We’ve all experienced the pain of turnover before, after spending time hiring, training, guiding and leading someone in your business that you were desperate to retain suddenly leaves. It can be frustrating, disappointing and even surprising, yet something that is a reality to owning a business, leading people and managing teams.
When we talk about ‘retention’ what exactly do we mean? There are obviously various definitions around, but fundamentally it’s about keeping staff. Technically retention is a measure of the degree to which your current employees remain with you over a given period of time.
To debunk a myth straight off the bat here, retaining staff is absolutely not about throwing more money at people. If that’s your only retention tool, in my opinion, you are on a fast path to a destructive, toxic and dysfunctional culture. Of course you should be paying your team solid market rates in line with their value to your organisation, and pay rises are a reality, but this should absolutely not be the only thing you are doing to retain the best and brightest in your business.
So why is staff retention even that important? Can’t we just find someone else to do the same thing? The short answer is yes, of course you can. But at what cost? Is this the most efficient, productive and sensible way to do things? And is it in the best interest of the long term viability of the business? Good quality retention is important as it reduces turnover (which has it’s own inherent costs), increases productivity, improves morale and most importantly saves your sanity! Who wants to go through recruitment projects over and over again?
In my time working with all sorts of organisations I have seen no bounds to the creativity of retention strategies, from charitable support, to gym memberships, discount programs, additional leave and of course a full swag of monetary initiatives. For small to medium sized businesses, those of you with less than 100 staff, I break retention initiatives down into three core categories:
The first retention strategy involves you making great decisions. So often high staff turnover rates are a result of poor decision making, which can so easily be avoided. So, the first way to retain staff is to make the right decisions from the outset.
In the first instance this is about the role. have you made the right decisions in creating the role and the position brief, or are you setting yourself, the role and the new hire up for failure from the outset?
Next, we are looking at the values matrix in the recruitment process. Are you hiring staff with a values alignment in mind, basically are you hiring for fit and training for skills or the other way around?
Naturally following on from this are you making great decisions about who you are hiring for the role? Are you understanding what you need in this new employee well enough to make the right decision here, and are you recruiting based on your needs and finding someone who meets those needs exactly?
Now that you have found the right person are you offering the right market rates? You know the saying, if you pay peanuts you get monkeys and it’s absolutely true. You simply won’t get the best person for the role if you are offering less than what the best person is worth.
Lastly now that you have them hired, are you making the right decisions in your onboarding and orientation process to ensure the new employee feels they have made the right decision in joining you and are in the right place from the outset.
Assuming you have made all of the right decisions, the next group of retention strategies are around harnessing the greatness that you have so carefully selected and onboarded.
This is where your review process comes into play, and for those wondering, yes, your internal review process is absolutely part of your overall retention strategy. Reviews done regularly, well, and which provide a pathway for direction and growth can be extraordinarily powerful in retaining top talent.
Providing environments and opportunities for challenge is another great retention strategy that is simple, free and also great for your business. This might be in the form of projects, more skilled work, progression through roles or the ability to try something new. This will be different for every employee but is so simple to implement.
It may go without saying but creating opportunities for your top performers is an essential retention strategy. They don’t want to stay stagnant for too long. Even if you are a small business and you think this is impossible I encourage you to look for opportunities here, it may not be the traditional ‘climbing the ladder’ style of opportunity but that doesn’t mean opportunities for growth are not there.
Allowing autonomy can be very important to some employees, and as a result this can play into your overall retention plans. Really stepping back and allowing employees to get their work done, to create something new, make decisions and think on their own can build trust which strengthens retention potential.
Similarly, delegating authority and ownership is a really strong and powerful way to engage someone in your business success, knowing they have complete control over a particular project, task load, responsibility area or even team. This level of engagement naturally improves retention as employees are far less likely to leave an organisation where they are engaged in the culture and deliverables of the business.
Finally in this space, encouraging and support professional development, even if it means they may be developing skills beyond the needs of your organisation. Staff want to know their career, skills, and professional capacity is being invested in and supported, and as such tend to be more loyal to businesses who actively take part in this.
Of course there are some more common and traditional ways to retain staff, and these fall largely within the scope of reward and recognition strategies, programs and initiatives.
This is where your regular salary increases come into play, in line with the individuals performance, value and skill development, along with market conditions. You may also layer in here bonuses and incentives for meeting particular objectives or achieving beyond expectations.
Outside of cash bonuses, other ways to reward staff on a more ad hoc basis for extraordinary performance or accomplishments are things like vouchers, experiences, gifts and alike. The more personal you can make this the better, if they love a day spa trip then a voucher here is likely to have a much deeper impact than an equivalent cash incentive would.
With reward and recognition initiatives you need to get the balance right between individual and team rewards, and both are really important.
Another great add on here can be peer recognition and reward programs, and management reward programs. Team Member of the Quarter and Employee of the Month might sound outdated but recognition along these lines can in fact have a really positive impact on morale and retention.
Lastly, but certainly not least, do not underestimate the value of a simple thank you. One of the key drivers to high turnover is employees feeling as though they are not valued or appreciated. Saying thank you when an employee goes above and beyond, or they spot something you hadn’t, or they simply deliver amazing customer service is incredibly valuable.
If you’d like to engage more with me in these discussions about creating amazing teams, whilst also connecting with other like minded business owners, leaders and managers, I’d love for you to join us inside our free Facebook Group: