The Key to Retaining Your Talent as the Economy Recovers

Most leaders recognise that people are the key to business success.  In fact, research by the Hay Group has shown that engaging and enabling employees boosts performance by 15-30%.  So that makes leaders even more concerned about how they retain their most talented employees now that there is hope that the economy is recovering.

A recent report by the Chartered Management Institute showed that in the majority of cases employee morale has worsened over the last 6 months and job insecurity is at record levels with 44% of managers feeling insecure or very insecure in their current jobs.   As the economy improves and more jobs become available, there is the risk that talented but disillusioned employees will move to a new organisation.

Think about how much it costs you when you lose an employee.  There are the costs of lost business performance, reduced customer satisfaction, costs of recruitment, and the cost of developing new employees to the level of performance of their predecessors.  Typically, the total cost of losing an employee can range from one to five times their annual salary.

Retention and management of talent is more important than ever.   The key to retaining talented individuals is to help them manage their careers in a way that develops their skills, realises their full potential and satisfies their aspirations.

And it is those last three words – satisfies their aspirations – that often get forgotten.    Leaders sometimes focus so much on what the high potential employee needs to do to meet the business’s needs that they lose sight of what they need to do to meet the employee’s needs.  And this is crucial if you are going to be effective in engaging and managing the talent within your organisation.

Let’s face it, if you don’t help your high potential employees manage their careers within your organisation, they will manage their own careers by moving to a different one.

Many managers and leaders worry that asking about career intentions may unsettle staff or even make them leave.  But the evidence shows that discussing and attending to career issues makes staff more committed to the organisation and more productive.

Key things to remember are:

1)      Don’t assume you know your employees’ career aspirations unless you have explicitly discussed them.

A number of leaders have come unstuck thinking that their high potential employee will be delighted with a promotion only to discover that they don’t want the additional responsibility or their personal life does not lend itself to a relocation.

2)      Make career conversations a priority.

Career development deals with the future and it will always be a struggle to prioritise it above short-term operational issues.  But while it may not be your number one priority it is your employees’ and the time you invest in discussing it will be well worth the effort.

3)      Don’t rely on the appraisal discussion to talk about careers.

Most appraisal processes include a section for recording long-term career aspirations.  Typically, it is tagged on the to the rest of the appraisal and that is how it can get treated in the discussion too, a task that needs to be completed when time is running or has already run out and both manager and employee are tired and not necessarily in the most positive frame of mind.  Not surprisingly, this approach seldom leads to what employees might see as “real” conversations about their careers.  In reality, a formal appraisal is almost the worst place to tackle the complexities of someone’s future working life.

4)      Adopt a partnership approach.

In this partnership deal, employees should “own” their own careers and be proactive in their own career development.  But managers and leaders have a key role to play in offering advice, support and training.

5)       Be clear and honest to employees about their career and development prospects.

They will understand that you don’t have a crystal ball and you can’t make promises far into the future.  But they will appreciate an open discussion and any effort to identify new roles, responsibilities and projects that meet the needs of both parties.

Help individuals manage their careers and they are more likely to feel connected to their work, valued by the organisation, and motivated to contribute.   If you avoid talking about the subject that is closest to your employees’ hearts and you risk reducing your competitive advantage as your talented employees move to your competitors.

As a wise person once said, “High-flyers will stay for today if offered challenge and empowerment; they will stay for tomorrow if offered the chance to grow.”

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