Essential HR

Imagine a small company where the Manager is often out of the office visiting clients – whether in the same city or travelling around the South Island. In a situation like this, it wouldn’t be a surprise if the Manager’s priorities weren’t on the admin employees left behind in the office but on other, more pressing business matters.

 But this Manager had his finger on the pulse. He realized that one of his employees wanted a career in finance, so put the hard working employee’s desire to learn and existing skills to work in additional ways, exposing the employee to a future career path. The employee is now working in “Accounts” for that same company, and with his development came his desire to stay in the company, keeping a valuable employee on their payroll…

 Employee retention starts with realizing what each employee wants, and working out the best way in which to help them get it as far as you can. Employees are not just employees – naturally, their desires are both inside and outside of work, so when they find a company that listens and responds to them holistically, they will remain on board much longer. This helps shape a psychological contract where commitment and loyalty are both obligations and rewards for both parties.

 Listening and responding to your employees starts at a base level, acknowledging and accepting them as individuals. This means things like remembering their names, acknowledging them when they walk past you (even when they don’t have a report due), and being conscious of their personal circumstances, like childcare needs.  These may be simple, but this kind of respect is easily overlooked in busy, high-pressure work environments focused on output. Managers need to realize that the more they treat employees like they treat friends, the more positive the impact on their psychological attachment to their job and company.

 Think for a moment about what motivates you to work.  So what do you think motivates your key staff?   What makes them tick? Why do they do what they do at work? What makes them perform better? Why does the builder on your building site come to work each day – is it to hammer in nails to pieces of wood? Or is it to be part of the team that is building your house? The more you understand what makes your employees tick, the easier it will be to support them.  You can then do things for them individually – and just as their motivators will differ, to motivate them all to the same extent, you should treat them differently.

The real impact on retention, however, is understanding that their motivation goes beyond their current tasks - it links to their career aspirations.  One of the most common reasons I hear given by employees for leaving companies is that it helps develop their career. But you can help them develop their career yourself, at least to a small degree, just by trying a little bit! For example, for one part-time student working for me, I allocated those tasks that would support her chosen HR career.

 Practically, how can you do this? I believe the best way is through some formal planning, for example by creating individual development plans as part of your performance management process.  This way you consider their job tasks at the same time as their broader career related goals. These plans don’t need to take long to put together, nor are they complex; but you do need an understanding of your own business goals, a genuine interest in your employees and the willingness to review the goals at frequent intervals to keep them relevant.

 Individual development planning helps increase retention as it gives employees something clear and positive to work towards in the short term, as well as a vision for themselves two, three or five years down the track in their current job. They therefore do not need to seek these goals in another organisation.  I would encourage you to use such plans as an essential tool in your care of key employees.