by Dick Finnegan, C-Suite Analytics
It seems everyone knows the usual activities related to employee retention and engagement - exit interviews, engagement surveys, action plans for improvement, and occasional reports. Is there anything new on the horizon?
There is exciting and fresh new thinking for those who are open to it. For example, we now have tools to place dollar values on turnover and dis-engagement rather than report them in turnover percentages and survey scores. “Dollars” is the language that comes naturally to CEOs, so asking them to give their all to solve percentages and scores requires a hard translation step that many won’t do.
Improve the way you operate: Convert metrics to $$$
The usual situation is the HR exec takes turnover data to the CEO, and the CEO seeks a way to better understand the data by asking how the turnover rate compares to peer companies. If the HR exec gives favorable news such as, “We’re at 18% and the peer group is at 20%,” the CEO is pleased. But if the HR exec initially reports the data along with its cost by saying “Our 18% turnover is costing our company $5.4 MM per year,” the CEO says “We need to fix this!” and never asks for comparison data.
So what exactly should the CEO do?
For 20 years I’ve been helping companies cut turnover, and I can tell you that the single most important thing CEOs can do is establish retention goals and hold first-line supervisors accountable for achieving them. Much data tells us that the main reason employees leave or stay is because of their immediate supervisor.
Or do employees stay or leave due to pay? Isn’t it always about the money?
I’ve learned talk is cheap. Most good employees can leave any time for more money if they are motivated by other factors to look. Each of your readers should ask “Could I make more money if I wanted to? So why don’t I look?” That tells you everything about the real power of money versus the power of supervision.
Exit survey or engagement survey?
In the past year I’ve spoken to about 5,000 HR executives and asked if they do exit surveys; nearly all raise their hands. Then I’ve asked how many would say doing so has made their companies better, and the total that have raised their hands is nine. Engagement surveys are more effective because they at least give benchmark data. What they fail to do, though, is imply solutions. Employees report they want more recognition, so companies invent Employee of the Month. Or employees want more communications, so companies develop better newsletters or more town hall meetings. Employees don’t want one-size-fits-all programs; they want better supervision. What good is having Employee of the Month if I never get it? I’m not getting recognized.
Supervision: the real key to retention and engagement
Studies by Gallup, Yahoo, Saratoga, Kenexa, and others all reflect this message from Gallup: If you have a turnover problem, look first to your managers. Executives, and often times HR, thinks they can solve turnover and dis-engagement with programs, but programs cannot overcome a non-trusted boss. When’s the last time you heard a really good worker say, “My boss treats me like dirt, but I’m holding on for employee appreciation week”? It just doesn’t happen.
Something better than surveys and programs
Stay Interviews, done by first-line leaders, one-on-one, to connect with employees and learn why they stay…and also what that leader can do to keep that employee longer and engage her better. This sounds too old fashioned, too non-electronic to work, but our research says it cuts turnover by up to 70% and significantly cures dis-engagement.
What if employees want something you can’t give them?
Tell them why you can’t – but first make sure you can’t. Companies must climb over all sacred cows and ask why employees can’t have more input, can’t work different hours, can’t get more targeted training and mentoring. Employees rarely ask for more money. Instead they want things that really matter to their daily and long-term work happiness. We wouldn’t easily dismiss a major customer’s request, so why would we treat an employee any differently?
Motivate supervisors to conduct stay interviews
We accomplish this the same way we motivate them to do anything else, which is to establish retention and engagement goals and then hold them accountable. When they fail, check to see if they are conducting stay interviews and developing stay plans.
Companies must treat supervisors’ engagement and retention roles just as they do for sales and service. Establish goals, hold them accountable, coach them to succeed, reward them positively for success, and counsel them if they fail. Some might not be qualified to win. Our client companies add one other step, the lock-down step that requires leaders on all levels to own their talent. The leaders forecast how long each of their direct reports will stay based on stay interview results. This holds them accountable for their own teams.