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Chris Phillips

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Keeping your survivors engaged

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Despite firms wanting to retain their key talent, up to 10% of the workforce can leave a company after keeping their jobs through the redundancy programme. Chris Philips explains how best to engage – and keep – talent.

Recent weeks have seen optimistic predictions that the worst of the recession is over and that the long awaited upturn will soon begin. However, despite this possible light at the end of the tunnel, unemployment figures continue to rise. The total number of those out of work is now higher than at any time over the last 10 years and each day brings reports of fresh job cuts.
 
With so many redundancies being made, HR departments are under a great deal of pressure. As well as handling any changes to staffing levels, HR managers need to be working hard to make sure their remaining talent is retained. In these circumstances, employees that have ‘survived’ a redundancy programme often lose focus and begin to feel guilty and unsettled. Many will change their behaviour as a result, working in a less productive, ‘self-protective’ manner.
 
It is common for up to 10% of the workforce to leave a company after keeping their jobs throughout the redundancy programme. The employees making up this second wave of departures are often the key talent within an organisation that businesses want to hold on to the most. 
 
Employee retention is always a key priority for HR (it has been voted the number one issue in Taleo’s annual HR Challenges Survey for the last three years) but in such a turbulent climate it really is more important than ever. But, if these surviving employees have become disenfranchised with the organisation, what can HR departments do to re-engage them and stop them wanting to leave? 
 
Boosting employee engagement
 
The key to boosting retention is always employee engagement. Managers need to make staff feel their work is important and that, by putting in that extra bit of effort, they will be able to positively influence the overall success of the organisation. One way this can be done is through aligning the goals of each individual employee to the wider goals of the business. Having this connection between their day-to-day responsibilities and the success (or otherwise) of the business will emphasise the value of each individual’s role and create the feeling that, by putting in a little extra time and effort, they will positively impact the strength of the organisation.
 
Goal alignment is an ongoing process and one that has to be embraced across the organisation, not just in the HR department. Although HR might facilitate the process and implement the system, goal alignment needs the commitment of everyone from the board level down. The process needs to begin with senior management figures clearly communicating the business’ primary goals and how these goals tie-in to the overall strategy. These goals need to be emphasised company-wide and then used as the basis for developing specific targets for individual employees.
 
By clearly establishing a relationship between these corporate and individual targets, with rewards for achievement and accountability when goals are not met, employees are given a strong motivation to succeed as well making clear that the business is still progressing and has not been stalled by the recession. Employers can then be sure that the personal success of staff will have a direct business impact. Key to this kind of goal alignment strategy is the ability to measure achievement, on both a personal and business level, in relation to these targets. A unified talent management system will enable HR managers to objectively track these success levels and provide constructive feedback on a regular basis.
 
It is also crucial for staff to feel that there will be opportunities for development. The number one cause of voluntary staff turnover is a lack of development opportunities. Companies should be looking to use succession planning to develop the future leaders of the organisation, assessing an employee’s strength for specific positions and checking whether staff are progressing.
 
Internal mobility
 
By implementing mentoring, management training and job rotation schemes, businesses can guide the development of high performing employees, making them feel that they are valued and that they have a future within the business whilst ensuring that, when senior personnel leave, there is already a suitable replacement within the organisation. It is now possible to carry out succession planning quickly and cost-effectively by using an online talent management system to manage succession programmes, allowing a broader application of succession planning techniques.
 
At the same time, internal mobility helps to keep all employees engaged by communicating internal vacancies across the organisation, thereby allowing for the optimal distribution of talent across the business. Talent management systems can be used to match current employees with open roles based on their skills, performance levels and future aspirations. This flexibility engages employees by ensuring they have access to any potential development opportunities as well as keeping sourcing costs low by filling vacancies with internal staff where possible.
 
As the recession puts businesses under pressure, many HR departments are forced to make tough decisions and cut jobs. Once these redundancies programmes are over it is important that HR does not think the hard times are over. Organisations need to be working as hard as ever to make sure their remaining talent is retained. The best way to do this is through a rigorous and long-term talent management strategy. Implementing company-wide goals alignment, succession planning and internal mobility programmes will help keep talent engaged, motivated and in a position to take the business forward.
 
 
Chris Phillips is from Taleo, an on-demand talent management solutions provider.

5 Responses

  1. Couldn’t agree more!
    Doug, couldn’t agree more! I write a good deal on many of these topics just as you’ve posed them. My blogs are available here on HRZone at http://www.hrzone.co.uk/blogs/hrzone/derek-irvine-blog. You may be interested in some of these articles. I tend to write about the role of strategic employee recognition in creating cultures of appreciation that foster employee engagement, motivation and increased productivity.

  2. Survive and Thrive?
    Derek I really like what you’ve said here, it’s excellent, and it’s common sense. Seems that we (UK plc) is suffering from a distinct lack of that right now.

    I’ve just left BT after 12 fun years. Right now the focus is all on knee jerk cost reductions (travel bans, phone bans etc) which are just sticking plaster measures. Strikes me that whilst these things are easy to dream up and enforce, they are severely limiting, perhaps even defeatist ways of running a business. They have a sense of white flag waving about them.

    Universities have great alumni networks and I think that’s partly because people love to learn, be stretched and develop. I think companies should embrace the philosophy of lifelong learning as you suggest. Rather than the tired old technique of dangling financial bonuses/incentives as a way of diring performance, I’d love to see a few more organisations set aside a personal development fund which could be awarded to people. If the recipients had real choice about the development opportunities they could choose then I think this could prove a really powerful retainer. Too often the personal development opportunities offered are heavily biased towards benefitting the company. Bold organisations should realise that talent, in all forms, is hugely valuable and deserves to make some choices of its own.

    Questions I ask directors in big business right now include:

    How are you going to motivate your people?
    How are you going to get them to give the discretionary effort that’s so vital in delivering a great customer experience?
    How are you going to get your people to trust you, and each other?

    I’m concerned about the lack of good answers to these questions.

  3. Retention and engagement
    Companies better hold onto employees and keep them engaged.

    In what seems to have been the depths of this recession in March, Salary.com reported 63% of employees admitting to looking for a new job. Bosses,however, have little concept of this, believing only 41% are looking.

    Why is retention so important in a recession? Three reasons:

    1) Keep your top players engaged in your organization and focused on your priorities (and, of course, away from your competitors)

    2) Engage your middle tier of employees to create networks of success – foster teamwork up and down the chain. After all, your top performers can’t deliver the results you need in a vacuum.

    3) Ensure you are staffed appropriately for when the upturn comes.

    Appropriate staffing is a delicate balance, expressed best by Fred Crandall of Watson Wyatt Worldwide: “The biggest issue our clients face right now is regaining momentum when business picks up, while having to hire the fewest number of new people.”

    The company best poised to take advantage of the eventual upturn is the one that does not have to seek out new talent, train them, incorporate them into the company culture, steep them in the strategic priorities, and only then begin to see results.

    More and research links here: http://globoforce.blogspot.com/2009/03/why-should-you-care-about-retention-in.html

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