To Retain the Best Talent: Find the Right People, Gauge Engagement, and Consider Velvet Handcuffs

Geraldine Sangalang, CHRP

Geraldine Sangalang, CHRP

This blog post was written in response to the May 2013 Coffee Shop HR World Café topic: “What will it take to retain the best talent over the next 5 years?”

This month the Coffee Shop HR writing team is taking on a question that’s relevant for all levels of management: how to retain the best talent. As a diverse group, I’m looking forward to seeing just how distinct our responses are, and how we differ in our approach.

To clarify, I’m focusing my discussion on retaining the best talent. By this I mean your top performers: the drivers of your business and truly, those individuals who personify the company culture.

It all starts with finding the right people

This may sound like an obvious answer, but that doesn’t make it an easy one to follow. Finding the right people means recruiting individuals who are competent for the position, share the values of the organization and whose lives coincide with the demands of the role.

There’s an amusing article on Fistful of Talent that compares retention to dating: it’s all about impressing that person at the beginning. They argue that the way you represent yourself can go downhill after the honeymoon phase. But the key is to impress your best candidate just enough to stay. The rest depends on the needs and personal expectations of the individual.

I’m an HR person by day, but I’m a bartender / bar supervisor by night. I work full-time for the BC Public Service Agency, and part-time for a company called the Vancouver Civic Theatres. This was a job that I found while I was going to university, and have chosen to maintain over the years because I enjoy the work and the environment.

At the Vancouver Civic Theatres, there are a number of us who work full-time jobs while working part-time with Civic Theatres, including accountants, teachers, IT professionals, and the list goes on. If you speak with an employee at the Civic Theatres, you are more likely to encounter an employee with more than ten years of experience than an employee with less than one. We all have our reasons for choosing to stay at the theatres despite the demands of our careers and personal lives, but this is a workplace which personifies the idea that at the beginning, you need to prove to your employee that there`s a reason to stay. At some point the individual takes over and justifies staying for their personal reasons. But it all starts with recruiting the right people for the company and its unique roles.

Gauge engagement: be aware of employee expectations

Make a point to have regular conversations with staff to gage their professional goals and expectations for themselves and the company. Let’s say that you’ve hired a junior person at the firm, and you’ve heard that after six months, this person is looking for work elsewhere. Figure out why this is!  Do you have the sense that this person is unaware of your expectations, is this person not being challenged enough, or does this person feel disconnected from the team?

Take this a step further and look at the people who are functioning well in their roles: discover their long-term professional goals, ask where they aspire to move within the organization, and gain an understanding of what would help them function best. You may be surprised at what you hear.

A lesson I’ve learned recently is that not all staff appreciate progressive positions. Depending on countless personal and professional factors, at some point you may find a job that you’re comfortable with, and refuse to leave. Not everyone enjoys change, after all. Taking the time to speak with staff about long-term hopes and expectations will show you who is still engaged in their current roles, and who is seeking engagement elsewhere.

It’s no secret that recruiting is an expensive business, whether it’s done internally or through recruiting firms. If you can grow staff from within, you’ve already saved yourself from hiring and onboarding new employees. So save yourself some of that trouble, and be aware of the level of engagement that exists within your organization. Then take that knowledge, and support your staff so that they can excel, and strengthen your business.

Velvet handcuffs can’t hurt

I currently work in the public sector, and I’m at the beginning of my career. I shared a fear with one of my mentors that I don’t mind sharing because she had a brilliant response. I said to her, “as a public sector employee, do you think that private sector recruiters would overlook me because of the stigma associated with public sector workers?” She said, “no, it’s the velvet handcuffs you have to worry about.”

She argued that the skills and experiences I`ve gained in the public sector wouldn’t be overlooked. However, I needed to be aware that the tradeoffs associated with private sector work may cloud my decision to leave. On the one hand, I may have access to unique career opportunities in the private sector, but on the other hand, I’ve been given velvet handcuffs in the public sector – referring to superior benefits that I wouldn’t likely be able to access in a private sector position. She’s certainly right. Whenever I consider taking a position outside of my current company, I consider whether it’s worth losing the benefits I have today. And I represent an optimistic and driven Gen-Y employee. I seek out change and challenges, but not at the expense of my personal satisfaction.

There are amazing employee benefits out there, including earned days off, personal assistants, staff retreats, private vacation homes, the list goes on. If you really care about retaining the best talent, it may be worth handing out some velvet handcuffs to those who are worth the investment.

Related Pages

Coffee Shop HR World Café

To Award or Reward by Christine Ramage, CHRP

Motivational Team Building by Bonnie Milne, PhD

4 thoughts on “To Retain the Best Talent: Find the Right People, Gauge Engagement, and Consider Velvet Handcuffs

  1. Elida

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