Talent, like magnetism, involves attraction and repulsion
The recent international economic turmoil highlighted many HR issues. 21st century labour is highly mobile and the greater the skills of that labour, the greater their mobility. Talent goes where it is prized, moving within organisations, within nations and across borders. It’s not just about money. What else can employers offer, and be seen to offer, that makes them an employer of choice, a workplace of choice? Companies aren’t just competing against other companies in the marketplace; they’re competing for talent.
Research shows that there are many reasons why people leave or stay in a workplace. The bulk of those reasons can be collated under the heading ‘the nature of their relationship with their boss.’ Exit interviews and so forth identify the factors influencing people’s employment. Which of those are within the power of bosses to influence? Which are the most influential?
An employee that leaves makes that choice just once but an employee that stays makes that choice each and every day. An employee that doesn’t want to be there but stays is a negative influence. What criteria regularly turn out to be the most decisive? Employee engagement is the primary driver of employee attraction and retention. But what drives employee engagement? It’s probably not what you think.
How can you become a magnet, attracting engaged talent to your workplace of choice?
Average workplaces are 9% disengaged, 30% engaged and 61% ambivalent. Whilst we’d all love to attract inherently engaged people to shift those stats in our favour, the real opportunity lies in those already inside and on the fence. Target the 61%! Create regular and personal feedback loops so they can feel that their contribution is personally valued. Organise work so that they have opportunities to personally achieve. Ensure they clearly know high standards are expected. Channel them towards development opportunities.
I ran one operation which included a contact centre. Before I started, one in five callers gave up before they were able to get through. With the help of some magnets, we turned it around and 85% of callers got answered within 10 seconds. One rep was especially exceptional and respected by staff in the contact centre staff and throughout the organisation. Her buy-in and support would be critical in the turn-around.
She had never gained her driver’s licence. Driving had no part in her work yet we encouraged and supported her in her efforts and eventually she became a legal driver. That development opportunity, amongst other ideas, engaged her in our changes and she became our most powerful internal advocate. She moved from rep to second-in-charge to a technical role and, years later, got head-hunted by a multinational telecommunications company. For that job, paying twice her previous salary, she needed her driver’s licence…
Encourage workplace-appropriate fun. Nurture a sense of belonging. Paint a vivid picture of your workplace’s future that includes them. Don’t just listen to their opinions but ensure that they feel their opinions are listened to. Provide structure and communication that makes it clear that their work is part of something bigger. (“I’m helping to put a man on the moon.”) And, make it crystal-clear that the 9%’s behaviour is unacceptable in your workplace.
Case Today I ran a leadership workshop at a store in New Zealand’s largest supermarket chain. The owner keeps an independent financial adviser on retainer to be available at a regularly scheduled time to provide advice to all the hundreds of staff, regardless of position. The law requires employers to contribute a percentage to retirement savings but he chooses to add this service even though he doesn’t have to. Their future is now associated in a positive way with their relationship with their workplace. You should have heard how positively they spoke about this being available.
These few things drive engagement. Oddly enough, I asked earlier, how you could become a magnet, attracting talent to your workplace of choice. I also stated that the primary repellent for employees who leave was the negative nature of their relationship with their boss. A good question and a true statement but not the right question. It’s too ‘you’-focused. It needs to be about them – talent-centricity. The real magnet for your workplace shouldn’t be you. It should be them, more specifically, the 30% who are already there and already engaged, plus the others from the 61% that you can “turn away from the dark side.” Genuine talent wants to work with other genuine talent and, in a mobile world increasingly interconnected by technology and social media, that talent talks with each other and attracts attention. You can fool yourself into thinking that you can control what’s said about you in the cloud but you can’t. However, you can positively influence the talent you already have (and are building) to talk amongst themselves and with their extended peer groups.
Like attracts like. Birds of a feather flock together. Insert your own cliché here. At some level, if you change your focus and apply the effort, your workplace can reach the critical mass, the tipping point. Your engaged talent becomes magnets, lots of magnets. Some will leave, promoted, starting their own businesses, retiring, and they will still be your magnets.
Is it worth the effort?
It all sounds warm and cuddly but does it pay off? Workplaces with predominantly engaged employees have significantly higher return on assets, revenue per employee and lower staff churn, with all its associated direct and indirect costs. So, yes, I think it’s worth it. It’d better be because it’s hard work with a pay-off that isn’t immediate.
If you’re in HR or the executive leadership team, then once again the hard work I’m talking about won’t be coming from you. It’s still true that talent leaves mainly because of ‘the nature of their relationship with their boss.’ It’s those line managers, supervisors and team leaders that can help or hurt your workplace’s magnetism. Develop a recruitment model for leaders that weights relationship building skills at least as highly as technical skills. Measure and develop those skills. Value them because they create value. Supporting, listening, encouraging, accepting, trusting, respecting and negotiating differences and diversity – these are skills needed in workplace relationships.
Magnets are great. You notice them and the magnetism that surrounds them. They take an active interest in the workplace. They not only express satisfaction in their job but openly advocate for their workplace. Imagine an iceberg. The bulk of that iceberg lies underwater, dangerously invisible to you. Just the tip of the iceberg can be observed. People say of fellow employees, “Oh, they’ve got a good / bad attitude” but you can’t see an attitude. All we can see is their behaviour – what they say and what they do – the tip of the iceberg. Driving that behaviour is their invisible attitude, supported by feelings and beliefs. Magnets can impact that part of the iceberg in their peers, within and outside your workplace. And that is a very powerful force indeed.