Hard Truths Behind Retaining your Best and Brightest Talent

Posted by David Lee on June 13, 2019

businesswoman thinking

Many of us are highly “visual” individuals. We visualize conversations going favorably, relationships lasting forever, and being wildly successful. These are largely examples of how “hope” shapes our thoughts. The power of positive thinking can aid us in guiding our paths towards positive outcomes and hopefully create self-fulfilling prophecies. Unfortunately at the end of the day, some things just don’t work out the way we visualize them. Relationships end, both personally and professionally. Conversations don’t go quite as planned and projects end prematurely. Our best ideas and most desired outcomes, ones we spend incredible time and effort on, fail.  

The most challenging part is investing, believing, and trusting in something or someone and finding a way to be “ok” when the process, project, or relationship ends before we are ready for it. It takes maturity to understand that (simply put) sometimes change, endings, etc. are in fact, totally “ok”. If I can promise you one thing, it is this: There is an absolute peace in the personal and professional world when we get to a point where we understand that all we can do is go about everything the right way, build the right framework, put the right people around us, work hard for those in our lives (again personally and professionally) and know that sometimes it just isn’t going to work out the way we see it in our minds. That also doesn’t mean we have failed, in any way, shape, or form. It just means our visions and reality didn’t really align.

Although sometimes endings and/or changes are the best things that can happen to us, emotion and ego often times cloud our ability to recognize this. Where this ties in for purposes of this blog is the employee lifespan at our organizations. In the modern employment landscape, we are called upon to enact a superior employee experience, where our brand and every touch point with employees is critical. It presents a lot of pressure for employers, at times fair and at times exhausting. We will discuss organizational fatigue later on. For now, let’s provide some help, direction and relief.

 

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Are We Ready to Pop the Big Question?

Let’s start with a personal example everyone can relate to, and then quickly correlate it to a similar workplace situation. We aspire to know we are in good relationships, we are on target, in sync, and progressing in a mutually positive direction. Ever think about asking your significant other this question? “How difficult would it be for you to leave me?

This question can trigger a ton of thoughts. Your significant other could be thinking “Maybe I would just be happier alone. People find me attractive and others would want to be with me. I am only marginally happy and I feel somewhat disregarded and unimportant.” It could yield positive thoughts, such as: “We have many mutual interests and we communicate so well. I would miss the partnership and friendship.”

The answer they may come up with could be something like “Honestly, it would be tough to have that conversation and there would be a few bumps in the road, but I can see myself being quite happy outside of this relationship.” Or it could be “It would be far too difficult for me and honestly, I wouldn’t want to be outside of this relationship. I belong here and am incredibly happy.”

Let’s think of that question in a professional setting. We are conducting a feedback discussion with a direct report. We ask the same question tailored to employment. How difficult would it be for you to leave our organization?

It will trigger the same thoughts. “Am I happier going out on my own? Is there a good market for who I am? Will someone else be more open to my thoughts and ideas, and care more about my development? Do we have similar mutual interests for my career path, and will they communicate with me frequently?”

This one question has a ton of impact. The answer (quality, depth, etc.) to this one question will support or challenge our assumptions and tell us everything we need to know assuming we have fostered a culture where honesty is encouraged and valued. It truly is the one question we can ask that can provide us with what we need to know about how this employee feels about their entire experience with our organization.

The next big question is one that we must then ask ourselves…“what do we do with all the information, and how can we avoid organizational fatigue by going too far with change?” Although it goes without saying, if we ask questions like these, we must be prepared to act on or address issues and concerns, or at minimum provide follow-up communication on the “why or why not” as this is critical to gaining/retaining trust.

Avoiding Organizational Fatigue

Organizations need to be careful when compiling feedback and implementing change. Heightened understanding, empathy and care for the employee experience is wonderful…but making constant change in a panic just to try and raise retention rates is exhausting and will end up fostering an inconsistent, uneven, and “squeaky wheel” culture.

So What Can/Should We Do

Here is a short list of what could be many items we can or should do, but if we follow these suggestions, we will be able to achieve some balance.

  1. Unselfish leadership and support: we build and support those around us for the right reasons, and we do it unconditionally. This provides us with peace that we did things the right way, and outcomes will fall where they may.
  2. Great programs and processes: in the workplace, we facilitate that great communication with continuous feedback programs and use those conversations to launch development, growth, reskilling and upskilling, learning, and most importantly, compassion.
  3. Balanced decision-making: we need to be agile, nimble and adapt our culture to modern ways, but there is a balance needed to ensure we aren’t just making changes every time an employee is dissatisfied. These changes must align with our mission, vision, and values and not foster “squeaky wheel” issues.

Remember This One Thing

And that one thing is to ask “How difficult would it be for you to leave our organization?” As stated, if you have developed trust, you will get all the answers you need. From there, prioritize and implement the ones that make sense for your culture, and do your best to avoid changes just to save people. Stick to your mission, vision, and values and avoid fatigue…but remember, change and evolution to some degrees are table stakes.

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About the Author

David Lee is currently a Product Manager for the post-hire modules within the Deltek Talent Management suite, Dave has oversight of Performance, Learning and Development/Succession. As a former Vice President of Human Resources, Dave possesses nearly twenty years of Human Resources expertise with significant focus in talent/employee development and employee relations. Dave is a DDI certified leadership trainer and possesses an MBA from Walden University as well as various HR certifications.