The world of business seems to move faster than ever nowadays—and is more fiercely competitive than it has ever been. Nowhere is that more true than in the domain of staff development and retention. Great employees have options, and even the biggest companies struggle to keep top performers. This is why smart leaders know that it’s absolutely crucial to have a focused, intentional strategy for fostering employee loyalty. In this article we’ll show you the three essential actions that leaders can take to make sure their best people never want to leave.
Challenge themAnyone who’s worked in an office for long enough will come to expect the same dreary refrain—like clockwork—every Monday morning when they greet coworkers. You ask how they are. The answer? “Ugh, it’s a Monday.” And then at the end of the week? “Great! It’s Friday! TGIF!” Take a second to think about what this means: so many workers today are just waiting for the weekend—wishing most of their lives away. Work is seen as drudgery, as something to be gotten out of the way as quickly and painlessly as possible so that the stuff that really matters can begin. It’s no way to live. And it’s a pretty poor way to work. So guess what? Employees who feel this way about their jobs don’t have a lot of motivation to stick around. If you want to create loyalty in the workplace, you have to win some hearts and minds first. But why is it that so many people are so disengaged? Why do they treat their work as if it’s a boring chore? Hard truth? Because for many of them, it is. And one of the main reasons why this is the case is a lack of challenge. When people are given the same tasks, day in and day out, and never asked to really use their creativity and their skills, then of course their jobs start to feel repetitive and mindless. And they’ll jump ship at the first opportunity to do something a little bit more interesting. But take those same people and give them stretch goals, ask them to constantly up their game, present them with problems that demand every ounce of their ingenuity and talent to solve—and watch what happens. Suddenly, they’re engaged, energized, and—maybe for the first time in years—feeling alive. And when they rise to a new challenge, achieve tough goals, and are rewarded and praised for it, then their sense of accomplishment and their pride in their work blossoms. They don’t dread Monday morning anymore. They look forward to it. And employees who feel engaged and accomplished are much more likely to stay around for the next challenge.
Help them growIn survey after survey, when employees are asked what they really want from their company, one surprising answer comes up time and again: the tools to improve at their job and build their skills. In fact, today’s new generation of workers rate the opportunity to develop their abilities as the most important element of job satisfaction (yes, even more than financial reward). So why is this the case? Well, times have changed. A generation or two ago, a person could take their first job out of college and expect to retire (with that nifty gold watch) a few decades later. Now? Not so much. The global economy is notoriously volatile. Even in good times, industries seem to change in the blink of an eye, making last year’s skills obsolete overnight. And when times get rough, as they inevitably do over an economic cycle, you have downsizing, rightsizing, and outsourcing to worry about. All of this adds up to a climate in which no one ever feels completely secure in their current job. And now there’s something new to worry about as well, something very much on the minds of today’s workforce: the rise of AI and automation. Estimates vary, but some experts think that up to 30% of the world’s jobs could disappear in the next decade or two, lost forever to the robots. And it’s not just unskilled labor or manufacturing work we’re talking about—the sophistication of the new AI is predicted to replace jobs in fields that were once thought untouchable: medicine, law, and even (somewhat ironically) computer programming. All of this has contributed to a tremendous amount of anxiety (and stress) in the workforce. No wonder! But there’s a silver lining to this as well, for smart employers—there’s a way to use this uncertainty and angst for good. Because if you show your team that you’re deeply committed to helping them build the skills they’ll need to survive in the months, years, and decades to come, you provide a powerful incentive for them to stay with your company. Of course this can take many forms. From things like support for continued education through tuition reimbursement to on-site training in the latest disruptive technologies that are reshaping your industry. But if you can make your employees feel that they’re in the best possible place to keep growing and learning, then you’ve made your company very, very hard to walk away from.
Reward PerformanceYou choose your team carefully. You train them, develop them, give them all the tools they need to succeed. Then you challenge them, even push them, in the hopes of bringing out their best. And if it all works out? They perform beautifully. So now what? We’re so used to talking about how to deal with performance problems in the workplace, or figuring out how to set challenging goals for our employees, that sometimes we forget to think about what to do when everything goes right. Yet it’s crucial to consider this. Because it’s one thing to build a great team that exceeds every expectation. But it’s another thing to keep them. To create real loyalty in your employees, you absolutely must reward excellence. So what does that entail? First things first—when people deliver real (monetary) value, they should share in that. Bringing your team a box of pastries is a nice gesture, but let’s just say it won’t pay the rent. If your staff is at the top of their game, building value for your company and your stakeholders, then you should make every effort to see that they’re rewarded accordingly. Partly because it’s the right thing to do. But also because if you don’t, someone else will. If you’re the CEO or the head of a small business, then that’s relatively easy to do: after all, you make those calls. But for most middle-managers, this can be a little harder—because it often requires some “selling” to the upper management in order to get them to approve that raise for your employee. One way that you can prepare for this is to keep a file on each person you supervise, showing, in specific and quantifiable terms, how their biggest achievements over the last quarter or year contributed to customer satisfaction, team productivity, or the bottom line. And of course money isn’t everything (otherwise investment banks and hedge funds would have zero turnover). If you want to build a loyal staff, you should also take the time to reward performance in less tangible ways. This starts with simple things like always remembering to offer a word or two of praise for a job well done. But you should also make sure that excellence is seen—as in “recognized publicly”. And, in large organizations, great performance should be called to the attention of the folks a bit higher up as well. Employees who feel that their contributions are valued—and who know that their good work is noticed—have a strong reason to stay. And finally, from time to time, rewarding performance may mean letting a top performer go—making sure that the best members of your team are promoted to positions where they can further develop their skills, take on new challenges, and advance their careers. Of course it’s hard for any manager to say goodbye to a valued member of the team, but it’s essential for the well-being of the organization as a whole: companies whose employees feel that they can’t move up are always losing excellent people. And remember, just because it’s time for someone to move on, doesn’t mean it’s the end, because former employees in their new roles often become the valuable partners and collaborators as you build your own career. So to sum up, while there are many ways to reduce turnover, three stand out above the rest.
- Challenge your staff so that they’re engaged and so that their work feels meaningful.
- Help them grow and develop their skills so that they know they’re in a great place to prepare for an uncertain future.
- Reward great performance so that employees can see that they’re valued and have a path to the careers and lives they want.