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Retention: Be the Best Stepping Stone You Can Be

Retention: Be the Best Stepping Stone You Can Be

In the years that I’ve worked in HR and leadership roles, I’ve witnessed the constant flux between acquisition and retention. Even within retention, employees, workplaceeconomic cycles, we’ve shifted attention between the two, and back again. The thing that jars most is that in truth, you will always lose your employees.

You are nothing but a stepping stone in their career path. Whether they stand on that stepping stone for a year or for ten years, at some point, they’ll move on to the next one. The contract of employment is, more often than not, broken by the employee, not the employer.

Perhaps this is a rather fatalistic, or even nihilistic way of looking at the acquisition/retention issue we’re all facing. Like saying “we all die so it doesn’t really matter, does it”. Well, it does matter. We are stepping stones, and the quicker we accept the fact that we are transient in the lives of our people – a phase, if you like – then the quicker we can get on with the mutual business of employer and employee achievement.

Move beyond retention tactics

It’s one thing to provide, for example, better coffee in the workplace. It’s another thing to provide a more challenging, stimulating workplace where employees feel they’re making a contribution to growth. HR won’t contribute to business growth if its retention strategies revolve around tactical options such as employee of the month or Nespresso machines.

Rather, we should be having these grown-up conversations that say “well, this is where we’re going – where do you want to go?” And then “how can we meet in the middle?”

Too many organizations, in my view, are focused on aligning everything with key organizational goals. We’re not Communist Russia, are we? Of course, every business needs a focus and (as Coca-Cola calls it), a north-star vision, but let’s not restrict every talented individual to our own objectives – let’s help them achieve theirs.

When a potential employee sits down in front of me and says “I just want to help your business grow”, I tend to shrug my shoulders. “Yeah, but what about yourself?” is what I’m screaming to ask. “Shout it out, what do you want from us?”

A new employee / employer contract

We know from all kinds of research in the past that money is not the be-all-and-end-all. Non-financial incentives are often valued more than salary, which just goes to show the limits of salary. What we need is to revisit this employee / employer contract, or at least the unspoken contract, and turn to our managers to deliver better HR for us.

It’s our managers who effectively give people the push onto the next stepping stone, or hold them back on ours. It’s our managers who inspire our people – or incite them to leave. They’re the ones with the constant contact with their teams, so if we’re not helping them become better managers, and pumping into them the idea that we’re not trying to retain our employees, we’re trying to inspire them to become better employees – well that works for everyone, doesn’t it?

It’s a new contract, and our managers are the little army going out there helping to underwrite it. Let’s all focus on improving ourselves, improving each other, and thereby improving our business performance. And let’s forget about retention as a tactic. It never really worked, did it?

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Gareth Cartman consults with Right Hand HR:, a HR consultancy business based in the UK.

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