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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

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

Communication 101

I find that one of the biggest challenges that organizations and their leadership teams wrestle with on a regular basis is how and what they should be communicating to their employees. I have often seen that leadership teams tend to overthink and over complicate the quantity and content of the messages they need to deliver. This over complication stems from senior leaders coming up with every possible negative consequence or response to the message that needs to be communicated. This over analysis occurs to such an extent that the final decision that is made is to NOT communicate anything! The reason being, in their minds, it is “easier” or simpler that way.

Announcement ImageOf course, as we know, that is absolutely the wrong approach. I firmly believe as organizational leaders and stewards, we need to focus more on finding reasons to communicate SOMETHING to employees vs. finding reasons to NOT communicate. There is no such thing as too much or bad communication. Let me repeat that, there is no such thing as too much or bad communication when it comes from organizational leadership.

For the context of this post, I am focusing more on bigger picture things that effect organizations holistically. I believe that anytime your company is faced with things like, for example, organizational acquisitions, executive departures, large scale events that impact the economy and/or internet rumours affecting your company, you need to get in front of things and communicate to your staff. Even at a more micro level, if there are internal or external factors impacting your department, as a leader, you need to get in front of things and communicate to your staff.

I have always believed in a basic, fundamental communication philosophy when it comes to communicating to your employees:

  1. Tell them what you know (or, tell them what you are “allowed” to tell them)
  2. Tell them if you don’t know something
  3. Tell them that you will follow up with them when you do know more

That’s it – if you follow that approach, you will enhance your communication efforts and results dramatically. Employees aren’t looking for the nitty gritty details on everything. You have smart people that work for you – they just need to know the basic info about what is going on. They want to know that you care about communicating to them and that you trust them with information. Anytime leadership and managers enter the proverbial “cone of silence” the rumours will start. Employees will gossip more, make things up in the absence of information and before you know it, the message has taken on a life of its own. I have found more often than not that what employees “make up” is often way worse than what the actual truth is!

Fundamentally, communicating to your employees is an exercise in building trust. As leaders, we need to always be looking for ways to build trust with our employees as that is the fundamental tenant of a good employee/employer relationship. Trust starts with communicating – if you aren’t communicating, you aren’t building trust. If you aren’t building trust, you aren’t establishing solid, long term relationships with your employees and that is the core message of communication 101. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of stockimages/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

7 Simple Rules for Employee Survey Success

Employee surveys – love them or hate them, are a part of corporate life, whether you are in operations or HR. If managed properly, they can be an effective tool in helping to retain your employees. Done improperly, they are an administrative exercise that leads to frustration for all involved and resentment from your employees. In order to make this all work, your organizational leadership has to believe in the value of the feedback they received AND have a desire to change. So, your Survey Feedbackcritical equation you need to remember is Belief + Feedback + Desire to change = Survey Value. Therefore, my advice to organizations is that you need to decide if or why you want to do a survey, before you first launch into one. It you want to conduct a survey, there many important elements to consider. If, after evaluating the criteria, you decide you don’t or shouldn’t conduct a survey, than that is ok too.

So, here are Scott’s rules for deciding on whether or not you should conduct an employee survey:

