The retention strategy orchestra: fine tuning your business for success

Just as an orchestra is made up of many different types of instruments, a company’s retention strategy requires many instruments playing together in harmony, as Brent Daub discovers

Emerging from the pandemic, businesses are experiencing a wave of resignations. Many are offering raises to convince people to stay. While higher salaries are attractive, is this healthy or even sustainable?

Some workers are looking for more money, but others are searching for something else. A wage increase can be appropriate but if the focus is only compensation, we forget the other important components of satisfying work and well-being.

Imagine you just settled into your seat at the symphony when you notice that all the musicians on stage are percussionists. There are drums, cymbals, and gongs but no other instruments. To everyone’s disappointment, the entire show is just the beating and clanging of a single instrument group.

Is this what is happening when businesses try to retain employees by playing only one instrument?

Just as an orchestra is made up of many different types of instruments, a company’s retention strategy requires many instruments playing together in harmony. While compensation is important, the volume from that section seems to be drowning out the other instruments and creating a very loud and uncomfortable sound. The conductor must get all the instruments on stage, playing the same sheet music, keeping in time, and adjusting the volume. Some instruments need to be softer, some louder.

Let’s examine the instrument groups within the retention strategy orchestra so you can fine-tune your business:

Compensation

Financial compensation for work performed is the foundation of our free-market system. Compensation is the percussion section of the workplace because it keeps the rhythm and establishes timing for other instruments to know when to join in. Compensation is the loudest and most recognisable instrument. Like the drum, a bonus when used timely can add dramatic pop. However, things get out of balance when the beating drum of compensation is the only instrument played. It gets loud. It gets annoying. Without a conductor, the drums, cymbals, gongs, and whistles create painful headaches.

Evaluate compensation by asking:

  • Do compensation and bonus models reward increased efforts and improved results?
  • Are compensation and bonuses used to solve retention challenges?
  • How is the effectiveness of raises and bonuses measured?

Compensation is more than just salary. A business can provide benefits that meet employees’ needs in ways that also reward longevity. Rather than increasing salaries and paying disconnected bonuses, consider investing in health care options, sustainable performance bonus programs, retirement programs, and leadership training.

Culture

The pandemic has been stressful for everyone. Culture is essential and not easy to build during a normal work environment. People can endure difficulties when the culture is positive, but they will leave (even when the pay is good) if the culture is toxic.

Culture impacts all levels of the organisation. Healthy cultures never happen by accident. They are the result of intentional design. Culture is created and protected by leaders who determine how the organisation behaves by what they value. The value then determines what we do and how we do it. The values may not be on the website, but they are built into the foundation of the organisation and communicate what is most important. During seasons of intense transition, people are uncertain how to behave in a changing environment, so they evaluate their actions based on what leadership has shown they value.

Evaluate culture by asking:

  • What do our actions say about what we value?
  • Are stated values different than actual values?
  • Are any values unclear or unhealthy?

If you want to change culture, you must change values. Great leaders identify and communicate core values that create workplaces people love. If leaders don’t communicate and reinforce healthy values, a toxic culture may emerge that contributes to turnover.

Coaching

Managers are the most important people in your retention strategy. No other position is more important because no other position has as much influence on your employees.

People want positive and healthy relationships with their supervisors. People also prefer coaches, not bosses necessarily. A coach is someone who helps you improve because they want you and the team to win. The best coaches don’t just improve work performance; they improve the person. Coaches don’t just teach skills for work, but skills for living. A good coach will motivate, lead, and care for your people, keeping your best workers on the team.

Evaluate coaching by asking:

  • Is poor management causing turnover?
  • How do managers communicate care for people?
  • Are people developing?

Great leaders put the right managers in place and equip them to coach, too. Receiving the ‘manager’ title is not the same as knowing how to manage. For your managers to be an effective part of the retention plan, implement a training program so managers understand organisational values and coaching strategies. Poor managers cause turnover. Even the right employee will leave under the wrong manager.

Core development

People need to develop skills to succeed in their jobs. Sometimes motivated workers leave because they are not being developed and not given experience. Great leaders implement development programs that keep teams engaged and growing. Organisations must create programs for people to learn, grow, and become effective workers.

Evaluate core development by asking:

  • Do you hire inexperienced or experienced workers?
  • How do employees learn new skills and gain experience?
  • Describe your onboarding process, training program, and leadership development plan.

Training programs can be expensive, but they are investments in your people and will keep workers engaged.

Career opportunities

Successful retention keeps the right people on the team. Businesses that ‘rent experience’ for a year or two are hit hardest by resignation cycles. Employees who see no long-term future are deciding to leave. Some may not even be leaving to make more money but are joining teams where there is a clear pathway for future success and promotion.

Evaluate career opportunities by asking:

  • Are workers leaving because of a lack of internal promotion?
  • What are the opportunities for long time growth?
  • Are top leaders brought in from outside the organisation?

A clear career path not only helps with retention, but it keeps exceptional employees engaged and provides opportunities for developing future leaders and organisational expansion. Developing internal talent is less risky than hiring outside talent for top leadership positions. It also communicates to the team that loyalty is rewarded.

Cause

Work is never just work. People want to be a significant part of something meaningful. Younger workers choose companies that make a positive impact. Employees are bombarded with news exposing ‘bad’ companies. The ‘goodness’ of a company can then be a huge contributing factor in employee retention. Resignations can compound when people leave at the same time as unestablished younger workers are highly influenced by co-workers’ actions.

Evaluate cause by asking:

  • What is the company’s mission?
  • What is the community and environmental impact?
  • What is communicated about the positive impact the organisation is making?

Employees must also hear and understand the message about the company mission. Reinforcing how workers contribute to the cause helps them stay engaged. Revisit charitable initiatives and obtain team ‘buy-in’ for new projects and fundraisers by including workers in the selection, promotion, and execution process.

Convenience

Remote working changed what and how employees think about going to work. Flexibility is essential for workers whose family needs fall outside traditional settings. Employees want control over their schedules to meet demands outside of work without discipline from supervisors or penalties to their career trajectory. Flexible working programs give employees greater control to accommodate non-work demands, such as getting children to school, grandparents to doctors, or taking time off work during the day for family responsibilities.

Even workers without family obligations enjoy freedom from daily commutes in large metropolitan cities, where traffic keeps drivers on the freeways for hours. People view commuting differently and relocated away from where they used to work. As offices reopen, workers are making job changes because they may want to live and work in different locations.

Evaluate convenience by asking:

  • Are work locations and schedules negotiable?
  • What are the flexible work options?
  • Who qualifies?

Convenient working allows employees to eliminate extended commuting and improves retention. When employees consider a job offer from similar companies, employers who provide flexibility in location and schedule have the advantage and ultimately, the upper hand.

All in all, the orchestra of retention strategies has many instruments. As the conductor of your business: make room for all instruments, keep everyone playing the same sheet music, balance the volume, and make needed adjustments often and in real time.

Dr Brent Daub is the senior founding partner of the multi-state defense law firm Gilson Daub LLP with offices throughout California, Nevada, Arizona, Hawaii, Utah, Kansas, and Missouri. Brent received a doctorate in interdisciplinary leadership (ILD) from Creighton University with his dissertation research conducted on managing attorneys in flexible working programs. He also holds a jurist doctorate (JD) and a masters’ degree in dispute resolution (MDR) from Pepperdine University School of Law and obtained a BA degree in pre-law/criminal justice from the University of Central Oklahoma.

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