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Retention of key players is essential to every organization

March 21, 2014
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It was interesting to see the story on the 50 Most Influential Women in West Michigan in the Grand Rapids Business Journal. These women undoubtedly make a substantial contribution to our community and deserve recognition.

It comes on the heels of a woman being appointed to head the Federal Reserve and a new female CEO of General Motors, just to point out a few recent accomplishments by women of talent. It’s clear that times are changing and, in my perspective, for the better.

It seems common now to have women involved with various aspects of business, but as a more seasoned business person, I remember when women started showing up in my college business classes, and I thought it strange at the time.

However, I now have two daughters in senior managerial positions in large businesses and a woman partner in our consulting business. Organizations that recognize talent regardless of gender, race, religion, age, or any of the other protected classes are organizations that will benefit on multiple levels. When the organization’s culture supports talent and encourages behavior that allows that talent to grow and contribute, everyone wins.

This brings me to another report I read recently, published by the Society for Human Resource Management and prepared by the Center for Talent Innovation, a global think tank. 

This report found that large percentages of women in science, engineering and technology are leaving the fields because of company environment, even though they like the work. It is a sad state of affairs that organizations don’t step up and make the working environment more palatable. Many organizations take steps because of various regulations and that is OK, but it rarely changes the culture — it just keeps the organization from being sued.

We should also address those people who bail out because of conditions that are less than desirable. Perhaps there is a need for them to “take the bull by the horns” and step up to the issues. If an employee is going to leave because they are the victim of bad behavior, what have they got to lose by pointing out that behavior? It might not change a thing in the organization, but it will certainly change how those employees view themselves.

In a highly competitive operating environment, can we afford to lose good talent when we have it? The cost of replacement is extremely high and may even be irreplaceable. So what do you do about it? The first thing is to listen to your people. Don’t use exit interviews because by then it’s too late. Make sure employees know you are listening and that it is OK for them to “give the straight skinny.” Then do something about improving internal conditions.

One of the critical tools for protecting talent is to identify high-potential contributors. Once that is done, take steps to nurture the talent. Make it a part of your strategic plan in an active way. Be specific about the actions to be taken, the expected results, timelines and who is accountable. (All of these are standard steps in a good strategic plan.) 

One specific option is to develop a system of mentors. In the CTI study, the lack of mentors was frequently cited as a problem. The Business Journal’s 50 Influential Women event has great value just in making these women visible so other women can use them as role models. Assigning mentors from the upper leadership team not only provides role models, it can provide paths of communication in both directions, and can also provide informal talent protection. A mentor can be very effective in changing the company’s environment if the person is not in the direct chain of command, as it doesn’t mix up reporting relationships but facilitates appropriate discussions.

We’ve been discussing this issue of becoming influential and stopping talent drain as though it only applies to women. It applies to all people. Retention of key players is essential to any organization that wants to be sustainable. If you take the effort to keep talent, it will also become easier to attract new talent. Tech-savvy potential employees often check websites like The Glass Door that have all sorts of company profiles, good and bad, that provide a perspective that previously wasn’t available until after taking the job.

Communication about the organization’s position on retention and development needs to be clear and active so employees can see it. If it is hidden, it takes on the perspective of a buddy system, or playing favorites, or teacher’s pet, and can easily work against the intended objectives.

One last aspect of putting a strong talent management system in place involves two critical steps: Take an objective look at your existing practices and be prepared to change things; and be prepared to educate others about what is expected of them and that undermining the system will not be tolerated. 

The latter is an important issue in industries where there has to be notable change in how things are done or who will do them. It was a big part of the CTI study.

Maybe in a future survey we can find out who the 50 most “newly influential” people are, not just women. These up-and-comers will be the ones to watch and imitate. It could be very informative and it could influence what our communities look like going forward. Suggestion: Nobody gets to remain in that newly influential survey more than three years; by then, they are probably part of the establishment.

Ardon Schambers is president of P3HR Consulting & Services LLC in Grand Rapids.

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