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HRM 13 Feb 2013

The penny has finally dropped. Business leaders globally are starting to realise that talent is the last remaining source of competitive advantage. And just like Australia’s mining resources, culled from a finite reserve in the earth, finding and retaining the best people will only become more difficult as time progresses.

The power balance has shifted towards employees. According to a Right Management survey, 56% of the 1,400 CEOs and HR professionals surveyed feared other employers were looking to recruit their best talent. Some 47% expressed doubts about maintaining their middle-level management pipeline, and just 27% said their company has a sufficient number of qualified internal candidates who were ready to assume senior management or executive roles.

In terms of business sustainability, it’s that last stat that has business leaders most concerned. “CEOs and HR staff are right to feel enormously vulnerable and many are stressed seeking ways to hold onto their rising leadership,” said Michael Haid, senior vice president of Right Management, on the release of the report.

Haid warned that no organisation can consider itself immune from needing effective retention strategies or offering the most competitive recruitment packages.


The end of loyalty

So what can employers do? Clearly the notion of having the same job for life and a high sense of loyalty towards employers is a quaint concept that is long gone.

In an article published in the Financial Times, workplace specialist Lynda Gratton wrote that loyalty, a virtue prized in personal relationships, has disappeared altogether in the workforce due to the globalised high speed economy.

The result, she said, is “shortening contracts, outsourcing, automation and multiple careers”.

Wendy Phaneuf, managing director of consultancy firm The Training Source, added that what bosses perceive as employee loyalty is often really nothing more than services rendered in exchange for their paycheck and some job perks.

“In the past, you worked for a company for life, and you’d do anything for the company, including sacrificing your family life,” Phaneuf said. “True loyalty means going the extra mile when it’s needed, and many employees today are unwilling to do so unless they’re compensated for their extra effort.”

Further, workforce consultant Tammy Erickson said in her Harvard Business Review blog that the concept of loyalty has been replaced with trust, and this is actually a more complex value to manage.

David Helvadjian from workplace consultancy firm Gallup says that if you really want loyalty and trust to prosper, engagement is the key.

For companies looking to reignite loyalty, he says it is paramount that employers clearly communicate the mission and purpose of their company, as well as clearly communicate employees’ roles.

“When we look at different businesses, if engagement is high, turnover is low. If people are engaged, they will feel valued and a part of something they can remain loyal to, and they can therefore learn and grow. If employees feel that management doesn’t listen to them, they will go elsewhere to have those needs met,” Helvadjian says.

“The organisation will provide interesting and challenging work. The individual will invest discretionary effort in the task and produce relevant results. When one or both sides of this equation are no longer possible – for whatever reasons – the relationship will end,” Erickson says.

The concept that companies need to actively foster trust is a position backed by Australian workplace consults. By talking to employees about what they do well, turnover will be reduced, Helvadjian assures. “We did a study of 65,000 employers, and those who provided feedback had 15% greater retention. By sitting down and talking about their strengths, [employees] will feel valued, and like they’re in an environment where they feel they’re being told what they’re doing well instead of focusing on their weaknesses.”


Letting personalities shine through

While there will be naysayers who claim it’s impossible – and not desirable – to retain everyone, Andrew Warren-Nicholls, a freelance trainer and facilitator with Epilogue Training Solutions, suggests that an employee’s personality is the key to their engagement and retention. The key is to let them use it.

The simple fact is most humans are only good at being themselves, so Warren-Nicholls recommends using that fundamental truth to get the best out of people. He suggests asking two key questions:

•        Are you encouraging your staff to use their own personalities at work?

•        Are they allowed to work in a way that suits them best?

“Allow your employees to be themselves as much as possible and engage them in achieving specific goals and tasks, which you establish together,” he says.

Warren-Nicholls outlines six key areas affecting your employees’ experience – and what you can do about it.


1 Define your culture, where it is and where you want it to be.

You have a culture already. The question is whether that is the one you want. It’s not just the fun stuff; it’s the job, and the achievement of going home satisfied. A good culture is being able to tell your friends you like what you do at work.

Small steps are great; start with the boss and work down. Get an external facilitator, run a new pulse survey or blow the dust off your current one. Establish where your culture is, where you want your culture to go and what actions you need to take to get there.


2 Have values and hold people to them.

Establish what standard of work, behaviour and values you want and then outline what is considered unacceptable. With people of so many diverse backgrounds in workplaces today, don’t assume everyone has the same values; be open, define them and champion them.

