Darren Timmins: Retaining high performers in 2015

If latest insight is correct, this year will be the time when staff retention arguably becomes one of the top priorities for businesses and, in turn, HR professionals. According to a report from the Institute of Leadership Management (ILM) released last week, one third of the UK workforce plans to move jobs in the next twelve months.

This will naturally be of concern for many talent management professionals given that the increasingly positive economy is currently driving hiring activity, making the task of keeping top staff ever more difficult. So what can HR teams do to keep some of their best performers?

Focus on cultural fit

Perhaps one of the biggest aids to staff retention is creating a link between corporate and personal culture. As most HR professionals will be aware, cultural fit is the key to a happy and motivated workforce. And an employee that enjoys their job is understandably more likely to stay in a role.

However, while there is a recognition that identifying individuals who match the company culture during the hiring process is important, the need to reassess this fit is often ignored once someone is in employment. It can’t be overlooked that as a business grows, its culture and ethos will evolve. The same is true for each employee. As an individual develops professionally and works their way up the career ladder, their personal traits will change.

The result is that what some HR professionals might consider is a good fit, no longer works. As such, it’s important that company and personal culture is reassessed regularly. This is particularly relevant for high performers who are likely to seek out new challenges and develop additional skills relatively quickly.

Empower individuals to lead

In my experience, a lot of high potential talent is lost because the individual is not given the chance to really make their own mark. Too often restrictive career structures, job descriptions and corporate ‘red tape’ are limiting an individual’s creativity and crushing their personality. As most, if not all, HR professionals will be aware, high performers and leaders are more likely to leave a position if they feel they are being held back by the company.

Of course any form of change can be difficult to implement in a business of any size. However, in order to not only retain the best staff, but also arguably maintain a company’s competitive advantage, individuals must be empowered to lead, be creative and drive new ideas.

Create an honest and transparent environment

Leading on from this, it’s also important that an honest and open environment is developed. This is beneficial in two ways. Firstly, from a company perspective, building a workforce that is honest can only be a good thing, for a number of reasons. For example, encouraging staff of all levels to voice any concerns regarding business strategies, or even any potential opportunities that haven’t yet been utilised for the company, can aid corporate growth. Creating such an environment also encourages individuals to speak up if they have any issues so that these can be addressed before they are lost to a competitor. Being open about business performance also ensures that not only does every member of staff feel involved with the business, but everyone is also pushing in the same direction.

From the employee viewpoint, working in a business that is transparent is not only likely to boost motivation, but is also an attribute that many individuals actively look for in an employer. The workforce of today wants to work for a business that gives them much more than just a job. They want to be part of a company that they can relate to personally and professionally. Without a trusting environment, this simply cannot be achieved.

Support individuals

Finally, it’s important that a company truly supports its staff, particularly those at the top who could be subject to public and internal criticism. We just have to look at daily news reports to see multiple examples of executives or managers who have been ‘hung out to dry’ when the going gets tough.

While this will obviously have an adverse effect on the individual in question, it also can’t be overlooked just how much this can impact the rest of the workforce. Seeing influential managers – who are likely to have been heavily involved in the development of other employees – criticised is likely to dishearten others. As such, it’s important that, where relevant, the company supports its high performers through the good, the bad and indeed the ugly.

I think it’s important to end with one final piece of advice: effective talent retention can’t be achieved with a blanket approach. While the above points will certainly help guide HR professionals in the immense task they face in the coming months, it can’t be forgotten that, as with all people initiatives, the preferences of individual demographics must be considered. What I can say with certainty, though, is that this year could be a great year for those HR teams able to really get ahead of the curve when it comes to keeping high performers on board.

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