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How Local Attention Can Solve The Global Retention Problem


I am willing to make a prediction. One of the items generating the lowest satisfaction scores on your company’s employee engagement survey is something like ‘greater opportunities for advancement.’  How many surveys and how much lost talent will it take for leaders to recognize the seriousness of this situation?

Think about the time and resources dedicated to other dimensions of the business—processes, finances, operations, etc.—none of which are possible without people.  And yet every day, we let skilled, capable workers walk out the door, taking their knowledge and talents to the competition.  If equipment disappeared at this rate, there would be swift action. If large volumes of materials just evaporated, an investigation would immediately be launched… because resources matter.  But, for some reason, human resources don’t get the same attention.

Rather than waiting for the organization or senior leadership to take systemic steps to turn the talent tide, perhaps it’s time for individual managers to take action themselves.   Perhaps it’s time to apply local attention to the global retention problem.  Because after all, managers are in the best possible position to take positive steps toward enhancing employee’s awareness of opportunities for advancement and driving their growth.  They have daily access, ongoing relationships, and the ability to pick up on early cues that enable them to support the career development that employees so desperately desire.

Managers who want to reduce the chances that their best talent will leave can take the following steps on their own to help others grow.

Get Out And Talk To Employees.

Start by simply engaging in short conversations about the passions, strengths, goals and aspirations of others.  Isn’t it odd that we demonstrate so much interest in prospective employees during the interview process before they are hired?  We spend an hour or more trying to learn everything we can about them. Then, once they’re hired, the dialogue frequently ceases.

Keep the ‘interview’ going by continuing to ask questions that allow you (and the employee) to discover the ever-evolving nature of individuals.  A few starter questions might include:

  • What have you always been good at?
  • What’s so embedded in your DNA that you just can’t NOT do it?
  • What makes you feel alive?
  • What does career success look like to you?
  • What kind of work do you want to be doing?
  • What do you wish to achieve?

Redefine Career Development.

Once you’ve started the conversation, asked the questions, and demonstrated curiosity, you’ve earned the right to offer your perspective.  And the most important perspective you can share is about the changing nature of careers and career development.

In most organizations, the traditional trajectory of predictable career progression is long gone.  Remember when employees were tapped approximately every 18 months and invited to step to the next rung of the corporate ladder… moving ever upward toward higher and higher titles?  Well, it no longer works like that.

Today, career progression looks less like a ladder and more like a web, lattice, jungle gym, or rock climbing wall.  The landscape and opportunities are oriented more horizontally than vertically.  The paths are less prescribed and more organic.  Movement is still possible upward… but there are countless more opportunities over, around, and especially right in place.

Once managers and employees alike recognize growth in role as powerful career development,  the possibilities are nearly infinite… because this kind of growth is completely within their responsibility and purview. No approvals required.  Rarely does it cost anything.

Helping employees redefine career development as growing in rather than moving among roles can do a lot to reset expectations, enhance satisfaction, and improve retention.

Open Doors To Development Experiences.

With an expanded understanding of the employee, his or her goals, and this new definition of career development, managers are well poised to help others take career development action. But rather than offering promotions, they can offer powerful learning experiences that promote growth, extend skills, offer variety and build capacity. Rotations, attending leadership meetings, special projects, strategic community service, and stretch assignments linked to growth goals serve both the employee and the organization. Managers will accomplish more as they skillfully match real work and real problems with the development priorities of their staffs.

So, rather than lamenting the latest retention statistics and waiting for senior leadership, human resources, or anyone else to take action to address them, managers can and should begin owning employee development on an individual  level.  Because, when managers everywhere commit to this kind of local action, the global problem will quickly fade.

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