The research is clear – a lot of people are thinking about changing jobs right now. This is not the time to ignore retention in your business.
Why are people leaving to go to new roles? And what can you do – right now – to retain your best employees?
Retention is a big area and there are lots of levers you can pull, many of which can take a long time to have an impact. But not all of them. Here are the three things you can do over the next month that will make the biggest difference for you to retain your people.
The first is a powerful strategy that works in many HR situations: Ask The Person (ATP).
It’s easy to make assumptions about why people are staying with your business, and about why people would leave your business. The reality is that the only one who knows is the actual person.
‘It’s easy to make assumptions about why people are staying with your business’
For example, I once worked with a business owner who had a highly valued employee. This was pre-pandemic, when travel was pretty easy. The owner thought, well, rather than me going to all these trade fairs overseas, I’ll let my star performer do it. They’ll love it, they’ll get to travel the world, it’ll be awesome. It will be the perfect reason for them to stay with the business.
But the owner didn’t actually ask the person if they liked that idea. And of course, when they announced this big reward, the person said, ‘Hang on, I’ve got no interest in travelling overseas. I have commitments here, and I don’t really like to fly. That’s not appealing to me at all.’
Don’t assume you know what someone wants, and remember that people are not are not always motivated by the same things that you are. The best way to test those assumptions is to ask the person.
‘The best way to test those assumptions is to ask the person’
ATP depends on having individual conversations with those really great people that you want to keep and ask them some open question, like
- Where do you see yourself in 12 months?
- What’s working for you here, right now?
- If you owned the business, what would you do differently?
Have open conversations on a regular basis, so that you’re building trust, and so that your employees feel comfortable and safe answering questions. This will help you to really understand what motivates that person.
Committing to the schedule
Schedule one-on-ones, and make sure you turn up for them. All too often managers schedule one-on-ones with staff members, and then cancel them as soon as something else comes up. Maybe it’s a client meeting, or they’re just very busy that day, or there’s a workshop they want to attend. But they keep cancelling the meetings. That sends a clear message to employees: you are my lowest priority.
You should treat one-on-ones with your employees with the same importance that you treat a client meeting. If you schedule time, you need to stick to it on a regular basis.
‘treat one-on-ones with your employees with the same importance that you treat a client meeting’
You also need to ask open questions, rather than just focusing on day-to-day work issues, those transactional conversations. You need to ask questions about the employee as a person and try to uncover their motivations and what you can do to better assist them. The way to do that is to listen, ask questions and to probe. You want more of the conversation to come from them.
Make sure that you have scheduled, one-on-ones with all your direct team members. And if you can’t do that, for example if you haven’t got your structure right, and you’ve got everybody reporting through to you, then at least schedule meetings with your star performers. Schedule meetings with the people you really want to retain first.
Then with everyone else, schedule meetings a little less frequently, until you can get that structure right. You want to make sure that everyone has a one-on-one with someone in the business on at least a monthly basis.
The next thing to think about is money. The research this year is telling us that money is becoming the most important factor for people in deciding where to work. That’s probably not a huge surprise with inflation going up, and discussions in the media about price rises, and how real wages are going down. We have a tight employment market and people are being approached with jobs offering more money.
One piece of research from Randstad said that 62% of workers said that attractive salary and benefits were the most important factor for them. And that was followed by work-life balance, job security, a pleasant work atmosphere (which I would call culture) and career progression.
Other research from Employment Hero found that 47% of employees said they want a salary increase, and 30% of employees said that they switched jobs because they didn’t get a pay rise. Don’t just take my word for it, you can do an internet search and you’ll quickly come across similar research!
You might think that people will always say that they want more money, but this hasn’t always been the case. For many years, we actually saw that flexibility topped the list of what people were looking for. This has only flipped in the last 12 months or so.
Some people tell me that they don’t want to hire people who are motivated only by money. Business owners have told me, ‘I want people that are here because they want to be here, because they’re passionate about what we do.’ These are great qualities, and we do want them. But people also need to pay the bills.
