When the going gets tough… keep the best from going

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Expert Perspective by Grahall’s OmniMedia Editorial Board

In his may 25th article (More Workers Start to Quit) for the Wall Street Journal, author Joe Light writes: “As the job market begins to loosen up, human-resource managers might increasingly be surprised by an announcement from employees they haven’t heard in a while: ‘I quit.’ … And recent sentiment indicates that the number of employees quitting could continue to grow in the coming months.” This article makes a very good case for a fundamental Grahall principle: that identifying critical workforce segments – those roles and jobs that contribute more than others to an organization’s overall success – is key to effective people strategy.

Companies who are more proactive in that regard will find that turnover will continue , but more than likely if the rewards programs favor those who are critical to organizational success, those vital individuals will remain. So how does a company go about protecting their most critical human resources?

Step one is clearly to identify the key roles and those people who contribute most to the bottom line, then create the infrastructure that supports, develops and nurtures these individuals. Certainly the past economic environment has forced companies to establish priorities that, unfortunately, don’t always work toward this end. As Light says: “Recruiters and human-resource experts say the increase in employees giving notice is a product of two forces. First, the natural turnover of employees leaving to advance their careers [and the second] … making it harder for companies to retain employees is the effect of the heavy cost-cutting and downsizing during the downturn on workers’ morale.”

We agree that these are the primary reasons that individual leave.  Without robust people strategies that identify key positions and justify investments to sustain the people who hold them, economic pressures and priorities can turn a company’s attention away from its focus on this important group.

But the investments required are not always, or not only, monetary. In fact, in most cases we don’t see money as a motivator, but it can certainly be a de-motivator. That being said, one trend we always observe with voluntary turnover is that the best people leave first. What will it take to hold onto your best people?  That depends greatly on your industry, geography and company culture, but one simple way to find out is to ask them. Remember we just said that money won’t be the primary motivator for most of your best people. Involvement, opportunity, security, truth, and trust are the means.

Where key positions exist outside the executive ranks or front line management, those supervisors in charge can have a significant impact on employee job satisfaction—or dissatisfaction. Make certain that supervisors of key individuals are on board and can effectively explain how these key people fit into the overall organization. It is important to remember that not everyone wants to move up, but most people, especially high performers, want to know they make a difference.

This area—identifying key positions and high performers, and establishing the infrastructure, performance review process, and compensation strategy to retain, develop and nurture key talent — is HR’s to own. The answers and the solutions shoudl be the HR leaders’ focus.  The right answers and solutions start with workforce analytics. HR must obtain data around the roles that contribute the most to the success of the enterprise and the people in those roles.

As Jay Wolf explains in his paper The Impact of Organizational Climate on Discretionary Effort, the organizational climate is important for companies to monitor. Regardless of good economic times or bad, leaders need to ensure that employees, and especially key employees are feeling valued and rewarded – monetarily or otherwise – for a job well done. The more difficult the business environment the more relationship and communication become important. Executives, managers and supervisors must ask, not tell. Ask: “What are you doing today?” “What is working?” “What can I do to improve things?” “How can I help you do your important job more effectively?”

By taking fact and data based proactive retention approaches – workforce analytics, identifying critical segments, measuring organizational climate – HR leaders can offer actionable items to senior management that not only stem the tide of employee defections during the early recovery, but establish the ongoing discipline to create competitive advantage through superior human capital practices.

Contact Grahall’s Editorial Board at edie.kingston@grahall.com

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