There’s no question, the downside of a good economy is that it’s ridiculously hard to retain your best talent. The frustrating underperformers stick around, while your rock stars are suddenly the hottest ticket on LinkedIn.
So how do you build a sticky culture that inspires your best talent to stick around?
It’s tempting to focus on seemingly quick fix, fun solutions that make your culture look hip and millennial-friendly, but you know what your employees want more than a trampoline in the training room and mimosas on Monday afternoon? A buttoned-up culture where their talent is valued, their contributions are recognized, and they’re inspired to grow.
Here are six ways to think past the ineffective short cuts and take your retention strategy to the next level.
- Build A Culture of Accountability
One of the biggest mistakes managers make when they start bleeding talent is to pull back on accountability. They figure a low-performer is better than no performer, so they avoid the confrontation they worry real accountability will bring. Or they fear that if they expect too much, they’ll stress out their teams. So they buy some pizza, cross their fingers, and let the deadlines slide.
If you’re a high-performer, you know what’s more stressful than tough deadlines and high expectations? Watching slackers slide while you pick up the work.
If your best employees consistently go home frustrated because they work with a lazy team, they’ll start looking around for a new place where they can work with people like them, or go out on their own so they can call the shots.
Be sure every manager has the training and tools they need to set and reinforce clear expectations and have the tough conversations to ensure everyone is keeping their commitments.
2. Recognize and Reward Culture Builders
Has this ever happened to you? An employee receives an award for something they accomplished while leaving a path of destruction along the way. The “WTFs” start (if you don’t know what that stands for ask a millennial), and your highest performers question the sanity of an executive team that would recognize a jerk like him.
If you want to build a sticky culture, be sure you’re recognizing and rewarding the positive culture-builders on your team. Find ways to recognize and reward not just “what” people are accomplishing, but also “how” they do it. Recognize solutions-oriented behaviors and inclusive collaboration. Celebrate those who are building up your organizational culture, the people everyone wants to work with because they get things done—the right way.
- Eliminate FOSU (Fear of Speaking Up)
Nothing frustrates high-performers more than not having a voice. Quadruple that frustration if they’re afraid to speak up because their ideas were squelched in the past, or worse, they got in trouble for sharing their opinions.
FOSU results from a tricky dynamic between leaders and employees. Your leaders may be excited and fired up, but don’t invite ideas or feedback. Or worse, they ask for feedback but never do anything with it. FOSU also happens when middle-level managers discourage sharing and risk-taking because they’re worried about how they’ll be perceived by senior leaders. They figure it’s better to keep the issues to themselves and then lose the illusion that they have everything under control.
The second challenge with FOSU is the employees themselves. Even if you’ve been working on building a more inclusive culture, it’s possible you’ve got employees with scar tissue from bad past experiences that make them feel their opinions aren’t valued – even if those experiences happened with different managers or a different company. Or you have employees who’ve tried to speak up by clumsily lashing out in frustration because they don’t have the training they need to position their ideas more effectively.
Take the time to train your managers in some simple techniques to solicit strategic input that matters and be sure they understand the importance of following through
- Eliminate Stack-Ranked Performance Management Systems
They go by many names: forced rating, stack ranking, and bell curves. You rate people’s performance by comparing them to one another. Those who finish lowest in the ratings are put on performance improvement plans, aren’t recognized for their performance, or are even told to leave.
These systems are appealing because it seems like the formula of keeping your top performers and replacing the low ones will then ratchet up performance as everyone competes to be at the top of the ratings.
Problems That Prevent Performance
In practice, however, these forced ratings systems run into real-world challenges when you’re looking to retain your top performers.
- You create contradictions as you hire great employees, but then tell a segment of them that they’re not great after all.
- You create internal competition rather than outward competition.
- You create strong incentives to game the score rather than play the real game of serving your customer.
- You’re asking people for their least-best effort (what they have to do to stay alive) rather than their true best.
- Leaders don’t learn how to lead and manage for sustainable results.
- Managers aren’t allowed to reward genuine performance when talented performers end up on the low end of the rank.
Forced rating systems are helpful when a leader needs to jumpstart a large organization that’s caught in a morass of sloth, no accountability, and poor execution at every level. A quick ranking to identify truly poor performance and remove it from the organization sends a message that things are changing.
For the long-term, however, the answer to sustained transformational results and sticky cultures isn’t forced rankings. If the problem is poor leadership, it should be obvious: fix the problem.
And then work to align compensation with what you really want to reward. If you need a team to perform at an objective level of excellence, compensate them for that performance. If you want your best performers to stay, don’t turn the team against itself with artificial comparisons that don’t benefit the work that’s done for your customers.
- Expand Your Approach to Exit Interviews
Imagine that Joe gets a new gig. Joe’s peers all know Joe is frustrated with his boss and they’re struggling with their managers, too. They ask Joe, “Did they EVEN ASK you why you’re leaving?” And he says, “Nope, they DIDN’T BOTHER to ask. They don’t care.”
Now Joe has left and his friends are wondering if they should, too (oh, and Joe gets a bonus at his new gig for referrals).
Do you know who is leaving and why? Do you have a solid exit interview process in place done by an empathetic leader who cares? If not, it’s worth the energy to build it. Sure, you want the data, but the exit interview itself is a cultural intervention.
- Pay Fair Market Value (So Obvious, Often Overlooked)
Laura, a millennial friend who loves her job and was getting great feedback about her performance, called to vent the other day. “All my colleagues tell me that the only way to get a raise around here is to get another job offer and bring it to them–then they’ll match it. That strategy has worked well for several of them. So, I’ve joined several networking groups and am determined to get another job offer so I can get the raise.”
Two weeks later she called back, and you guessed it: She was taking that new gig, doing similar work.
Why do otherwise smart HR teams create a dynamic that sends their employees shopping? If budgets are tight, consider right-sizing so you can pay your team fairly. You’re better off with a team of eight highly-motivated rock-stars than 10 you settled on because you couldn’t afford to attract the right talent – and who are looking around for a better opportunity.
If you’re serious about taking your retention strategy to the next level, be sure your training and infrastructure helps managers set, reinforce, manage and celebrate clear expectations that inspire everyone to do their best.