What’s your strategy for retaining key staff during “disruptive periods” (M&A, overseas transfer of a division, recession, etc.)?

A recent report from the McKinsey Quarterly notes:

“Too many companies approach the retention of key employees during disruptive periods of organisational change by throwing financial incentives at senior executives, star performers, or other “rainmakers.” The money is rarely well spent. In our experience, many of the recipients would have stayed put anyway; others have concerns that money alone can’t address. Moreover, by focussing exclusively on high fliers, companies often overlook those “normal” performers who are nonetheless critical for the success of any change effort.”

As McKinsey says, it’s very often not about the money. Even among the ranks of the highly paid and famous, it’s still not about the money. The flap over American football star, Randy Moss, of the New England Patriots is a terrific example. (Read my post about Mr. Moss on Compensation Café where I discuss how very much like the average employee Mr. Moss was in the statements he made.)

If it’s not about the money, what is it about? You’ll need to actually get to know your employees to find out what individually motivates them, but all the research points to one underlying factor – employees know you care enough to hear them; take their wants, needs and desires into consideration; and appreciate their efforts and value to the company by honoring those specific needs whenever possible.

But how do you find those hidden performers in the first place? And what do I mean, exactly, by “hidden performers?” I like how McKinsey describes in the same article:

“…more average performers whose skills or social networks may be critical—both in keeping the lights on during the change effort itself as well as in delivering against its longer-term business objectives. … Even if the employees’ performance and career potential are unexceptional, their institutional knowledge, direct relationships, or technical expertise can make their retention critical … (usually 30 to 45 percent of all employees).”

If we all think about that hard enough, I’m sure each of us would come up with 2-5 people we know that fit that description. But on the scale of a large multi-national corporation, we’re talking 60,000 – 100,000 “hidden gems.” How do you uncover them?

The easiest way is with strategic recognition in which you allow all employees, regardless of level of position in the organisation, to give and receive appreciation from their colleagues. In a well-designed programme, each recognition would include a detailed message on why that person is being recognised in a way that can be easily recorded and tracked. Surfacing your hidden gems becomes much easier when you have the proof right in front of you of all the people, across your organisation, who value their ability to get things done.

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