Employee Retention is a critical concern in rapidly growing countries such as India. High growth industries like Information Technology grapple with attrition rates as high as 40%. Employee Retention is a business challenge that organisations need to find their own answer to as every organization promises a different employee value proposition. Very often we find that managers are surprised with employee resignations, which begs the question of how well do managers understand their employee aspirations and motivation?
Retention guides are used in organizations to help managers use a process to try to retain an employee. In my career as a Talent and Organisation Development professional, I have seen various ways in which organisations choose to handle retention. Most of them are ineffective or end up in an employee just demanding more compensation to stay.
My critical commentary is divided into two parts. Part A is the Retention Guide that is used in an organization and Part B is the improvements I have made to it after my understanding of the SCARF model on motivation. As a consultant I have helped this client use the new guide and they have had a success rate of 5-7% in retaining employees over the last six months. However, there needs to be more manager sessions on understanding the conceptual change in the framework so that understanding neuroscience is understood holistically as an important part of managing people instead of just managing retention.
Employee Retention Discussions- A Guide for Managers
In an organisation, we often have critical people in critical roles where the impact of an employee turnover is more costly than usual and could result in schedule slips, lost customers, loss of specialized technical expertise or loss of competitive advantage. Based on exit interview data and employee survey analysis, the areas that most often cause employees to consider external opportunities are job satisfaction and career opportunity. This document is a resource for managers to have discussions with employees to help retain them.
What do to if an employee comes to you and says “I’m going to X company”
Schedule meeting with them to discuss reasons for leaving
1. Ask the employee what they will be getting at X that they aren’t getting here
2. If the employee is a high potential – remind them of velocity, career path, and potential.
3. Ensure your manager has line of sight and schedules meeting with employee
4. Ask the employee what they intend to do if they get to X and the grass isn’t greener.
5. Determine what the employee is leaving on the table – vesting, stock, network of information/people.
6. Ask the employee if there is another team or project they want to work on here
7. Ask the employee how his manager could have known about this sooner in order to act sooner on employee’s behalf
8. Ask what prevents the employee from being satisfied in their current role?
9. Ask what would it take to re-engage this employee?
How to Approach the Discussions:
1. Work with your HR team to understand which roles if any has this individual been identified for targeted retention and why.
2. Tell your employee that you would like your next 1:1 to focus on their job satisfaction and career aspirations. If you do not have a regularly scheduled 1:1, let them know you’ll be setting up a meeting for this reason. Be transparent and give context for the discussion:
a. Explain that the employee is critical to the current business strategy and why. Example: “Losing you and others like you at this point in executing our strategy would have a big impact. I want to make sure I’m doing what I can to keep you challenged and engaged.”
b. Express your commitment to understanding the employee’s individual priorities, and aligning the job and the employee’s personal motivations.
c. Explain that we invest in a career discussion with every employee during mid-year, and you are connecting to that process with an intentional focus on critical roles.
3. Prepare for the meeting.
4. Meet with the employee and engage in the discussion.
a. Restate the purpose for the meeting (see #2 above)
b. Ask questions such as these:
· What is your overall level of satisfaction with your job?
· What are the top things that impact how satisfied you are with your job?
· What gets in the way of great accomplishments?
· What gets in the way of a great day at work?
· What do you enjoy most?
· What would you like to do more or less of to improve your job satisfaction?
· Where do you see yourself in 3 years; 5 years?
· What could I do to support your satisfaction and growth?
5. Agree to meet again. Ensuring your employee stays engaged and requires more than one discussion.
· If your employee is satisfied overall, feeling challenged and engaged, reinforce your commitment to reviewing this periodically and developing their career. Invite the employee to raise the topic going forward if there are opportunities to increase their satisfaction.
· If they have gaps - ask the employee for input on what they would like to happen to increase their satisfaction. Listen to understand how their suggestions align to what they have said is important to them. Agree to work with them to define actions that move things in the desired direction.
· Motivators - listen for their top ranked motivators and think about the current role, whether these are aligned and how to bring them in sync if they aren’t.
Employee Retention Guide – For Managers
Are you scrambling for some help? Has one of your team members dropped a bomb on you and told you that they are leaving? Are you finding yourself agitated, upset and beside yourself?
