Don’t let talent drift away

No company wants its talent to resign. Losing talented people results in both hard and soft costs to your business: Firstly, it costs to replace them; there’s the cost of the recruitment and training and development, not to mention the general administration, then there’s a cost-implication for co-workers whose productivity may be disrupted as they adjust to the changed team dynamic.

The most profound and non-quantifiable cost? The loss of the value that employee would have created for the company in the future.

There’s a similarly detrimental impact when someone remains with a company but isn’t engaged by their work. This lack of motivation has an impact on the quality of their contribution and on morale throughout their team, and, can negatively impact the brand image of the company in the eyes of others: clients, suppliers, prospective employees.

These problems – of losing talent and motivation – are affecting companies around the world. Gallup research found that 79% of companies worldwide believe they have a significant problem with retaining and engaging their staff. The UK is no exception. The Gallup data showed that here, less than 1 in 5 employees feels involved and enthused at work. Gallup’s assessment is that this is costing the UK between £52 billion and £70 billion a year.

So, how do leaders work to reverse this trend?

1. Understand the ‘employee experience’

Research published in February by professional services company Towers Watson once again suggests that there is no correlation between higher wage increases and employee retention. Assuming that your people believe they are being rewarded fairly, what is important, is ‘the employee experience’ – the emotional rewards an individual gets from their job such as recognition and the opportunity to use their skills and abilities; the developmental rewards they accrue such as targeted training, the chance to lead projects and promotions; and, the social rewards from a positive managerial environment within a flexible and inclusive workplace.

Employees will differ regarding which factors are most important to them.  To understand what drives their workforce, one option is to increase the frequency with which a company gathers survey feedback about employee satisfaction – and listen and respond constructively to that feedback on an individual basis.

Another and significantly lower cost option, and perhaps one that is a far more effective alternative to increasing the frequency of surveys, would be for those with a duty of care for team members to recognise their responsibility in this area; to start actively seeking to understand the people they are responsible for – what it is that they individually and collectively need from the organisation, and more importantly, from them?

2. Define the business as one with integrity, passion and purpose

When employees can identify with and feel pride in the values of their workplace, it creates a lasting connection. These need to be the ‘real values’ they experience daily in their work environment, not the often just sound-byted corporate ones.

Zeynep Ton, Adjunct Associate Professor of Operations Management at MIT Sloan School of Management recently highlighted the story of Market Basket, a chain of supermarkets in Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire. In June, the CEO, Arthur T. Demoulas, was ousted in a coup. Thousands of long-serving Market Basket employees took to the streets, demonstrating in a bid to get his job back. Ton wrote, ‘Market Basket employees don’t seem to stick around just for the wages and good benefits. The rallies for Demoulas suggest that they truly believe in his leadership and the direction he set for the company…they are fighting to remain an organization that takes care of its customers and its employees, a place where they can be proud to work.’

3. Help employees see that their role is integral to business success

Showing an employee how their job supports the organisation as a whole brings twofold benefits: For the employee, it’s an acknowledgement that their job has meaning and that they are, therefore, valued:

being valued begets security, which begets trust, which begets engagement

Secondly, this clear message about contribution helps to build a culture of inclusion throughout the organisation as it promotes the concept of the company working together ‘as a team’. As a measure of how important this is, research from Deloitte has found that work teams with high levels of inclusion outperform others by 8:1.

At Odyssey, alongside some of the more traditional but oft misrepresented motivational models, we increasingly find ourselves helping our clients’ leader-managers to work with methods of establishing for their team members:

Firstly, a deeper sense of ‘Meaning IN Work’

  • How they feel about the specific tasks and activities in which they are involved
  • The extent to which they feel that the nature of the work they perform allows them to make full use of their interests, capabilities and talents
  • The extent to which they feel that the nature of the work they perform is aligned with their personal motivational drivers

Secondly, a deep sense of ‘Meaning AT Work’

How the employee feels about the company, their work environment and the mission/strategy of their work unit
The extent to which the employee feels that the values and objectives of the company are aligned with their personal motivational drivers – today and in the future
The extent to which the employee understands the contribution they personally make to the success of the business and feels that this contribution is recognised and appreciated by the leaders of the business.

Integrating this with the powerful concepts brought alive by development tools such as the Strength Deployment Inventory (which identifies deep seated motivational drivers and how to build peoples’ sense of self-worth through both how they view the work they do, and, the relationship they have with team members and their boss and the environment in which they do it) and investigating the concepts of ‘autonomy, mastery and purpose’ brought alive in Dan Pink’s work on ‘DRiVE -The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us’, it is possible to support those in a position of responsibility to genuinely begin to see and work with their team members in ways that fundamentally shift behavior away from a reliance on reward and other traditional methods for retaining people, to really being able to connect with them at an emotional level, building enduring levels of engagement and trust.