Recipe for Retention: Accountability at the Top

The confluence of economic, generational, and global influences is causing greater numbers of talent in most labor markets to shift in and out of jobs, causing ongoing talent shortages, high turnover rates, and a fast drain of critical skills and knowledge.

The challenge of holding onto the most capable employees with critical skills will likely continue well into the next decade. Employee retention is a top priority for nearly all of us today and going forward.

In PricewaterhouseCooper’s 2014 US CEO survey, 70% of US CEOs said they are very concerned with the availability of key skills. In Brandon Hall Group’s 2014 State of Talent Management Survey, 56% of companies said their focus on retention of employees with critical skills would increase, or increase significantly, this year. When we asked how they plan to increase that focus, they cited three strategies getting the most attention:

  • Improving managerial support (51%)
  • Building a learning culture (47%)
  • Developing critical skills and competencies (47%)

Interestingly enough, survey data two years ago doesn’t look much different. Then, employees quit because of “conflicts or problems with immediate supervisor,” “lack of training and development opportunities,” “inadequate use of employee’s skills,” and concerns about organizational direction and culture. The story is consistent with the data six years ago as well. Do you see a pattern?

Investing in more of the same retention strategies will deliver more of the same retention challenges. In other words, the “strategies” cited are addressing retention symptoms, not cause. The cause is lack of accountability. Talent with critical skills quit for a variety of reasons but they are more likely to leave for organizational-related reasons than other work-related reasons like pay, or work schedules.

Creating Accountability

Employee engagement and retention happens when employees are excited about their work, passionate about their contributions, trust their managers and senior leadership, and are wholly focused on offering their best performance regardless of the change and other distractors among them. Creating such a culture requires a commitment of accountability that starts at the top. High-performance organizations take a stand to create accountability and take specific actions to make good on that stand:

  • Board Rooms and senior leadership, not HR functions, own retention plans.
  • Managers execute retention plans just as they do revenue plans
  • Executives and other business leaders regularly communicate about talent as a competitive differentiator, not as a consumable.
  • Managers are rewarded for reducing the rate of undesirable attrition within the employee group for which they have direct responsibility.
  • Employees at every level, in every job, in every function and in every region are coached to embrace change and let go of legacy processes, entitlement attitudes, and compromising behaviors that get in the way of getting work done right.
  • Leadership communicates performance expectations; managers and employees collaboratively decide on how they will be measured; performance metrics are actually captured and shared; performance results influence reward plans.
  • Leadership’s philosophy, messages and actions are all about leveraging employees’ strengths and talents, not fixing their weaknesses.
  • Employees provide on-the-fly, informal, regular feedback up, down, and sideways – feedback is not a top-down process and doesn’t happen only once or twice annually.

When it comes to employee retention, accountability is the recourse. It’s not optional and can’t be compromised. It is hard work, and it starts at the top. It is what great companies do. Are you a great company? How are you creating accountability? What isn’t working? What is? And how is it impacting your retention results?

Until next time….

Laci Loew, Vice President Talent Management Practice and Principal Analyst,
Brandon Hall Group

Laci Loew

A principal talent analyst and consultant with Brandon Hall Group, Laci is expert in all areas of human capital management particularly talent management, leadership, leadership development, and succession management. She has worked in the public and private sectors consulting global and matrix Fortune companies across all industries on integrated talent initiatives. Laci holds a bachelor of science from the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign; earned her MBA from Keller Graduate School of Management; and is currently a PhD candidate in organizational psychology. Laci’s hometown is Chicago and she is based in Las Vegas.

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