Retaining superstars, Part 1

Employee retention is always an issue. Either the job market is booming and you're worried your all-stars will seek greener pastures (think late 1990s) or you're laying off staff and you're worried good employees will voluntarily jump ship (think today).

A report "Holding onto High Performers" by human resources consultancy Drake Beam Morin was brought to my attention recently. I started reading it, highlighting all the tidbits I wanted to bring to your attention, when my eye caught the copyright notice on the bottom right-hand side of the page.

This report was published in 2000. True, it was a different time, but in finishing the report, I realized that regardless of which way you approach retention, the basics are true on either side of the coin. As the report states: "Losing high performers is always costly, no matter what the economic climate."

* Make a plan. If you want to make retention a priority, you need to develop a strategic plan - on paper. Knock heads with your HR representatives and other strategic players and determine what steps you need to take to keep people with you.

Getting everyone on the same page - literally - is key.

* Use a three part-strategy. The report advocates three areas of importance: selection and orientation; training and career management; and motivation and compensation.

Selection:

* Take extra care when interviewing candidates to make sure they will fit your culture, not just the job requirements. Most turnover, the report states, is due to poor chemistry or a bad fit. Remember, people leave managers, not companies.

* "Hire for attitude, train for skill." Many companies are adopting this approach, figuring it's easier to train a person than fix their attitude to fit the department. Remember, you want someone who will not only do the job well, but also stay for a while.

* Before you interview, determine what personal characteristics and attitudes candidates need to possess to be successful in your department.

* Ask open-ended questions to glean if the candidate has the characteristics and attitudes you desire. It's really hard to determine if the candidate if telling the truth - or what you want to hear - if you ask questions like, "Are you flexible? Do you pay attention to detail?" Instead, ask questions phrased like this: "Can you tell me about a time when you were under great pressure and had to resolve a difficult customer problem?" or "Can you tell me how you demonstrated creativity in your last two jobs?"

Orientation:

* First impressions count. The report says an employee's earliest impressions have a large impact on retention. If on Day 1 you have your new employee sit in an empty conference room and watch a two-hour video on your company's history, you may not be getting off on the right foot. "They may begin to regret their decision to join the company and experience feelings comparable to 'buyer's remorse,' " the report says.

* Instead, you want to make them feel at home and an integral part of the organization right away. Some ways to do this: have a senior manager spend time with the new hire - even over a coffee - to welcome them and show them they're important to the group; or have someone in the department serve as the new hire's mentor for the first month.

Next time, we'll look at ways you can improve your training and career management, and motivation and compensation strategies to aid your retention efforts.

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