It’s always something. First, the brouhaha over baby boomer retirement spun our collective learning and development wigs. Now, before organizations have even had time to come to grips and form solutions to handle that situation, there appears to be a talent retention crisis coming. According to consulting firm TalentKeepers, the annual cost of employee turnover in the United States tops $5 trillion. The Ken Blanchard Companies’ Office of the Future addresses the issue in a white paper, “Responding to the Turnover Crisis: Ten Proven Strategies for Retaining Key Talent.” It looks like managers may be the most formidable weapons organizations can use to retain their most talented workers.
“The biggest issue is demographics,” said Marjorie Blanchard, Ph.D., co-founder and director of the Office of the Future, The Ken Blanchard Companies. “We have a big demographic shortfall of not only workers, but talented workers, people that you really want to keep coming up in the next 10 to 15 years. We’ve kind of been shielded from the affects of it by the recent recession, but as things begin to loosen up and people begin to add staff, not only the attraction but the retention of your most talented workers is going to become one of the key issues in terms of the growth of your organization.”
Managers, Blanchard said, need to see themselves as key in this retention area, rather than HR and the leadership of the company. It’s the managers who run day-to-day operations who can have the most impact and create a work environment that makes people want to stay. “People very seldom leave for a little bit more money,” Blanchard explained. “In the late ’80s, people were getting big bonuses to jump ship, but typically people prefer to stay in an organization where they feel valued and comfortable and excited. I’ve tried to convince managers that they have a great deal to do with whether a talented person decides to stay, and I have outlined 10 things they can do on a regular level to build relationships and also pay more attention to the people that are going to be key to the growth of the organization.”
Paying attention to the talent in your workforce doesn’t necessarily mean acknowledgement in the company newsletter, a pat on the back or monetary rewards, though those things are important and can play a role in retaining key workers. Blanchard said the latest efforts to retain talent center on seeing those workers as special, unique individuals who have a life outside of work and being interested in each of those people in the same way you would a friend. “It doesn’t mean being nosy or anything like that, but it does mean being interested in what’s going on in somebody’s life, making time and believing that its okay to talk about those things and making it fine to bring your whole self to work,” Blanchard said. “One way a manager can do that is to model that type of behavior—to share things that are going on with them, vacations, stressful times in their family, so that other people feel that it’s okay to talk about that at work. I used to love going around in a staff meeting asking people, ‘What do you do that’s the most relaxing to you when you’re outside of work?’ It was amazing to listen to people.”
Around the holidays The Ken Blanchard Companies gives every employee $50 to go out and buy themselves a present, provided they come back to the office and share what they’ve bought. “It’s amazing when they come back,” Blanchard said. “With some 200 people sharing, you learn so much about people.”
Attrition is far more costly than holiday gifts, and the costs aren’t always the obvious ones such as money, time and productivity or knowledge lost when an employee leaves and must be replaced. Often, when people leave companies, they take customers with them or endanger or weaken the relationships built between customer and company. No organization wants to give the impression that things are unstable—a telling and often negative inference that comes from frequent changes in staff. Managers modeling a more open and communicative style of behavior with their workers can help alleviate or mitigate the revolving door on talent. Another method is to ask courageous questions.
“That’s a very tough one for people to think is OK. Asking a question of somebody like, ‘What would lure you away, or what keeps you here? What could keep you here longer?’ Managers shy away from those kinds of questions because they think they’re putting ideas in people’s heads about leaving, but believe me, people have ideas in their heads about leaving already,” Blanchard said. “What I try to do in a retention workshop is get people to interview each other asking those questions. They find out those questions are not big scary questions. Somebody asks a manager that, and maybe the answer would be the, illness of my parents. Whatever it is, we’ve got to get those conversations out of the closet and into the regular kind of conversations that people have.
“The other thing I think is a very strong retention building habit is if you’re a manager, to enlist all of the people who report to you as eyes and ears for anyone that’s really having a hard time with their job and might be considering leaving,” Blanchard added. “Sometimes people talk to co-workers before they talk to a manager. By the time they talk to a manager the decision’s already been made. You want everybody to feel responsible, and very often when you interview people who’ve left jobs they say, ‘If just one thing had changed. There was this one thing that just wouldn’t go away.’ If a manager knows about that ahead of time, maybe they can do something about it. Once the person’s made the decision to leave, it’s over.
“Business is about people. It’s about people bringing their heart and soul and spirit to work,” Blanchard said. “People can typically keep their jobs and do an adequate job with about 20 to 30 percent of their energy. But what you’re really looking for is that extra part of someone’s discretionary energy to tap into. Managers should think about that as a key part of their job. The payoff is, there is nothing more valuable than a talented worker who stays with you.”