No one is going to be as passionate about your business as you are. People are employees, they’re not owners, and at the end of the day they still need to make an income. It is usually more than just money, but we know that money is at the top of people’s minds right now.
You can market test what you’re paying people by checking publicly available salary data. There are a lot of resources out there, and some are free. Take a look at:
You can also look at current ads on job boards, because there is a lag on those salary guides, they’re usually a little bit lower than the current market rates.
Then put yourself in the shoes of your employee. They’ll be thinking, ‘I’m getting paid $80,000 a year, but all of the salary guides are suggesting the job’s worth $90,000, and then the jobs advertised online are saying $95,000 a year.’ What am I going to do if I’m that employee? I’m going to start looking.
If you can’t give a big salary jump right now, have a think about bonuses you can put in place. Perhaps as the revenue of the business goes up, then so do the rewards. If you can’t give any salary increases at the moment, then make sure that you’re at least checking the status of your business every quarter. Ask yourself, okay, can we increase salaries now?
Because there can be a tendency to say, well, we’re only going to give the salary increases once the business is in a better position. But then you might lose all the great people, you may not be able to attract the right people in and you start a downward spiral where your business can’t get traction.
It is worth looking at what you can do to give pay rises, right now, even if it can’t be 10%, maybe it’s only 3%. Remuneration is very important right now. That’s your second job for the next month: have a look at the remuneration you’re paying, what the market’s paying, and what your plan is there.
The third thing is to have a look at your culture. And be honest about it.
Business owners have told me about their great culture. And their employees have said pretty much the exact opposite. I think that sometimes we can ignore the signs of what’s going on and we can believe in certain things that actually aren’t there.
Even if you are listening to people, and you’ve got the dollars right, if there is a values mismatch, people are going to leave. A values mismatch is when the values of the employee don’t match the values of the organisation, or the culture of the organisation is problematic.
The best way to really understand your culture is to survey your staff and ask a mixture of standard and open questions.
- standard questions is where they give a rating out of five to different areas of the business.
- open questions ask them about why they joined the business, why they stay with the business and what the business can do better.
Ideally, you have some focus groups, or co-design sessions, to get feedback from the ground up on:
- What is the culture right now?
- How do people describe it?
- What would they like to see?
- What can we do to improve?
- What can we leverage a little bit more?
And when you have that information, consider what is the culture that you want? And is that different to what you’re hearing from employees? Then you can start to think about the next steps to shift your culture. More of that is coming up in the next post.
Those are the three actions you can take, but I also wanted to warn you – these things aren’t always going to work. Sometimes it is better for an individual to leave your business. And that can be a really hard pill to swallow, especially if they’re a really valued employee.
Sometimes a person needs to move on, for their own personal development, or professional development or family reasons. Although I said I’d give you three things, I’m actually going to give you a fourth: consider how do you mitigate the risk of a single-person dependency?
I’m talking about those people who are really critical to your business – if they left tomorrow, what would you do? Start to consider:
- How do we get more knowledge sharing in our business?
- How do we systemise things a bit more?
- How do we make connections between people, so we don’t always have only one person who knows how to do a particular thing?
- How do we have a process of check-ins with our major stakeholders, customers, clients and suppliers, so these relationships don’t sit with just one person.
Now, that’s a very big piece of work, I’m not going to ask you to do that over the next month. But I’d like you to reflect on it. And who are those, one or three, maybe five, people in your business that you can’t afford to lose tomorrow? What can you do about that?
I’ll leave you with a couple of other statistics from Employment Hero:
Then let’s add in some research by Gartner on Hybrid and Return to Work. It shows there’s been huge shifts in employee attitudes since the pandemic – 65% of people say they’re rethinking the place that work should have in their life and 68% are looking for a bigger change in their life.
We know that people are thinking about work differently, they’re thinking about change and about moving on. This is not the time to ignore retention in your business. Make a plan. Start with these three things. And let me know how it goes for you.