Change Agents

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Several e-mails lately have sought suggestions on ways to retain employees. Perhaps the best way to address this is to first determine what motivates people to make changes in the first place. After 20+ years in the search business, we have seen or heard most of them. While our findings are not scientific, they are time tested.

January 01, 2005


Bob Piper
Bob Piper, Principal, The Talon Group

Several e-mails lately have sought suggestions on ways to retain employees. Perhaps the best way to address this is to first determine what motivates people to make changes in the first place. After 20+ years in the search business, we have seen or heard most of them. While our findings are not scientific, they are time tested. Here are a few of the staples:

Money

I know what you are thinking — all the job satisfaction guidelines say that money is way down the list on why people make job changes. If this assertion were universally true, it wouldn't surface as often as it does when decision time comes around. Fact: Money IS important — especially to the candidate who is underpaid compared to his/her peer group. There will always be a handful of companies trying to buy talent to offset their own turnover problems, but if the majority of your good competitors pay their employees better than you do yours, then you have a potential problem on your hands. Even the most stimulated and loyal employees grow tired of hearing how everyone else in their field is making 20-30% more than they are.

Career Growth

Do you know what your employees want to be when they grow up? If you had to describe the career aspirations of everyone on your team right now, could you? If not, then expect them to share those dreams elsewhere ... like in an interview with one of your competitors. Take an interest in your people and help them grow professionally. It is your responsibility and privilege as a leader.


While we are on the subject of career growth, let's dismiss the idea that professional success means an endless stream of promotions into positions of greater and greater responsibility. I recall learning of a Fortune 500 company that promoted one of its top engineers into a prestigious position as VP/Research & Development. The problem is they took someone who thrived and excelled as an engineer and turned him into a mediocre corporate manager. His best talents lay dormant while he struggled to become an "executive." Ultimately, this person resigned and took a job with another company... as a Chief Engineer. Moral of the story: don't assume that everyone aspires to become a division president or a department manager. Learn to recognize and celebrate the accomplishments of your team members beyond just promotions.

Recognition

People don't like to talk about it, but many leave companies because they don't feel valued or appreciated. They go about their daily work schedule with little recognition for a job well done. If companies were as quick to praise as they are to scold, there would be far less turnover. Think about it. When was the last time you personally told someone how much you appreciated their efforts? Or, recognized specific achievements by sending a personal note or rewarding the employee with an unexpected gift certificate?

Autonomy

Anytime we hear this complaint, it usually comes from a candidate employed in a company that fails to empower its people. The other likely scenario: he or she is managed by someone who does not delegate well, if at all. The majority of people relish the opportunity to take ownership of a project or effort. And, they don't mind being held accountable provided they are given ample decision-making authority.

Shared Values

Companies with an expressed commitment to social causes — sustainable building practices, affordable housing, etc. — are gaining disciples everywhere. More and more people feel called to be part of something greater than themselves — to do more than just "make a buck."


Ask your employees if they are passionate about a certain cause, then help them pursue it.

Benefits

Ten years ago, we rarely had anyone ask about major medical coverage during the search process. Now, they always ask. While it may not be their key motivator for making a change, an attractive yet affordable medical plan certainly sweetens the deal.


For many job seekers, work/life balance is a benefit they want as well. The go-go days of the 1980's and 1990's were all about work and personal achievement. Six and seven day work-weeks were not uncommon, whatever it took to win.


People today want greater balance between work and personal time. One of our long time clients began practicing this many years ago. The most common statement we hear from candidates we've placed in that company is, "This is the first company I've worked for that understands you have another life outside of work." Perhaps that is the reason this organization has the lowest turnover rate of any company we've seen over the past 20 years.


Last, but by no means least is leadership. There is not enough room in this column to expand on it this month, but suffice to say that employees feel lost when they don't have clearly defined leadership who can articulate goals bigger than the just the bottom line.


People are drawn to good leadership. If this critical component is absent in their current work environment, they will go looking for it elsewhere.


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