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Posted: 2006-10-04 / Author: Marion Stone

‘talent On Tap’ – Practical Ways To Retain Talented Employees

You are in the middle of a crucial project rollout and one of your key project managers decides to leave the company. A big setback! There is the obvious loss of their skills, but you will also have to invest time to locate and train a replacement if you can find a suitable candidate. Associated with this process are the obvious primary costs, but in addition there are the secondary costs of delayed deadlines, possible errors and potential loss of goodwill with customers. Are you familiar with this scenario?

The growth of the economy and the challenges of the BEE scorecard mean that South African business is starting to feel the impact of skills shortages in specific sectors. Organisations have often referred to ‘people being our greatest asset’ but never has it been quite so true as in today’s environment.

For many years now, organisations have fought their competitors on the battleground of efficiency and the tight control of resources. Now that efficiency has become more of a given, competitiveness rests on being effective, which is about working smarter through your people. As a result, the engaging and retaining of your skilled and talented employees has become an important strategic consideration because it affects your competitiveness as an organisation.

Who is ‘the talent’?
Many organisations consider the talent to be the top 10 to 15% of their employees . In other words, those that hold the budgets and make decisions that have far-reaching consequences. In a report, from the UK Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, the second most common reason for investing in talent development activities was to develop senior managers. This is one way of defining talent because your top-level employees certainly have a major impact on your organisational strategy. The risk of taking this approach is that you could have a group of enthusiastic captains steering the boat with an unengaged crew paddling out of time behind them. A recent opinion poll revealed that 56,7% of respondents felt insecure in their jobs

A more inclusive definition refers to high-potential employees and these could be at any level of the organisation. Talent development activities can be very controversial and misinterpreted by those that are not ‘in the club’. It is therefore essential that organisations define ‘high potential carefully and have measurable standards that must be achieved for someone to be considered as high potential. Instruments such as psychometrics and 360-degree feedback tools are useful in this regard.

How do we keep them?
Why do people work for charities and NGO’s when the salary levels are generally lower than those in the private sector and working conditions sometimes difficult? It is not a hard question to answer because for many money is not the main motivator. Those people working in the not-for-profit sector have found compelling meaning in the work that they do and for them this more than makes up for any other drawbacks.

Other organisations should learn from this. If they can find a way to engage their employees then they will retain them since engagement is a measure of commitment to the organisation. A CLC study showed that employees who are engaged perform 20% better and are 87% less likely to leave the organisation.

What can we do?
Equip your managers and make them accountable Employees experience the culture of the organisation through their managers. Two employees with different managers can have completely distinct experiences of the organisation and if the experience is a bad one, the employee will leave no matter how good the pay is or how strong your company brand is. Employees tend to leave managers and not the organisation. The same CLC study found that of the top 25 levers for engagement, 19 are within the control of the manager.

Top Tips –
Þ Ensure that your managers have excellent feedback, coaching and development skills.
Þ Make your managers accountable for the turn over in their departments and reward those who invest time developing their staff.
Þ Managers must help employees make the connection between their individual goals and the strategy of the organisation – this helps employees find meaning in their work
Þ Check the culture of the organisation through well-structured opinion surveys and face-to-face feedback forums.

Provide systems and processes that support motivational factors We have already talked about the fact that money alone does not motivate people, which is why throwing money at a retention problem is only a short-term fix. However, if the salary is not competitive or realistic, you won’t even be in the talent race to start with. Hertzberg’s Two Factor Theory separates ‘motivational factors’ from ‘hygiene factors’. Hygiene factors are the foundational requirements for an employee to feel valued e.g. salary, working conditions and status. If they are absent or undermined, the foundations of motivation will be compromised however they do not intrinsically motivate. Motivational factors include opportunities for personal growth, recognition for achievement and the freedom to make a difference or leave a mark. A recent study by the C.I.A. referred to in the Sunday Times Business Times found that this is the case even with black talent where perceptions are that affirmative action has led to an increase in job hopping.

Top Tips –
Þ Have a framework or a process in place for developing employees.
Þ Provide tools that employees can access in order to support their career development. For example on-line personal assessments, e-learning modules, learning centres and mentors Þ Equip individuals with the skills to take charge of their development e.g. do they know what they want, do they understand what their skills are and do they know how to network?
Þ Equip managers to be able to have career development discussions
Þ Maximise opportunities for employees to develop their skills and move on in their careers When promotions are not possible think project-based roles or lateral moves to broaden the base of knowledge.
Þ Provide opportunities for employees to run with innovative projects where they have a degree of autonomy and can make the decisions, take the risk and reap the rewards

Check the ‘whole picture’
Look at what is happening in the rest of the organisation – what other processes could be frustrating the retention of talented employees?

Top Tips –
Þ Recruitment – are you giving employees a 'realistic job preview' at the recruitment stage? Take care not to raise expectations only to dash them later. Þ Disclosure of personal details – defend your organisation against penetration by headhunters and others seeking to poach your staff. Keep internal e-mail addresses confidential and train telephonists to spot calls from agents and to avoid giving them useful information.
Þ Communications – An absence of information will start the rumours flying so communicate regularly. Be honest in your communications about the state of the business but make sure that you celebrate successes. Employees who are made to feel that their jobs are precarious may put a great deal of effort in to impress, but they are also likely to be looking out for more secure employment at the same time.

Done right, talent retention strategies can be very powerful resulting in committed employees who will go the ‘extra mile’ to get the job done for the organisation.

‘What is the city, but the people’ William Shakespeare
Abouth the author:
If this subject interests you, contact Marion Stone for more details.

' +27 21 975 8969
È+27 82 319 0321

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