Retention roadblocks

Retention is a management skill we need to constantly hone, yet is easy to overlook. Our days can get filled with so much short-term fire-fighting we don't see a potential blaze smoldering in the distance. By the time it's a raging inferno and one of your valuable folks has left your employ, it's too late.

I recently spoke with organizational development expert Adrian Savage on how we can improve retention. His answer was simple:

Don't let your good people go. That sounds simple, but is far harder to execute because of two common management roadblocks.

* Habit. "Over the years many managers got into the habit of believing you need a constant infusion of new blood," Savage says. "If you want to do something different, the first step is to bring in new people." Yet he believes that's a fallacy, as hiring new people is likely to alienate current staff members.

"When somebody comes in from the outside the existing people close ranks so it can be very difficult for [the new hire] to make any change at all," he says. "They're resisting and resenting because by bringing [a new hire] in, management. is passing a message that says, 'You existing guys aren't good enough.' " It's the management version of "the grass is always greener."

Instead, Savage encourages managers to mine their current staffs for gems instead of automatically looking elsewhere.

"Someone from inside, you know what they do, but not necessarily what they can do," he says. By developing from within, you send a message that current employees are valuable, and have a growth path and potential within your company. Not only could you find great skills in a current employee, but you'll also go a long way in retaining staffers. After all, who wants to work in a dead-end job?

* Command-and control. The second management roadblock to retention is micromanagement. It's a lose-lose situation, yet it's still common. "Managers micromanage because they are micromanaged," Savage says. "We all tend to learn management and leadership by our own experience. One of the real dangers is that this disease of over-managing is truly a disease; we catch it from our own managers and pass it along to the next generation coming behind us."

Savage says micromanagement obviously works against retention as employees are often terrified of making a mistake and, therefore, refuse to show any initiative. Instead, he advises managers to find some courage and start delegating. Giving employees some freedom over their work and results will make for happier staffers.

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