Three ways to retain top talent — and keep your corporate goals on track

Kirsty Graham Profile picture for user Kirsty Graham May 18, 2022
Kirsty Graham, VP of People Success, Europe, at Unit4 examines how as we emerge from the pandemic, businesses must shift their priorities rapidly from pure survival to sustainable growth. To achieve productivity and profit objectives, leaders need to retain talent and motivate employees in new ways.

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How do you measure your organization's success? Research conducted By Vanson Bourne unearthed some intriguing findings.

The Business Future Index found that the most common way that firms measured success was by how they performed against profit targets (40%), according to the study. Far fewer respondents pointed to talent retainment (25%) or the addition of new talent (23%). But I believe these both have a direct and critical link to the financial long-term performance of organizations, given the intense competition for talent.

Unless leaders act quickly, they could find themselves back in survival mode with a shrinking talent pool and less engaged people who are struggling to cover core activities, rather than being in a position to advance corporate objectives. To address the talent retainment issue, we need to better understand how employees have changed — and what they want now.

Shifting aspirations

It's important to fully grasp how people's lives have been impacted over the past two years — and how it's changed their aspirations.

People have been on a journey they didn't choose. Many lived with extra stress and isolation, and others embraced greater autonomy. Typically, structured hours and a specific role in an office have been replaced by more fluid, task-based project work carried out remotely.

These are profound shifts for humankind. To expect people to slot back into old workplace routines is unrealistic. Leaders need a different way to engage their teams — and this is now a "standard" requirement for modern businesses.

How to retain and energize people

Competitive salaries are important for helping employees to feel satisfied. But many people want greater freedom, choice, and control. Here are three areas where you can meet their needs ...

1) Where people work

Some people thrive when they work from home, while others may not perform so well. Ideally, companies should help each individual to find the right balance — so they can perform at their best.

In many cases, the answer could be a combination of home-working, booking time at co-working spaces, visiting the regular office, or working elsewhere. The mix might also include doing meetings while walking or working on projects while travelling by train.

To avoid a sense of isolation, people need to feel that others are interested in more than just the work they deliver. Employees can really benefit from informal online friendship networks within the company. It's also good to encourage a culture where people can chat freely about their lives at the start of meetings, rather than jumping straight into business.

2) When people work

It's important for leaders to focus on people's productivity, rather than the time they spend at a desk. Some business functions have to cover specific hours, but many can offer flexibility. As a result, people may be able to accommodate school runs, medical appointments, caring for others, or a midday gym class — and then make up the time at the start or end of the day.

You may discover that some people's output is far greater if they don't follow a 9-5 routine, and they feel their job is a much better fit for their lives by working in this way. This, of course, builds retention.

3) How people work

Many people have emerged from the pandemic wanting greater autonomy and choice around how they work, and how they want to develop themselves personally and professionally.

Leaders need to ask their people if they are happy in their current role, and if they are looking for a promotion, a sideways move or a specialism? Perhaps what they desire is to learn another skill, such as how to make a presentation or do some coding, even if this isn't directly related to their current job.

Firms must try to satisfy people's aspirations across their working lives. This may require creating opportunities for development and online training. It could also include fitness and mental health apps, one-to-one support, or mentoring.

Getting started

An employee engagement survey is a great way to kick off or refresh your retainment strategy. Ask people whether they are happy, disappointed, or frustrated — and the reasons why. Make it as broad as possible, covering their environment, processes, systems, and working relationships. Also, pose similar questions in your exit survey to find out why people are leaving.

Next, take the answers and be honest with your employees about what's possible to fix right away, what's too tricky, and what's achievable down the line. Make sure they see that your leaders are engaged, and supportive — so your program has impetus and accountability.

What does success look like?

The right retainment strategy will result in a strong return on investment: you will endure less employee attrition and all the associated costs, disruption, and loss of morale. In fact, your employees will feel more invested and willing to recommend you to friends and family. Last year at Unit4, 19% of our new hires came from referrals. And this year, it looks set to increase.

With a sustainable workforce that's becoming more skilled, engaged, and fulfilled each year, you can secure a competitive advantage and achieve your corporate goals faster.

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