At some point this year, one of your most valuable employees will find you at the end of the day and ask to speak to you. This will be the time to test out your employee retention strategies in these unique times in which we live. We can hope it will be live, but at this rate, it may be remotely. This person, who is a key contributor on your team, will be nervous as they tell you they have accepted a new role or big promotion and will be leaving your company. This is the classic regrettable loss. You have seen this individual grow and expand their capability while playing a key role in the success of your team. They have been there every day the past two years as the pandemic has made work so challenging. You have relied on them and you view them as a key part of your current success. They are self-directed and collaborative and represent your team well. You see big things in their future but you hoped to hang on to them until things got back to normal. You have been dealing with the pandemic yourself and how it has impacted your world. You have dealt with other teammates who have struggled and not been able to carry their weight. You have dealt with internal or external customers who have asked a lot of your team and may not always be happy as you have dealt with the realities of capacity challenges and allocations and resulting service issues. You have also had to deal with your own boss and the need to deliver results and advance key initiatives like digital transformation despite challenges and workloads you have not seen in your career.
What fell by the wayside that may have led to this discussion you are having with one of your best teammates?
And if in fact, this conversation is one week or one month or one quarter in the future, what can you do about it now?
Communicate Employee Value as an Employee Retention Strategy
First things first: do your employees understand how much you appreciate the work they have done and their value to the organization? If not, use your one-on-one time and include this as a topic. Use your annual review process to convey the same. If you do not have these processes, schedule time and have a good discussion on this topic. This does not preclude you from also simply picking up the phone or sending a note (including a gift card for dinner for the employee plus one) to say “Thanks!”
Address the Pandemic Fatigue Reality
Employees will leave for a lot of reasons but in today’s environment there are two critical drivers: Some have worked so hard and see no end in sight so they believe their only option is to “Tap Out” and seek a fresh start in another environment. At the same time, employees are being solicited by recruiters and friends to a greater degree than ever and in many cases, the financial considerations are attractive to employees, whether it be increased base salary, bonus, or some form of equity. So now you ask “What can I do to retain my employees, given these circumstances?”
To address the “Tap Out” issue, sit down with your team and individually with key team members and actively ask if they are at the breaking point. They may or may not be willing to tell you on this first try, but you have opened the door for them to ask for help. In cases where employees raise their hand, take the time to listen and problem solve actions to get the employee back to a sustainable place where they feel good about where they are. Make this a regular discussion point in check-ins with teams and individuals. I have seen managers ask teammates to update their status periodically with a Red/Yellow/Green status to ensure an open dialogue about team workload and fatigue and morale. You can set the tone given the high percentage of virtual work to help your team set boundaries in their schedule. Encourage them to block the beginning and end of their day and encourage them to schedule blocks of time to get work done and block time for lunch so the day is not back-to-back meetings from sunrise to sunset.
Proactively Understand Competitive Compensation as an Employee Retention Strategy
In cases where compensation for key roles is a driver, it is important to know where you stand versus the market. If you have a few key people and or key roles, use your contacts and network to get a sense of where you stand regarding compensation versus firms who are actively hiring in the market. If you are losing your competitive position, take the proactive step with your leadership. There are normal processes that exist in many organizations to inform annual compensation programs, but they may not get to the level of detail to understand the magnitude of compensation shift that has occurred for Supply Chain roles in the last 2 years. You want to ensure you have the resources to keep your key players in key roles compensated competitively. Base salary may not be the only remedy. Look carefully at what matters to your team regarding total compensation and make it clear to them where they stand in the industry on a comprehensive basis.
Avoid the Boomerang Effect and Make Sure Your Employees have the Facts
Many of your employees who leave will actually regret leaving, based on recent feedback. You might get a few back but this is an even more compelling reason to ensure your most valued employees – who would prefer to stay onboard – understand how you feel about them, how your company is performing, and their future potential in your organization.
Beyond a specific employee situation, there are a number of systemic steps you can proactively take to ensure you have done all you can to compete for the services of your existing team. If you have a Human Resources team member supporting your team, sit down with them and build out a plan of action around “People for 2022” as a road map for employee retention strategies.
Make sure your team understands where the company is headed and how the work of your team is critical to that success. Employees want to feel good about the vision and purpose of the organization as well as how the firm is winning in the market. Key employees also need to be able to see how their hard work contributes to that success.
Advocate For your Employees
Be prepared with specific examples and data to advocate for your team and employees in annual performance and rewards conversations. Be confident in your ability to clearly differentiate your high performers compared to high performers on other teams.
Act on Feedback and Get Serious About Employee Development and Employee Retention
Most companies have some form of Engagement Survey or Feedback Process. If you have this information, ensure that you have digested the feedback, thanked your employees for participating, and publicly committed to actions based on the feedback. Then, be accountable for delivering on those actions.
One of the things lost in the chaos of the last two years and a high percentage of virtual work has been focused on Employee Development and Career Planning. Many employees feel the time available for development, formal and informal mentoring, exposure to new parts of the business, and structured training has been reduced or eliminated. Ensure that in 2022 this is addressed in a practical but tangible way and that the options and benefits are made clear to the entire team, plus recognize individuals that take advantage of the opportunity.
Build the Bench
Succession Planning is an activity of importance for both the employee and the firm. A clear understanding of potential successors for key roles is a must in times where employee loss is a risk and reality. The potential successors want to know they are on the radar and also need to know what development gaps they should be addressing to be ready when an opening occurs. Elements of succession planning can also include a spotlight on critical roles for the organization. These may overlap with roles that are very hot, industry-wide. The process should include a risk assessment for individuals in those roles and proactive steps to retain current employees and develop a deep bench.
Don’t Be Shy with Comprehensive Comp Packages
Many of my contacts have taken steps on the economic side in the past two years to address this risk. These include base pay increases, targeted bonuses, and unplanned one-time incentives. It is appropriate to step back and find an appropriate way to steward this with your team. In addition, many employees do not appreciate elements or total compensation beyond their base pay. This may include 401K, health care compensation, vacation and leave policies, education assistance, etc. Part of your actions can include developing a summary of all elements of your employee compensation and rewards and walking through it with your team and your Human Resources lead. At a minimum, when employees are looking externally, they will be equipped with an understanding of their current total compensation.
To close out, you likely value the vast majority of your team members and will regret losing them. This is one more reason to step back and develop key actions over the next week or two with your manager to create a different future for your team this year and to retain your most valued employees. I hope these thoughts have created a call to action for you and I wish you a productive 2022.