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Executive Search Articles

Retention

Get it Right and Keep it Right

Hiring the right employees and retaining key employees are fundamental HR practices. Search firms that truly partner with their clients participate fully in both practices. We have partnered with our clients on both fronts for years, long before retention became a hot topic. Now retention is a preoccupation as the war for talent heats up.

We have always believed that providing a service that supports and enhances retention delivers additional value to our clients, rendering our core service-recruitment-more cost-effective, and strengthening our relationship with our client at the same time.

Many years ago we researched the reasons why employees leave. We learned that there are ten primary resignation motivators, and recent research indicates that those motivators are still at play. We analyzed the motivators and determined that we could directly influence seven of them; three are recruiting and selection related, and four of the motivators are essentially disconnects or failures in communication. So, we developed recruiting and communications protocols to address the motivators in an attempt to obviate resignations. These protocols are embedded in everything we do, starting with the first meeting with a client to get job specs. We have not had to modify our protocols over the years because we have found them to be effective and, sadly, many companies are resistant to change. They are not doing everything that could be done to retain their employees, and as a result, they are watching their talent walk out the door.

Let's look at the most common reasons employees leave and what external recruiters can do to improve the retention of the employees they recruit for their clients.

1. The job or workplace was not as expected.

This can be addressed during the recruiting and selection process. Recruiters need to present a clear and accurate description of the job, the performance expectations, the supervisor's management style, weaknesses and strengths, the corporate culture and values. Candidates should go into a new job and company fully informed.

2. Poor fit. There is a mismatch between the job and the hire, or the hire and the supervisor.

This, too, can be addressed during the recruiting and selection process. The assessment process should be rigorous. Drill down, then drill down again.

3. There are too few growth and advancement opportunities.

Again, this is an issue that can be addressed during the recruiting and selection process. Recruiters should ensure that there will be enough career runway for the candidate's ambitions. The recruiter should understand the candidate's career objectives and carefully asses motivations.

4. Once on the job, there is too little coaching and feedback, or all too frequently, none at all.

This is a communication and management problem. External recruiters can facilitate and sometimes orchestrate communications between a manager and the employee. We communicate with our hires on a regular basis, and when appropriate, we convene meetings and include the human resources department. Sometimes we participate. The key is, we proact.

5. The employee feels devalued and unrecognized.

This, too, is a communications and management problem. Again, we proact and facilitate communication between the manager and the employee. Recognition is one of the most effective ways to retain and motivate your employees. A well-designed recognition program can have a significant impact on employee loyalty and also influence behaviors, attitudes, values, customer satisfaction, process improvements, time to market, quality-the list is potentially endless, and unique to every company. The point is, people respond to recognition and appreciation.

6. The employee is stressed from overwork and a work-life imbalance.

This is frequently a communication problem, and it is usually soluble. The key is to acknowledge the conditions and not permit them to persist without making at least an attempt to relieve the pressure, even temporarily. Without relief, the pressure will build and lead to a resignation.

7. There is a loss of trust and confidence in senior leaders.

This is frequently a communication problem. Leaders who don't communicate or communicate ineffectively are often unaware of the problem. We encourage our hires to precipitate communication with their manager, to ask question, to get informed, to network in the company, and to reach out to the human resources department.

We are constantly looking for strategies and ideas that we can share with our clients to help them retain their key employees. On a regular basis, we meet with our clients and review their retention practices, their successes and disappointments. We nudge them towards adopting retention best practices. Here are some ideas that we have shared with our clients.

  • Develop effective corporate employee communications strategies and programs that help employees understand the business. Share information, open the channels of communication, starting at the top of the house, let information cascade down. Explain the company's reward philosophy.
  • Upgrade your performance-based compensation systems, stay ahead of the curve. gradually move the focus of comp plans away from base salary toward incentive compensation.
  • Provide lateral and cross-functional assignments or projects.
  • Poor performance by colleagues can negatively affect the retention of high-potential employees, weed out apathetic and 'C' performers. Poor managers are a liability. Develop, redeploy or replace them.
  • Create customized and achievable career and skills development plans.
  • Keep employees abreast of their progress and what they need to do, on a continual basis, to remain high-potential employees. Provide tools to help them track their performance against objectives. Amplify the company's long-term commitment to them.
  • Provide recognition, formal and informal.
  • Upgrade your onboarding process. Day 1 can have a tremendous impact on engagement.
  • Provide tools that help employees improve their productivity and effectiveness.
  • Use knowledge management systems and tools that facilitate collaboration and networking.
  • For the right fit, the hiring process should be rigorous; get it right in the first place.
  • Job sculpt-design jobs or assignment that satisfy employee's interests and use their unique talents.
  • Ensure that employees appreciate the company's total rewards package, all the elements, both tangible and intangible. Include training and development programs in the equation.
  • Conduct frequent "stay interviews".
  • Develop and upgrade communication skills in supervisors and managers; when skills are weak, design programs and tools to facilitate communications between boss and subordinate. Frequent communications should be mandatory. Be committed to communications.
  • Success in retaining talent should be a performance expectation for managers, at all levels of the organization.
  • Managers and HR should collaboratively ensure that employees' career needs and objectives are being met. Ensure employees' careers don't stall.
  • Provide regular performance evaluations. Managers should schedule regular meetings with their subordinates to discuss strengths, weaknesses and progress toward career goals.
  • Develop good communication and leadership skills across the organization.
  • Take frequent employee satisfaction surveys. Find out what employees value in a workplace environment. Broadcast your efforts to act on the findings.
  • Provide managers with performance management training.
  • Strengthen your internal sourcing and recruiting processes. Provide recruiters with frequent training. Benchmark your processes against other organizations.
  • Ensure that recruiting criteria on job descriptions are consistent with the criteria to be used subsequently in performance reviews.
  • Extend your succession planning programs. Include every key position. If the position is 'mission critical', plan for succession.
  • Ensure that employees have a clear understanding of their career path options and the opportunities you provide. Provide training and development programs that are linked to employees desired career path.
  • Provide work-life balance support and options, such as flextime, telecommuting or job sharing.
  • Provide managers with interview training. Hold out for the best fit candidate.
  • Conduct rigorous reference checks.
  • Provide a clear statement of how employee performance is measured, clearly differentiate between excellent and average performance. Describe how performance is measured, assessed, recognized and rewarded.

The championship is won in the draft, and we owe it to our clients and to the people we recruit to get it right in the first place. It may seem obvious, but if rigorous due diligence isn't applied to the talent acquisition process, then it can be very difficult to right the ship. We believe that we can and should do everything we can to help our clients keep it right. That is the value we add.

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