Retaining Talent: You Get What You Give



When the Beatles sang “the love you take is equal to the love you make,” they weren’t singing specifically about employee-manager relationships. Sir Paul did spend some time making deliveries in a lorry before he became a Beatle, and the experience may have taught him something about being treated with respect on the job—but the song’s message is broader than that. Namely, that you get what you give. What goes around comes around. The ever-present cosmic principle of reciprocity.


Nevertheless, this principle does apply specifically to employee-manager relationships.


If more managers understood it and put it into practice, the teams they manage would be more successful. Employees would feel valued, motivated, and would ultimately add more value to the organisation.

So how do you put this wonderful principle into practice?


First, let’s talk about what not to do.


Don’t develop and nurture your top talent while leaving the rest of the team to their own devices.


This is a narrow approach to the idea of team success. If your team is to reach its highest potential, each individual needs to be respected, treated fairly, and duly cared for. The star performers are important, but so are the under achievers and everyone in between. This last group—“everyone in between”—is the most likely to be overlooked. Make no mistake, their motivation levels are hugely important to the success of the team.


Don’t assume you know what your employees want.


Retaining employees and keeping them happy is a puzzle that must be solved by assembling a number of individual pieces—not by applying the same strategy across the board. Every employee is special, unique, motivated by different things. Their frustrations arise from different sources, and they prefer to be rewarded in ways that matter to them personally.


Therefore, to become an ‘inclusive’ leader, you need to build relationships with your employees at an individual level. Get to know them really well. Find out what motivates them.

Some employees are motivated by participating in a team project. Others like the challenge of working on something autonomously. Some are hoping for a promotion, whilst others want to develop skills in a particular area. How will you know this unless you ask? It’s a simple strategy, yet few managers actively pursue it.


First, you ask the employee to coffee or lunch. Then you ask a few open and honest questions that will help you gain an insight into what your employee needs and wants, such as:


What do you like about your job? What frustrates you about your job?

What can I do to support you more? What can we do that would help you gain greater satisfaction in your job? What are your career goals? What can the organisation do to help you achieve your ultimate career goal? What would make you leave our organisation? What will make you stay in our organisation? What else is important to you?


The mere act of seeking your employee’s answers to such questions will automatically make them feel more valued, more committed and more loyal to the organisation. And if you listen actively and follow up, these discussions will leave you with priceless insight on how to nurture and grow your team. How to create a culture that everyone wants to be part of.


When I encourage managers to have these conversations with their employees (and I encourage them frequently), they often raise doubts. What if I can’t give them what they want, such as a pay rise or a promotion? What if they tell me they want to leave? What if they won’t give me straight answers, or say they don’t know?


There’s no doubt that questions of pay or promotion may come up—but it’s nothing to fret about. Simply acknowledge the request in a meaningful way, and say that you’ll need to look into it (and make sure that you do!). Then ask “what else.” You just might find the discussion turning to things that you definitely can give them.


The important of trust


It’s important to remember that trust precedes honesty. Your employees will only give you straight answers if they feel they can trust you. If you suspect they do not trust you, try to understand why this might be the case. Seek guidance from colleagues, or your HR Manager, on how to address the issue.


Sometimes an employee doesn’t have an immediate answer to a particular question—this too is perfectly normal. They may be caught off-guard and need time to think—especially if you’ve never had this kind of conversation in the past. One thing’s for certain, though: If you keep the dialogue going, your employee will eventually come up with something.


We often assume that pay is the biggest driver in employee retention. The reality is, pay alone won’t retain your talent. That’s why it’s so important to focus on what else you can do to engage your employee. Things like flexibility, a great work environment, diversity in a role, fun, responsibility, autonomy, career development, exciting and challenging work—these, as much as anything else, are the reasons why people stay.


Oh, and there’s another important reason: People stay because they have a manager who respects them, who makes an effort to listen, who cares enough to ask what they want and helps them to get what they need. In short, they have a manager who understands that success is a matter of getting back what you put in—just like Sir Paul said.


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