KEEPING THE BEST – RETENTION STRATEGIES FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

Tomorrow is not yesterday

Entrepreneurs are never tired of telling you how today’s employees are just not like those in the old days. In the old days they were obedient… they were loyal… they did not ask for raises… they were respectful etc.

So, let’s get one thing straight. This is the 21st Century. In the year 2018. Nothing, and I mean nothing, is going to be what is was 30 or 40 years back. Not only have the employees changed, the factories and offices have changed, the machines have changed, the technology has changed, the country itself has changed… why even you have changed!

People- The one constant

Only one thing has not changed so far. You still require men and women to help you run your office, manage your business, research for you, help run the machines, go out and sell your products, manage your paperwork, write your accounts and do the 1001 things which keep your business whirring like a dynamo, People!

I guess you will continue needing people, though they do say, that the day is not far off, when all of this will be run by robots and you will still call the shots. Or maybe Artificial Intelligence would have reached a stage when you would have been substituted by a Robot entrepreneur!

So, till we reach that day, we still need to ‘manage’ people who are extraordinary, irritating, brainy, timid, kind, generous, helpful, aggressive, slow, sloppy, precise and what have you. Actually, people are not all of one kind. To make it very difficult for you, most people are a very complex mix of good and bad qualities. We need to harness all their best qualities, suppress the worst and enthuse them to share a common vision and enthusiastically work to achieving it.

At least, that is what we all want. Right?

Retention- Why and When

Retention means “the continued possession, use, or control of something.” Put that way it seems a very cold and heartless thing to say. And it begs a simple question. Why?

I mean, why do we want the continued possession, use or control of some person. It is for a particular “purpose” and cynical as it may sound, we want to retain someone, so long as she or he can fulfil the purpose for which we hired them in the first place.

We can now clearly see that we do not want some kind of ‘blanket’ retention strategy, in which we try to retain everyone, including those whose back we would rather like to see. Going away from us, I mean!

Unless you have done a very bad job of hiring people in the first place, you will want to retain the majority of the people and let go off the few people who do not fit into your company works culture, do not share a common vision, are disruptive in an unpleasant sort of way and so on. Some amount of attrition is good. The occasional exit of such people is equivalent to the practice in the old days when they used to make a cut and allow some bleeding to take place in the belief that this removed impurities in your body when you had fever.

Retention in the times of scarcity

Today it is a VUCA world of business. Meaning that things are just too Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous. This doesn’t really have to be spelt out in today’s India because we are all witness to the tremendous changes in technology and society happening right in front of our eyes. The uncertainty is being daily caused by disruptive new technologies from online markets like Amazon, aggregators like OLA and the substitution of one technology by a more recent one almost before the first has had time to settle down.

Talent is not easy to find Particular for MSMEs as the pool that finally gravitates to us is almost touching bottom after foreign companies, foreign universities, IT & ITES companies, Indian Multinationals etc have all had their pick and slaked their thirst.

But we do need a different set of people to cater to this world. People who are younger, less respectful, more demanding, conscious of their rights, not loyal in the old sense, confident about their stills and what they are worth and so on.

These are the people, the truly talented, people in whom we see a spark, who can be moulded to function in a team. Of course, one can always accommodate a rare maverick!

Retention helps in

  1. Keeping the intellectual capital within the organization,
  2. Ensuring continuity in relationships with customers, and customer satisfaction,
  3. Ensuring that the organizations remain competitive and contemporary,
  4. Minimizing heavy cost of turnover and replacement of this talent, and;
  5. Minimizing business risks associated with losing KEY PEOPLE.

Understanding the why of quitting may help your retention strategies:

  1. Bad superior: Gallup in its world-wide survey clearly emphasises that ‘People don’t leave Companies, they leave their Managers’. So apt and true. For most of the employees, the boss reflects the organisation. They work with the boss… 24*7*365. When this relationship and work connect isn’t sustainable, employees just leave.
  2. Inadequate Compensation: Employees feel they are inadequately rewarded in relation to the value they add. Secondly, their compensation levels are not in parity with external benchmarking.
  3. Lack of challenges: the role and the job entrusted are not in synchronisation with the capabilities of the individual. There is a lack of stretch and it is bereft of new learning opportunities.
  4. Mismatch between Company values: Employees feel there exist duality and often need to be dubious and wary of compromising values and conviction that one stands for. A friends of mine working for an organisation not high on value and which believed ‘resulted at whatever cost’ remarked that some organisations are ‘character testing’.
  5. Significant colleagues leave: Loss of camaraderie and feelings of lost companionship also drive people to seek new pastures.
  6. Lack of Growth: Opportunities for horizontal shift and vertical shifts are too far and few. Coupled with lack of challenges, there is no reason to continue.
  7. Work Life Balance: The works is so overwhelming that personal life gets neglected and disturbed. A sense of imbalance sets in and questions regarding purpose of life emerge.

