In Times of Change

I recently heard from an employer who had a major contract up for renewal. There was a feeling of nervousness as the current contract had encountered some issues and recent feedback was not positive. This led to staff feeling unsettled knowing that if the contract was not re-awarded, redundancies would be inevitable. Some key people had already been lost as the contract neared its end.

The company had to think about how to ensure that they were a front runner for the new contract but also how to retain their staff and keep them engaged. The manager wanted to know what they could do so they could make sure they could credibly complete the current contract term and have the right staff available if they were successful in their bid for the new contract.

Retention of knowledge, skill and expertise is critical to all organisations, but most crucial in times of change. Most employees understand that they can no longer rely on a job for life; that employers often have no choice but to make them redundant in hard times or even just when change occurs. This has resulted in the new working generations being much more self reliant in ensuring they have an income to pay the bills and support their families. They will likely more readily move on at a whiff of change that may affect this adversely. Under our agreements with our employees, we require a duty of fidelity, but this does not mean “slavish loyalty” and so if we want our staff to stick around when the future is uncertain, we need to consider retention strategies rather than leaving this to chance! And, of course, we want to focus on key individuals to ensure we invest our resources in those who we need the most.

The greatest retention strategy for most staff is the application of great leadership. Your staff are more likely to have feelings of loyalty towards you, the leader, and the team if they:

  • have clarity around the big picture,
  • feel that you are communicating as honestly as you can, allowing for meaningful dialogue and consultation or collaboration where possible
  • genuinely feel part of the team with whom they share a common goal and know how they contribute to the big picture
  • feel that you treat them fairly and consistently
  • genuinely believe you and others in the team care about them!

But this isn’t always enough to retain your key people and what each of those individuals need to “stick with it” through times of change will be different for each of them but will need to answer the very simple question – why should I stay? Or what’s in it for me?

In order to ensure you retain the key people through times of change, you must first identify who those key individuals are and then what their answers are to these questions. For some it may be the provision of training, greater responsibility or the development of a plan to allow them to be considered for promotion opportunity. For some it may be greater flexibility or to try something new. For others, you may wish to play on their desire to be proud of their workplace or a desire to work for the biggest or best and perhaps the changes afoot may cement that. There is no one answer and a clear understanding of where the organisations needs coincide with that of the individual is required.

Whilst many think that some kind of retention bonus might work, they generally don’t in isolation of the strategies above. Most staff will see that a solid future opportunity elsewhere is worth more than a few grand in the short term. However, ensuring that you always pay fairly based on performance does ensure that your staff are not unduly tempted by higher remuneration elsewhere.

So do you know who your key people are and do you have plans to retain them…if you don’t, don’t be surprised when they take their future into their own hands!