For years there has been a huge brouhaha around retention. Retaining high value employees is now a priority for all organizations. In this climate, the threat of high attrition is giving many an HR professional and Business Heads sleepless nights.
While some amount of attrition has always been seen as healthy as it enables fresh blood to enter the system, the question is whether all the energy and effort that is put into retention today – does it really make sense? Yes, on the surface level it does. Unless an organization retains its talent, how can it build a depth of expertise, knowledge and continuity for creating and delivering world class products and services? With this insight, organizations also conduct talent segmentation in order to know which talent they should retain and hence direct a major chunk of the resources in their retention through various intrinsic and extrinsic motivators (such as promotions, challenging roles, special rewards, recognition schemes, overseas assignments…and more). Great! It does make sense to do this.
Now, let’s see things from a different perspective. Employees today are bound to change jobs. Whether one likes it or not or even accepts it or not, this is a reality that has come to stay. Reasons for change can be varied (from salary to different nature of work, to new technologies, better brand, to work with ex-colleagues/ classmates and of course, to have a better boss as the current one did not take care of some of the issues that made the stay painful) but these reasons are important only from a retention perspective.
What we need to be able to answer is:
One may say that it is not about ‘or’ but ‘and’ since it is required for the employee to be retained first before they give their performance. So, the next question is for how long should this retention be? And does tenure necessarily ensure performance?
Today, more and more work and organizations are organized around projects. People come together around a common agenda/objective, play different roles as required for delivering the project and then disband. Would one want to ‘retain’ them in the project even after the project is over? Similarly, an employee may see employment in an organization as a project that he/she has to be a part of and then moves onto another organization to execute another project. It is akin to what employees in consulting organizations do – execute a project with one client and then move onto another. Of course, their employment is with the principal and hence it continues even as they move from one client to the next. But, in an organizational context, one may move from one challenge to another in a similar way. And when possibilities for growing with such challenges cease to exist or excite the person enough, they are bound to look elsewhere for them. Careers are no longer defined as doing the same thing in the same or a different place. They are more about a collection of roles and assignments that enable the individual to do different things in the same organization or an assortment of different organizations.
While one can see the above happening around us more and more, does being focused still on retention demonstrate an ostrich behavior in us?
Managers will need to focus on short term performance of such employees while HR will need to bring in processes that enable employees to plan out their longer term development (and hence be aware of different experiences and development they must go through on the basis of their career aspirations). It may perhaps be that some of those cannot be available within the organization and hence the person chooses to move to another organization for the same. The employer value proposition in this is that while the organization has a clear handle on both short term performance and long term direction, the employee has clarity on short term expectations and how their career shapes up in the long term. This adds a strong measure of confidence to the employee as it is clear that the organization is up to enable their success in both short and long term. Mechanics may still remain the same – that of promotion to a new role, exposure to an international market etc. – but the perspective and hence the language sees a clear shift. Retention is not just for the sake of retention or since it will benefit the organization, but that there is a clear focus on creating a win-win for the employee. Even if they choose to move on since their career aspirations require such a movement at that point of time. Many such people may come back at a later point in time in order to benefit the organization with their varied experiences and skills added through those experiences.
The need of the day in this digital and startup age is that of innovation, entrepreneurial thinking and diversity/inclusion. Is the organization geared up hence to embrace people who will step in to bring all of this and may then perhaps move on to add value to another organization? It is a mindset issue – given that many in HR and hiring managers still focus on ‘how long’ one was in a particular assignment or ‘how many’ changes has a person made over the years instead of focusing on what did the person do in those roles, what did they learn and what value did they add.
It would do well hence for organizations, managers and HR to remove the dissatisfiers that promote attrition but at the same time focus a greater chunk of their energy on creating an ecosystem that promotes performance by ensuring that the career aspirations of the employees are being taken care of as they move along from one role to the other.
So, what is your answer to the question that we started out with…’is retention passé’?