What can we do?

A thoughtful Remuneration Package: People do work for money and are today inspirational. Apart from reasonable remuneration, it is possible today to provide at different levels, health insurance, life insurance and a retirement saving plan. Given the advantages of technology it is possible to give flexitime and the option of partly or fully working from home.

Offer financial rewards: Consider offering financial awards for employees who meet performance goals, if you don’t want to be stuck with permanent large increments.

Vision & Mission: The companies vision and mission should be crystal clear to the employees so that they are as dedicated and subordinate themselves to the company’s goals just as you do.

Do they know what you expect: In the Indian context this is very important because the attitude of many entrepreneurs is that an employee once hired ought to know what is expected of him. The normal phrase you hear id “Bachcha hai kya?” It is tempting to say “Hai”. It is important to try and define job responsibilities, as far as possible, to ensure that the team members do not tread on each other’s toes. Sometimes, the situation is akin to two fielders trying to catch the same ball or leaving it under the impression that the other is taking the catch.

Communication freely: A regular fear among entrepreneurs is that if one speaks freely with the employee he or she will not be able to control him or her. The feeling is that the relationship needs to be as formal as possible, with least amount of give, so that the employees are always uncertain of what to expect. If this was done in the past, so be it. But it is certainly not what you would want to do, expect in expectation cases. It requires a big attitudinal change in the entrepreneurs/ manager in the Indian context to accept an equal to relationship where employees can speak frankly, without any negative outcome.

Career growth should not be a mystery: Don’t be cheated out of a super employee who just put in his papers because you were too shy to tell him that you intent him to lead the department when X retires next month. A year is a long time and people do need to know that they are getting somewhere in terms of money, position and responsibility. And yes, promote from within whenever possible.

Make employees feel valued: Quite a few entrepreneurs and managers think nothing of criticising and even abusing their employees in public. There can nothing worse than these negative strokes which add up, till one day, you have a full-blown HR crisis on your hands. In fact, all criticism should be in private and the words of approval, the pat on the back, should in public. It’s impossible to quantify the value of such gestures but you will have the employee often going out of his way to do something good for the company. It charges people up.

Hire a human-resources professional: If your company has 100 + employees, consider hiring a human-resources director to oversee and streamline your employee structure and process. |Putting one person in charge of managing employee benefits, perks, reviews and related tasks takes a huge load off of you and makes sure employees are treated fairly. HR managers are also more up to date on employment laws and trends. They can set up various programs and perks you may not have known existed.

Meaningful Jobs: While the entrepreneurs must certainly try to provide meaningful works to each person, it may not always be possible to do so. Some jobs by their very nature are routine and involve drudgery. In such a case , a more imaginative public linking of the job to the overall goals of the company will invest the same lowly job with a high profile.

Entrepreneurs & Managers must coach employees: An entrepreneurs recently confided in me that in a 2 days workshop for his staff, he made it a point to drive down to the hotel where they were holding it, 10 minutes before each break and made it a point to talk to many of them informally during lunch, tea-break and at the end of the session. When the context is different the relationship has a chance to be different.

In the end nothing works like sincerity: Employees can smell a put on attitude from a mile away. And once in a while, it will happen that a valuable employee leaves despite your best efforts to retain her or him. Just grin and bear it. And who knows, the person who is waiting outside your cabin to be called in for the interview, may outshine the one who left. Who knows?!!

Author: Seshan Ranganathan

Seshan Ranganathan is the Executive Editor of TISA, Trustee of HEAD Foundation & former CEO of SSEA, TTC. He has been championing the cause of  MSMEs for more than 3 decades and is a perceptive observer and writer on a wide range of subjects.

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