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Struggling With Retention? 3 Tips for Keeping Top Talent

Several weeks ago, I had the opportunity to pose this question to a group of executives:

Which of these is more challenging in your business?

  • Finding great talent
  • Keeping great talent

By a margin of 2:1, survey respondents said they had more trouble keeping talent.  One respondent took the time to point out the heart of the problem in his company:

“We keep investing in our employees and the competition keeps giving them much better offers.  It’s not only about the money, but also the job titles.  If we start offering the same to any of them, we will end up with ten managers in each department.”

This comment highlights a few of the frustrations faced by employers who know the value of their employees, invest in them and sometimes end up losing them to the competition.

As with most things related to people and organizations, there can be several variables at play when you are not retaining the talent you most need in your company.  Some of these issues are under your control and others are not.  But if you want to begin to understand what might be going on in your company, I suggest you ask yourself these three questions:

  1. What do employees think of your culture?  Sometimes it’s hard to understand what employees really think about your company.  How can you find out what’s on their minds?  For starters, employee survey tools can help.  Some leaders take time to meet with cross-sections of employees over donuts and coffee to listen to their concerns on a regular basis.  Even more informally, spending some time with front line employees can be quite revealing.  No matter how you do it, find a way to listen to what your employees think about your company.
  2. Why do people leave your company?  This is a simple question that can be difficult to answer.  It is easy for managers to pin employee departures on compensation and promotions.  Certainly, that can be part of the answer; but more often than not, there are other factors in play.  Sometimes it involves the style of the supervisor someone is working for.  Maybe it’s a perception that a person’s contributions are not valued.  Maybe you have a problem with sexual harassment or discrimination that you don’t know about.  Rather than guessing or assuming you have the right information, exit interviews with departing employees should always be conducted.  If you think you are not getting the real story from departing employees in these interviews, find a third party to help conduct them confidentially.  You might be surprised by what you find.
  3. Are your rewards programs in line with your industry and region?  Although compensation is seldom the primary reason for employee departures, it still is an important factor.  You should have a clear, accurate picture of how your rewards programs stack up against other companies in your business sector as well as other employers vying for the same talent.  Base pay is important, of course, but don’t forget to evaluate health benefits, 401(k) plans, paid time off, flexible work schedules, education reimbursement benefits and everything else.  And be sure your rewards calibrate to the demographics of your workforce.  Twenty-something’s are probably not as interested in the 401(k) plan as they are in flexible hours and paid time off.  Pay attention to the different needs in your organization and it will help you design more attractive rewards programs.

If you spend some time on just these three items, you will definitely begin to better understand the forces behind employee turnover – and that will be the first step to doing something about it.

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