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Making Retention Work for You


Tue Oct 04 2016

Making Retention Work for You

We have known for years that the 30-year career—and gold watch at retirement—is a thing of the past. Today’s organizations are nimble, and today’s talent is flexible. It seems like every year we hear that turnover is the norm, and retention is a thing of the past. In fact, I wrote a post earlier this year, about how to make turnover a positive in your organization. But today I want to turn the tables and talk about how you can retain great people, even in an environment of continuous transition. 

It’s important to recognize that great talent comes in a variety of packages. In his recent New York Times article, Dan Lyons talked about his horrible year at HubSpot. While he was roundly critical about their culture, some people love it there. Not every environment is a perfect fit for every person. So the first step in trying to retain great people is to choose wisely. 


Know Your Superstars 

No organization is a perfect place for everyone. But there are likely some types of people that do really well at your company. Take a look at some of the most successful people you’ve hired. What do they have in common? What do they love about working with you and with your team? 

Albert Einstein famously said, “Everybody is a genius. But if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Retaining great people is not about making fish happy in trees, it’s about finding the people who are naturally attracted to your culture, and then building on that. 

Personalize the Experience 

Technology has given us an amazing ability to personalize our lives. We can customize everything from the color of our phones to the temperature of our houses with a touch of a button. But work often seems like it’s one-size-fits-all. The 9 to 5 grind is a running joke in popular culture. No wonder Gallup found that only 30 percent of the workforce is truly engaged. 

If you want to engage and retain great people, you need to find ways to make work fit better with their lives. Things like flexible schedules, work-from-anywhere policies, and other options give your top performers the ability to personalize their work experience. 

Invest in Learning and Growth 

No one wants to stay in a role where they feel stagnant. At the first sign that I’ve stopped learning in my job, I start looking for the exit. Talented people want to increase their skills and abilities, not let them get rusty. Too many companies worry that by offering development opportunities, they will be paving the way for those great people to take better jobs elsewhere. That may be true, but the opposite is also the case: if you don’t invest in their skills, your best people will be heading for the exit. 


Don’t Wait Until They Give Notice 

How many times have you seen it? An A player walks into their boss’s office and resigns. The next thing you know, they’ve got a company car, an extra three weeks of vacation and a raise? Waiting for people to find a new opportunity before you recognize them with perks or raises only teaches everyone in the organization to go out looking for offers so they can get what they deserve. Trying to last minute save is not the way to show how much you value your talent. 

Three Key Take-Aways 

In today’s job market, it’s not realistic to think that you can retain everyone you hire for decades. But if you focus on identifying the people who fit best with your culture, and then develop personalized solutions that focus on flexibility and growth, you have a good chance to keep the ones that matter: your top performers. Here are three keys to success: 

  • Don’t try to keep everyone—focus on the people who are the best fit in your organization. 

  • Personalize their work experience—give your great people tools and resources to make work fit with their lives, schedules, and long-term goals. 

  • Don’t wait—when your top talent is walking out the door, it’s too late to save them and you’re just setting a bad example for everyone else.

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