Retaining Employees in Tough Times

Article by:
Simone Allan
EO Sydney

With the cost of recruitment and the amount that’s invested in training people, it surprises me that most companies do not put equal effort into staff retention. as the director of an executive search firm, high staff turnover works in our favor, but I get much greater satisfaction from seeing people we have placed adding value to our clients’ organizations. Here are some tips I’ve learned when it comes to retaining and motivating staff:

Know who you want to keep. You won’t want to retain everybody, especially in tough times. The trick is to know which employees are mission-critical, and which aren’t. In my experience, the key is to have a clear vision for your business beyond the current cycle, as well as a good understanding of the skills and attitudes required to both see you through survival mode and deliver the long-term vision. In my business, we do an objective evaluation of all staff against these criteria, along with the performance record and cultural fit, to identify the critical cornerstones of the business. Once this is done, the first step to retaining key people is to clear the decks of impediments to survival and progress. It’s a tough thing to do in hard times, but you need to cut costs to fund investment in the skills needed for growth.

Keep your team in the loop. The best people rarely stay or leave for money. They are open to a move if they don’t feel emotionally connected with the people they work with, if they don’t feel appreciated, can’t see how they are adding value or are at odds with the business mission. I’ve found that regular communication is critical for retention of talent. Routine performance appraisals with quarterly reviews of progress toward annual and career goals are critical to ensuring your team is happy. In tough times, it is important to talk to everybody about everything. People will fill vacuums of information with their worst fears. It is the role of leadership to communicate effectively in times of crisis so there are no vacuums.

Keep your employees involved. People tend not to want to leave companies where they feel personal involvement and attachment. the catch-cry is “consultation, collaboration and participation.” that is, consult relevant staff members for their views before making a decision, collaborate with them to formulate a solution, and participate with them in the implementation. Too often managers make their decisions in a vacuum, collaborate only with their superiors to ensure they have support from the boss, and delegate accountability for execution to subordinates who had no part in the decision. By consulting, collaborating and getting your hands dirty with execution, you can build commitment to the mission.

Pay the benchmark. In my experience, it is very important to keep in touch with the benchmark salaries for particular roles. It is easy to lose track of industry-benchmark salaries, and when you do, employees start to feel like you are abusing the privilege of having them work for you. The emotional dislocation is often much greater than the value of the discrepancy. Similarly, if you are looking to recruit the best in the industry, it is necessary to pay at the top end of the industry range. Why pick grapes when you can earn three times as much pulling minerals out of the ground?

As an entrepreneur, knowing when to cut ties with employees that don’t add value is a necessary step in the growth of a business. By following the steps above, especially during tough times, I can rest assured that I have the best team in place to help my business not only survive but thrive.

Simone Allan is the director of Mondo search PTY ltd. E-mail Simone at [email protected].


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