Graham Scrivener: Retaining staff is all about boss behaviour

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It appears that over a third of us will look to move jobs this year according to findings by the Institute of Leadership and Management (ILM), which is 18 percent more than last year and 24 percent more than 2013.

With the number of people looking to change jobs at an all time high, what can HR professionals do to beat off the competition and stop their best talent from jumping ship?

The key to retaining great people is to look at the behaviour of your boss because the way they act shapes a large portion of the climate of a team. Climate is defined by how we feel about our place of work and the better you feel about work, the more chance you have of staying put.

However, it is important not to confuse climate with culture, which is more about social norms, beliefs, values and customs, which are developed and embedded into the business over a long period of time and resistant to change. Climate, on the other hand, is more localised and easy to change  through a leader’s actions. It is proven to affect a team’s motivation and engagement and therefore, their performance and retention.

Consider, for example, a team that was led by a leader who dictated rather than encouraged initiatives and who threw work over the wall rather than invested time in coaching and developing. You would soon see two very different team climates; certainly with the latter team being more positive and engaged in their work.

Yet often businesses forget about the impact of leadership behaviour and team climate. For example, in our recent global Leadership Pulse survey, 93 percent of employees considered a trustworthy boss as key to a happy job. However, 30 percent trust their boss less today than they did in previous years.

These sentiments were also echoed in the ILM survey with 30 percent of staff planning to change jobs because of poor management, a shortage of appreciation by the boss, and a lack of career progression.

Unfortunately organisations still turn to the less original tactic of throwing more money at their staff to get them to stay. This works up to a point but if your employee is still unsatisfied and unhappy three months later then the novelty of a pay rise will soon wear off and they will be once again looking for a job that offers a more positive workplace climate, possibly one with better management support and development opportunities.

Then, there is the knock on effect that a negative team climate can have on a customer or partner’s perception of the business. The team is often a customer’s first impression of the business and if they’re feeling downtrodden then it’s unlikely that the customer will buy into them.

So what are the key leadership traits required to build a positive climate that retains and develops great people within the business?

Trust and accountability

Coming back to the findings of our global leadership pulse survey, trust is one of the biggest triggers of engagement and performance. The more trust employees have in their boss and the team, the happier and more motivated they will feel and therefore the less likely they will want to move jobs.

Leaders can gain the trust of their team by doing four key things. Firstly, walk the talk. Do as they say and lead by example. Secondly, they should take time to listen and understand the concerns of their team and thirdly they should encourage staff to offer ideas and suggestions, lend guidance and advice, and support them in executing any agreed ideas.

Finally, bosses need to honour their commitments and follow through on their word, especially in challenging circumstances. They need to accept responsibility for their actions and outcomes even when things go wrong and not be seen to be shifting the blame. In a nutshell, they need to be accountable for their actions and drive accountability through others.

An employee that can rely on their colleagues to stick to their word and to deliver to an agreed goal, as well as trust them to take responsibility if things go wrong, will feel part of a supportive and united team, working together to achieve a common purpose. This sense of teamwork will transpire into a happier, more productive employee.

However, to encourage people to be accountable for their actions it’s important for leaders to ensure that people don’t feel that they will be ostracised for failing or making a mistake. Instead, leaders need to promote and reward initiative whilst create a climate where mistakes are acknowledged and resolved in a way that maintains the credibility of the team and individual.

Clarity & communication

Poor communication and a lack of clarity from a leader creates uncertainty, anxiety and a lack of trust, which will not only affect a team’s performance but soon see them heading for the door. Managers need to establish individual and team goals and clarify how these align with the business objectives.

Working to agreed goals will increase a person’s drive and motivation. It will make them feel valued, knowing how they will contribute to the overall success of the business, which will increase commitment, engagement and their enjoyment for the job.

Not all communications need to be formal either. They should be frequent and as informal as a quick coffee chat or a ‘water cooler’ moment so leaders keep abreast of any issues that may affect a person’s motivation and work with them to find a solution. These chats are a chance to review stretch goals and set challenges so individuals remain feeling energised in their job.

Coaching  & development

Companies that create a coaching climate reap the rewards through high levels of productivity. In fact, our global research carried out last year in association with The Sales Management Association , shows that high-performing companies coach 15 – 20 percent more than low performing organisations. Why? Because, coaching is cited as an engager and retainer of people and, as we know, a more engaged workforce is a happier, more productive one.

Coaching is a tool that helps people to develop their skills, progress their careers and feel valued by the organisation. Yet our same research found that out of 200 companies interviewed a quarter of managers, including HR, do not personally coach their people. It is therefore not surprising to read in the ILM findings that a lack of progression and training and development fell within the top eight reasons for why people plan to move jobs this year.

Most leaders think coaching is about waiting until there’s a performance issue or when a new starter joins but effective coaching – one that impacts retention and performance –  needs to be part of a daily management routine. It needs to encompass all team members from new starters, to low and high performers. It needs to be a fundamental part of the culture and the climate; driven from the top and by every leader across the business with managers being coached as well as coaching themselves. The success of coaching should be promoted continuously so it becomes an expected part of daily business. It should be incorporated into a manager’s appraisal and promotion criteria so leaders are held accountable for its success.

Few managers coach because they don’t feel they have the time and resources, but if it becomes part of the culture and climate, then it should be part of the daily routine rather than considered an added chore. It need not be formal and time consuming but should be incorporated into the regular team catch ups, whether that’s over a coffee or part of a performance management review.

Keeping hold of talent has a lot to do with your leaders and the way they behave. Making sure they know how to instill trust and commitment, that they recognise the value of communication and they regularly invest in the team’s training and development, will not only create a climate that everyone wants to be part of but also create a healthy pipeline of talent that will take the business forward.

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