“There is nothing worse than people watching others cross a line at work or not knowing themselves if they have crossed one, the result being someone feeling threatened and powerless.

Facilitate a session to determine what you as a company place value in. It’s key to have this conversation, but keep them separate, values are important,” Warren-Nicholls says.


3 Do you have clear goals and recognition?

What do you need to achieve today and what recognition, praise or incentive will you get for getting there?

Be very specific about the individual targets, the team goals and the company goals. Don’t tell people how to work, tell them what to accomplish and help them achieve it.


4 Trust the person to do the job you pay them for.

It’s their job; you hired them to do it based on experience, skill set and fit within your company. Have faith in your decision and trust them to do the job. Judge people on what they do, not necessarily how they do it.

“Your managers should be supporting and helping their teams to achieve their goals. Support your managers and encourage them to step back and allow your employees to do what you pay them for. In light of this, your managers should have more training, trust and support than anyone,” Warren-Nicholls says.


5 Understand each other’s style.

There will always be tensions at work, we all work in different ways and it takes a long time for any relationship to find its groove. Sometimes it never does. Find out what everyone’s personalities are, get them out in the open and use the information to do things better as a group of people.

“Behavioural profiling is a perfect place to start, as it identifies how we like to work,” Warren-Nicholls says. “It’s essential to find out styles, as it empowers people to be themselves, starts worthwhile conversations and helps us understand the way others think and act, which is a powerful thing.”


6 Communication.

Speak plainly. Communicating well and reaching complete understanding should be vital in every conversation, email or meeting. Our resumes say we are great communicators, but how much time do we spend practicing or checking ourselves to see if what we say makes sense?

“There is an endless array of training in this area,” Warren-Nicholls says. “Do it by discovery as a team, plan exercises based around what you do. Have training regularly, not when something is deemed to be broken, so your team is always learning and interacting together. Have a simple activity at the end of your weekly team meetings and build from there.”



To-do list


Gallup consultancy works from a list of top tips which they claim is the key to increasing loyalty and decreasing turnover:

•        At least bi-annually ensure someone at work has talked to your employees about their individual progress.

•        Ensure employees know what is expected of them at work.

•        Ensure employees have the materials and equipment to perform their job description.

•        Encourage employee development.

•        Genuinely care about employee’s opinions and make them count when they are given.

•        Make sure your company’s mission or purpose is clearly communicated while making employees feel their job is important.

•        Create an environment where the workforce is committed to quality work.



Danger points


In the last six months, have you been approached by external sources (eg recruitment companies, other organisations, etc) with new job opportunities?


Baby Boomers (aged 48-67)

Yes: 43%

No: 57%


Generation X (aged 34-47)

Yes: 54%

No: 46%


Generation Y (aged 18-33)

Yes: 51%

No: 49%


Source: Australia’s Skills Gap, Australian Institute of Management



The age-old issue


Research from SageCo, assembled from the opinions of 2,500 workers aged 50+, has indicated that older employees want to stay employed, but under flexible working conditions – such as non-fixed hour working weeks, part-time or under flexible work scenarios.

To enhance engagement of mature age workers, SageCo recommends the following:


1 Have ‘the conversation’: It’s important to equip leaders with skills and capabilities to have conversations with older workers about their career path intentions. There is a fear amongst leaders about addressing the topic, but it’s important to stress future working intentions, not retirement. These conversations should be taking place regardless of age.


2 Improve flexibility: Flexibility means something different according to each individual. 49% would be happy to work full-time hours but want more autonomy on how that will play out. For example, 38 hours constructed in a different way. 59% want to work part-time or part-year. For example, 3-6 months in the peak time period. There is also a lot of interest in mobile work options, so this should be investigated.


3 Look at job re-design: Working differently doesn’t just refer to working hours. Older workers really want to focus in on their areas of expertise. They may want to get back into their original areas of interest, ie. Why they went into particular lines of work in the first place.


4 Share their skills: SageCo said it has discovered that the older generation wants to have opportunities to share their skills, experience and knowledge. Ways to do so do not have to be complex, and can be very simple. For example, a knowledge sharing breakfast. Or, simply putting 10 minutes on the agenda for specific input at meetings. Some simple knowledge sharing techniques can really help engagement levels.


5 Have processes to assist transitions: Employers know that employees are overwhelmingly underprepared for retirement. Organisations should invest time in helping to plan and act on issues relating to transition. Specific focus areas include, career direction and development, health and wellbeing, improving financial literacy and a work-life plan.


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