Take a deep breath, shut the door and calm yourself down. Switch off your phone and email for 10 minutes. As managers we are often subject to incredibly stressful moments and the first step there is to shift from feeling “done to” to feeling that “you can salvage this”. Once you are feeling in better control of yourself, decide to take thirty minutes by yourself to spend on introspecting on this individual, let’s call him Ben. If you have a few people you can trust, you may take them into confidence while you think through what may be the triggers for Ben to want to leave.
For your introspection time, here is the model you must follow. This is model is based on neuroscience by Dr David Rock. The thesis behind the model is that the brain is basically a social animal and it feels social pain and pleasure in the same way we feel physical pain and pleasure. The model below is called SCARF and is made up of domains of Status, Certainty, Autonomy, Relatedness and Fairness. These “domains” activate the same regions of the brain as pain or reward, so for every activity we either feel pain (threatened) or pleasure (rewarded)
Understanding that these five domains as primary needs helps individuals and leaders better navigate the social world in the workplace (Rock, 2009b).
Now lets spend a few minutes understanding each domain, and how these may be affecting Ben. You will need to write questions and notes against each domain to help you prepare for the conversation with Ben.
Status is about one’s relative importance to others. We work in organisations because they give us an identity. We feel important about being a part of a team and working on a project that is exciting. Status is also about “in group” and “out group”. Is there any data you have based on feedback from Ben or feedback about Ben that helps you understand how important he feels with respect to his team? Does he feel that he is in the “in group” with you, his manager? Do you confide in him, give him the respect and attention he needs? When did you last have a one on one conversation with him? Were there concerns he raised? Does Ben feel a sense of importance and pride in what he does? Do peers respect him?
Certainty is about being able to predict the future.
Do you think Ben is clear about where his career is headed in this company? Are you as his manager clear as well? Have the both of you discussed his career plans and have you been visibly supportive? Do you feel that this could be a trigger to his resignation? Can you think of a conversation in the past where he may have hinted at not being happy with his career here?
Autonomy is about having control over a situation.
Does Ben feel empowered in his job? Are you as a manager giving him the space to work and take decisions, and not micro managing him? Do you see him take independent decisions and consult you only when something critical comes up? Or does he seem to need your sign off at every moment. Have you been clear about what kind of decision-making you expect him to do? As a manager you may like to seek further information on whether this is an issue.
Relatedness is a sense of safety with others – a feeling of being among friends than among foe. The Gallup Poll which is a very popular employee engagement survey ask a questions which has now become a popular question. “Do some of your best friends work with you?” Meaning to ask whether you find your work place exciting because you have people there you can trust and build long-term relationships with. Often times people want to leave an organisation when they feel they do not relate to people around them. As a manager you may like to look at whether Ben’s has relationships and a network in the organization to help him feel supported.
Fairness is a perception of fair exchanges between people. For employee retention, this would mean fair compensation. As a manager you need to pull out Ben’s compensation records and review his performance history and well as his salary and benefits increase. Has he got the right pay increases in the last two years? How does he compare with his set of peers? If he went out into the market would he make more?
Prepare for your discussion:
Based on the notes you have made and the people you have spoken to, you need to prepare for your discussion with Ben so that you can verify what domain or domains of the SCARF model is causing him demotivation to make him want to resign from the organisation. Your conversation has to be in a listening mode, asking open-ended questions and non judgemental. Begin the conversation by saying that you seek to understand. You may use this template below to record you conversation
Questions to ask
Once you have completed the conversation, ask for a follow up meeting with Ben. As a next step get your manager and your HR partner in the room to brainstorm on what the triggers for Ben to leave are. You must come to an agreement and document it. Then you must decide and what you can offer to retain Ben. (Both these conversations need to be completed within a week so that ben does not feel he is made hostage to a retention discussion). You can then go back to Ben and make the counter offer. Good luck!
1. ANDERSON, D. & ANDERSON, M. 2005. Coaching That Counts: Harnessing the Power of Leadership Coaching to Deliver Strategic Value, Elsevier Butterworth-Heinemann.
2. DENTON, KEITH 1992 Recruitment, Retention and Employee Relations
3. ROCK, DAVID 2009. Your Brain at Work: Strategies for Overcoming distratction, Regaining Focus and Working Smarter All Day long
4. ROCK, DAVID 2008 SCARF- A brain Based Model for collaborating and influencing others. Neuroleadership Journal. Issue One 2008.
Kalpana Sinha is a Leadership and Organisation Professional. Her blog has reflections from her work experiences of over 20 years.