  • Rule #1:
    • As an organization, are you prepared to act on some of the feedback you receive? Notice I said “some.” You can’t necessarily act on everything, but you need to acknowledge the feedback and then tell your employees what you can and cannot do. If the answer to this question is “no” (and you need to be honest) than don’t do the survey.
  • Rule #2:
    • Communicate the results to your employees and then commit to an action plan. If you don’t want to do, or can’t do, both of these things, than don’t do a survey.
  • Rule #3:
    • Are your managers accountable for the results and action plans that are derived from the survey? Or is it an “HR thing.” If your managers and organizational leadership aren’t accountable, than don’t do a survey. No matter how you position it, if managers aren’t accountable, your staff will see this is a paper exercise with no value.
  • Rule #4:
    • You don’t have to have an action plan for everything because not all questions you ask are of equal importance to your employees. For example, they may score you low on a question pertaining to work/life balance; however, perhaps that isn’t that important to them at the moment because you are a start-up that is trying to secure venture capital financing and everyone is working like dogs to push your first product release out the door.
  • Rule #5:
    • Therefore, based on Rule #4, before you go creating action plans, ASK your employees what IS important to them. If you identify 6 areas of opportunity, get them to rank what is most important to them. Ask them, “If, as an organization, we could address/improve 3 things, what should they be?”
  • Rule #6:
    • Involve your employees in the creation of the specific action plans and communicate progress (frequently) on the action plan. Operational leaders need to own the execution of the strategies. Make sure you tell your staff what you can’t do/improve at the moment – could be due to budget, timing, etc. Your employees will appreciate your candor.
  • Rule #7:
    • No “check in the box’s” allowed. Meaning, you don’t just create a couple of action items, half-heartedly address a few symptoms and then move on with operational life. You have to get at the root cause issues, create a tangible plan and then continue to monitor it. Surveys and action plans need to be fluid and ongoing – not a singular moment in time.

These seven simple rules should help guide you, organizationally, through the survey process. The key is to make them part of your business plans with a strategic focus on retaining your talent. If your goal(s) is anything else, you are wasting your time and that of your employees. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Show them The Authenticity!

One of my favourite topics to write about is leadership. If you search my blog you will find at least a third of my posts link back to the theme of leadership. Heck, if you Google “leadership,” you will get over 489 MILLION hits. So to say that leadership is a relevant topic would be an understatement!

AuthenticDepending on who you listen to, or what you read, there are many elements that go into defining good leadership. Truth be told, at times, it does seem like the whole reality of “good leadership” is a bit of a holy grail search as it seems far too many of us are always on the lookout for good leadership but struggle to actually find it! In my experience, while there are, without argument, many things that define great leadership, I believe it all starts with authenticity. According to the Merriam-Webster dictionary, authenticity means “real or genuine, not copied or false.” So think about that definition for a moment and think about the leaders in your current or past organizations. Now, don’t you think that good or great leadership starts with a foundation of authenticity?

Authenticity leads to credibility, credibility leads to trust and trust leads to engagement. Ultimately, isn’t that what we are looking for from our organizational leaders? We want them to ultimately be able to provide a work environment that effectively engages (and retains) its employees. They do this by being authentic with their employees. Employees want to believe and trust in their organizational leaders, but as leaders, we have to give them reasons to trust us. Much like Rod Tidwell’s “Show me the Money!” rant from Jerry McGuire, we, as leaders, need to “Show them the authenticity!”  Show me the Money 1

So, the next logical question is, “well what can/should leaders be doing to build and establish authenticity?” In my experience with coaching organizational leaders, there are five (5) simple, but key, things leaders can do and should be doing to build their authenticity:

  1. Communicate regularly – take every opportunity available to you to talk with employees and communicate information, update them on changes and talk to them on a personal (real) level.
  2. Admit if you don’t know something – seems simple but it is a hard thing to do. Sharing small moments of vulnerability like this actually establishes your credibility as a leader.
  3. Always tell the truth – another one that seems simple (but not always followed). Keep in mind, there is no flexibility with this you. When you don’t tell the truth, you lose your credibility and thus your authenticity.
  4. Keep your word – if you say you are going to do something or deliver on something, then do it. Don’t make excuses or brush things off because you feel they are not important (to your employees.) If you do, again, you lose credibility and your authenticity.
  5. Be visible – as a leader you have to “seen” by your employees and be approachable to them. Don’t hide out in your office or in meetings all day. At some point in time you need to walk amongst the people. This also ties in with point #1. Visibility leads to communication and both lead to and build authenticity.

Here is the other thing to remember, being an authentic leader also formulates an important part of your professional brand. If you think of it in terms of being able to market yourself and present yourself externally to industry, (and internally to staff) wouldn’t YOU want to deal with a brand that is known for its authenticity and credibility? Keep that in mind as you continue to build your foundation of leadership authenticity. As always, I welcome your comments and feedback.

Photo courtesy of Stefson/Flickr.com

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles/FreeDigitalPhotos.net

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