When you find a great employee, you want to hang on to them so they can continue to deliver great work for your organization. And you’re right to worry about this: CareerBuilder released a survey in late 2015 that said 34 percent of employees routinely search for new job opportunities, even though they’re already employed. What steps can you take the make sure the good ones stick around?
To find out, we reached out to Paul Hebert, senior director of solutions architecture with Creative Group, a company that designs recognition and incentive programs to boost employee engagement and business results.
His advice for retaining your top talent is simple. “Spend time with them. It’s a simple formula and people will argue because they don’t believe it can really be this simple,” he says, “but that’s it.”
Here’s a little more about his retention philosophy.
Managers are wired to spend most of their time with their low performers, trying to make them better, Hebert says. “But humans are weird,” he says. We’re wired to want attention and acceptance and to feel like part of a group. “If I see what you’re paying attention to, I will gravitate to that. That may mean subtly lowering my performance to get attention,” he says. On the other hand, he says, if you spend face time with your top performers, others will subtly improve to get attention.
This philosophy is based on the concept of social grooming. Chimpanzees are a great example of this, he says. They show attention and affection for one another by grooming each other. You’d be labeled a weirdo if you literally did that at your office, but humans do it metaphorically through conversation. Even if you have high confidence in your top performers — enough to leave them alone and let them do everything without you — that lack of social grooming still tells them, unconsciously, that they aren’t in the group. And this can make them want to leave, Hebert says.
The answer is to schedule plenty of face time with your top employees. “Don’t rely too much on technology. Texting, email and Slack are not substitutes for coffee, cocktails or lunch. Have fun together,” Hebert says. You don’t have to only discuss work. Just put in some time. If your employees are remote, a phone call or video chat can help with this more than email or texting.
Quality is important, but frequency matters too. Hebert is a fan of stay interviews, but says he prefers to think of them as more informal “stay conversations” and he likes to hold them much more often than the standard once a year during evaluation or performance review time.
Depending on your organization, management style and business cadence, you may be able to have conversations once a quarter or some other interval. “Not every conversation has to be the full, formal operating procedure of a stay interview. Some can be just a brief conversation depending on the employee’s objectives and goals,” Hebert says. The important thing as a manager is that you tailor the talk and frequency to what will benefit your organization and the employee.
Hebert says he almost left a job once and was talked into staying at the last minute. “I had resigned. My wife had quit her job and we’d called a moving company to take us to Chicago. The new job was going to double my salary,” he says. But then a conversation with his bosses at the job he was leaving turned him around. Their chief incentive to make him stay, without any more money than before? His awesome team of co-workers.
His boss used a football metaphor. When a star quarterback switches to a new team, he gets guarantees about the teammates who’ll be protecting him and helping him succeed. Hebert had that team at the old job, but no such guarantees at the new one. In fact, he’d be fully responsible for his department at the new place with not much of a team at all. “They helped me see that I was leaving great quality to go to an unknown, that this other company was likely desperate if they were willing to double my salary, and see that my job security at the new place was not good,” he says. (And they gave his wife a job since it was too late to get hers back.)
The lesson here is that you have to surround awesome people with other awesome people. Make a concerted effort to have quality conversations with everyone on the team. Lift everyone up and your “A” players will want to stay even if they get offered more money elsewhere, Hebert says.
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