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Companies Fear Loss Of Key Personnel As Economy Improves

Editor’s Note: Focus groups of HR leaders surfaced a fear many companies will lose key workers to other organizations as the economy improves. Experts were asked to provide suggestions and strategies to combat this possible exodus. Some of their comments are below:

Diane Rodgers, Senior HR Operations Manager at CBIZ Human Capital Services  puts the possibility of employee exodus in perspective.

“Most companies are aware that the economy is recovering, and with a recovering economy comes more opportunities for employees—especially key employees—to jump ship to another organization,” she says.

Rodgers points out there are a number of surveys that have been conducted that show more companies intend to expand their workforce in the coming year and there are less reductions in force occurring. 

Other statistics point to a talent shortage in critical industries, positions and skill sets and an increase in employees who intend to pursue job opportunities outside of their company in the coming year. 

Tools such as social media make networking easier than ever and can speed up the rate at which employees move from one organization to another. These facts, combined with the declining unemployment rate, serve as signals to employers that turnover is likely to occur. 

Rodgers lists the signs an employee might bolt. These include: 

  • missed deadlines, performance issues,
  • a lack of engagement,
  • more last-minute absences than usual and
  • the employee becoming more vocal in expressing his/her dissatisfaction with their job, pay or benefits.

Rodgers says if any of these warning signs occur, it would be advantageous for the employee’s supervisor to sit down with the person to determine what factors are driving these behaviors.

Some questions to ask include: Is it dissatisfaction with their job/company or is there another underlying cause? Once they’ve identified the cause, they can put an appropriate action plan in place to address the issues. However, at this point, it may be too late to save the employee. That’s why it is important to take some of the preventative, proactive measures below before the warning signs become apparent.

What can an employer do to keep key talent?

First, identify which employees are “key talent” who they want to retain. It sounds obvious, but in lean times, many supervisors end up treating all employees equally when it comes to performance reviews and pay increases. Employers should take the time to truly distinguish their “A” performers from their “B” and “C” performers and make sure they are rewarding these employees accordingly. Companies should find out what drives their key employees (i.e. pay, benefits, recognition, training, professional development opportunities) and make sure they are applying the right type of rewards and opportunities for those individuals. Not all employees are driven by the same things. Also, don’t forget the importance of communication. Remember to thank key employees for their contributions and let them know how much they are valued by the organization. Communicate clearly the opportunities and rewards that are available to key employees, and make sure the link between their performance and rewards is clear.

Beth Swanson, a consultant and leadership team member at On the Same Page,, a business consultancy offers these thoughts

As the economy improves, one thing managers have to watch for is the amount of change employees are going through.  We’ve begun to see evidence of what we call “change fatigue” – both in individuals and across entire organizations.

To retain employees, leaders need to understand and embrace an approach to managing through change that sustains their people and their company, not one that beats people down and spits them out.

Based on the company’sr participation in hundreds of organizational transformations, Swanson offers her company’s10 Tips to Keep Your People:

  1. Tell the truth
  2. Leaving people in the dark is bad; Grind out ambiguity
  3. Explain WHY the business is changing
  4. Elevate and rely on your managers and supervisors to lead the organization
  5. Win over employees by connecting them with customers and showing them their contributions matter
  6. Manage by mantra; Apply laser-sharp focus and clarity to a set of short, simple, easy to remember message
  7. Beat the drum on the financial basics of how the business works…over and over
  8. Encourage questions and enable dialogue
  9. Build process and discipline into communication
  10. Always remember, people run your business. Make sure you recognize them.

Jared Nichols, president of the Jared Nichols Groupoffers three strategies to uncovering employee needs:

Work to uncover your employees’ true needs:  Key employees are those with a vested interest in the long-term success of the organization and although key employees need money like everyone else, they are far more interested in meaningful work and participation rather than menial work and compensation. Money is a means to an end so employers must uncover what that "end" is otherwise, when a more engaging opportunity arises, they will usually take it regardless of your monetary counter-offer.
Allow them to create their role in the organization: Your top talent will certainly get bored with their role at some point. so it's important to allow them to discover the areas they are most passionate about when applied to the organization. This again puts the burden of “quality” on the employees, allowing them to take direct ownership over the quality of their role in the company. This is a good practice to continually apply. They cannot say they are leaving because they are unhappy with their role in the organization when they created that role themselves.
Encourage strategic input from your employees: The workforce today is more informed and resourceful than any other generation in history. Challenge them to envision the long-term success of the organization and you will be delighted with the outcome both from their input and their increased engagement around the office. Key people are looking for a place where their talents and energy will be valued and properly utilized. 

Steve Rigell, President of Preemptis, Inc., an international consulting firm based in the greater Seattle area gives some perspective to this emerging trend.

 Rigell says this is a trend that has been very much on my radar lately.  Here are his thoughts:

Trends always reverse themselves - If businesses are just now concerned about retaining key employees, they have not been thinking strategically about strategic assets. Adopting as more strategic perspective can go a long way toward eliminating the the impact of volatility in the macro-economic environment.

  • Make sure the position is strategic - Make sure key employees are really strategic to the business with a quick check of the 6 Rs.
    1. Responsibilities - Is this function considered a core capability of strategic proportions?
    2. Relationships - Does this function directly impact key internal and external relationships?
    3. Revenue - Does this function directly impact top line revenue or is it key to limiting costs?
    4. Risk Engagement - Does this function directly impact our capability to engage and eliminate risks?
    5. Results - Does this function directly impact results associated with creating, delivering and capturing value?
    6. Reputation - Does this function directly impact our reputation?
  • Decide quickly - If you are concerned about retaining key players, don't let the issue languish or fester. Decide on your response to the situation, take action and move on. 

Lois Melbourne, Vice Chair of Peoplefluent, believes providing employees opportunities to grow their skills and move up the organizational ladder are two of the most powerful ways for companies to encourage retention.

Social technologies serve as a important tool organizations can leverage to accomplish both of those goals. Enabling employees to build and share profile pages in the workplace gives them a vehicle to promote their own achievements and unique skill sets as well as connect with prospective mentors and experts working in other parts of the company who they might not otherwise engage with.
She also says, as more baby boomers retire, and more organizations and industries face a talent shortage, and more organizations face a talent shortage, bringing social technologies into the workplace will become increasingly essential to attracting, engaging, and retaining the talent that will propel U.S. businesses forward.

Coined by market research firm Nielsen as “Generation C,” where the C stands for connected, this group of workers mostly in their 20s, 30s, and 40s, is characterized less by their age and more by their expectation that consumer technologies,expanding beyond basic email, be part of both their professional and personal lives.

Generation C demands their work environment be less hierarchical and more team-based and that their communication lines with colleagues, HR, and even executives be as organic and fluid as their conversations on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.

Melbourne also argues by incorporating social collaboration technology into a company’s fabric, organizations can set themselves apart from the competition and encourage retention—both mission-critical end points in an era where employees are increasingly choosing to job hop.

She points to a survey from The Future Workplace which indicates 91 percent of workers born between 1977 and 1997 expect to stay in a job for less than three years, This would translate into these individuals having between 15 and 20 jobs over the course of their careers.

Given this environment, Melbourne says a company that demonstrates its commitment to engaging employees where they are comfortable, and leverages technology to help facilitate career advancement and idea flow is one that even a talented Gen-C employee with lots of options will have a tough time leaving.


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