continue to keep the lines of communication open, but know what you are getting into. The break up with Roger could have been predicted based on his past work history. It wasn’t a reason to not hire Roger, but Brian shouldn’t have been surprised when the break up happened. Much like in our personal lives, there are people that struggle to commit, the same applies in the workplace and that is when the break ups occur. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of David Castillo Dominici/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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