Retention 101: It's all about the lights at the end of the tunnel.
Yesterday, one of my team members has just came to me and share that he/she managed to retain one of our talents. In both challenging business situation, or in a business that growing, retaining your talents remain consistent needs as people going through changing life stages, and with that, a changing needs and aspiration. If they can’t see any reason to stay in their current job, they usually making conclusions themselves, and believe that moving on to another company is the solution. To paint a picture, most of successful retention case is about helping your talent who feels that they are currently walking in a dark tunnel, and how you can help them by showing the lights at the end of it.
The role of Line Manager in retaining people is key, because a great Line Manager always trying to understand the mind space of their team member. This is Line Managers who always maintain a regular 1-on-1s, having courageous conversations on how they can both improve working relationship over time, how they can give each other honest feedbacks and how they will transparently share concerns and work around to ensure work and life has its balance. I have seen dozens of cases, and recently one, where a resignation can be halted with aspiring Line Managers. If the Line Managers acted otherwise, then the risk of someone’s leaving is higher, because as simple as being taken for granted might create a feeling of being ignored, and the impact is this potential talent would conclude that company doesn’t care. I have seen and witness many cases where people leave simply because of lack of care and being taken for granted: these are usually those Indonesian talents who decided to resign in sudden, which make retention becoming difficult as things are usually too late at this stage. Despite there are many technologies that tried to solve retention challenges (i.e. predictive attrition analysis through Artificial Intelligence), human intervention in having the right conversation remain key success factors when it happens. No AI can retain people, if the letter arrived in your desk.
Here is summary of lesson-learnt when it comes to successful retention cases, where most cases are all about "showing that there's a light at the end of the tunnel":
Do empathic listening.
When someone decided to leave, it is usually triggered for emotional reason. Therefore, performance review conversation also becomes critical as if people are feeling that they have been assessed and judged unfairly by their Line Managers, it can trigger feeling of upset and anger, that build immediate urge to resigned. One interesting case to share is that I have once seen a case (the first, in my 15 years of experience) where a long email of resignation is sent to a Line Manager, and me being copied, outlining all the reason why he/she felt that the performance assessment was not being fair. It is good that the Line Manager has a calm response to then having honest conversation once more with the person, in an empathic way, to really understand what the underlying reason is. Apparently, there is a feeling of unworthy comes up, as he/she feels that the performance is making him/her no longer competitive among his/her peers, which then makes him/her worry that he/she is becoming a blocker. Empathic listening allows your team member says the truth, and it is mostly something that is very far away from what they had communicated as ‘reason to leave’ in the first time. Cut the story short, the resignation email was recalled, and the person stays. Most failed retention conversation happens when the Line Managers (or HRBP) had actually ‘listen to reply’, with underlying agenda of retaining him/her, or listening with a problem-solving mode one. Because ‘listen to reply’ will only shut our mind to really understand the mind-space: which is key. This is also the main reason why regular 1-on-1 is a must, because Line Manager can detect such worrying mind-space through those 1-on-1s.
Keep the momentum going.
Try to pull anything you can do together to bring ‘lights at the end of the tunnel’. I had once managed to retain one of our key talents by ensuring that we have clarity of how his/her career will unfold by transparently sharing what company view is about the person and having honest conversation about it. The conversation doesn’t stop there, as together with the Functional head, we act on it. One of inspiring Functional VP I partnered also take this matter seriously, and his/her personal involvement to speak to the concerned talent most of the time, work. Again, this is the importance of Line Manager’s habit of having honest conversation. Because in most cases where talent doesn’t know where he/she stands in the view of the organization, it happened because their direct Line Managers are keeping that information for themselves and doesn’t share it to those talents. Why? One of the reasons is the fear of giving feedbacks that may disrupts someone’s performance in the ongoing business cycle. Ironically, when such Line Manager thinks that such delay can prevent business disruption, it is only for a short-term, because when the time-bomb finally explode with the person resigned, succession planning and replacement mostly take time and this will lead to a longer disruption in his/her business as the workload need to be spread over until things back to normal, etc. Now here is a good prevention method: for great talents you want to retain, encourage them to also have internal mentor in the organization, and as HRBP, do create such mentoring network so that these talents can have someone they can talked to (in full trust), when the topic is about things he/she feels he/she cannot talked through it with either Line Managers or HR for some reason. In many cases of great Line Managers, usually even the most sensitive issues, these talents trust them with transparency. I also had partnered a very inspiring Functional VP, where before people resigned, they came to him/her and sharing transparently what their mind space is, including whether there is offer on the table. He/she managed to retain one, and that one person he/she managed to convince of staying became one of Indonesian global talents holding leadership role abroad. And in a case where things don’t work out, the talent and the VP maintain a very good relationship as a friend.
Don’t push things too hard.
If things are already too late and think about the way forward. Remember that when we talked about talents, we are talking about human being. For human being, building lasting relationship is key. There are reason where exits are just can’t be stopped, especially when things are too late (ie. disappointments or the feelings has been very difficult to amend already, at a point of no return) or if the reason is very personal (i.e. career breaks to be a stay-home mom, etc). Line Managers might be tempted to react emotionally when someone is leaving them, as it creates perception that he/she is not a good line manager. If you have that mindset, flip that ego : it’s not about you, it’s about your talent. And yet, in this period of where talents are looking and collect experiences, try to keep the bridge opens. There are many stories of returnees in organization that bring benefit for both (talent and the company), as this returning alumnus bring in new wealth of experience from outside organization that can be an accelerating-perspective for your company. And most conversation that doesn’t ‘burn the bridge’ is where the Line Managers takes things wisely. In the era where scarcity of great talents are the norms, you need to maintain as many as relationship you can with great talents you have met and working with, as you will cross path with them again in the future, most likely. I have witnessed many great talents returning (what we also called “bounced” in the classic talent strategy’s terms of “build, buy, bounced, borrow”) in their company with renewed loyalty and passion, as they found out that the grass out there is not as green as they have thought of before.
That is short summary I can share on Retention 101. It is not a rocket-science. It’s all about respecting your talents as human being, and throughout the process, keeping things genuine, being empathic, keeping the momentum, and think forward. Of course, you can avoid this whole mess by ensuring you build great relationship with your talents and not taking them for granted: high engagement leads to high retention. Happy engaging and retaining!