One Size Fits… One: Treating your talent like your clients

Can you imagine a company having a tagline that reads “one size fits all?”

Probably not. Instead, we see words like… Bespoke. Personalized. Tailored.

Companies want to let customers know that there’s not a one-size-fits-most and you’ll get white-glove treatment with customized solutions specifically fit to your business, goals and challenges.

But when it comes to talent management, companies are struggling with retention in record-breaking numbers because their ‘bespoke solutions’ are more externally focused than internally. And if The Great Resignation has shown us anything, it’s that one size fits… one.

A common thought among young professionals who have gotten behind The Great Resignation? “It’s not my job to teach my company how to retain talent when so many other companies have prioritized and mastered it.” This is especially prevalent when they feel like the organization doesn’t want to learn, a conclusion often reached when organizations refrain from open discussion and inquiry paired with lack of action. According to research conducted by The Everest Group, professional advancement is the number-two driving factor behind the Great Resignation, something that companies did not include as a top factor in retaining talent (reference).

For many companies, throwing money at the problem may seem like a quick fix, but research supports that money isn’t enough to retain talent. Most people aren’t leaving their organizations solely for more money — they’re leaving for development opportunities and purpose. And, contrary to popular belief, purpose does not have to be tied to the organization, the mission, the client or the team. It can be tied to the future (ex. Consider helping your employee to job shape).

While this can seem like a daunting overhaul for a lot of managers or organizations, this should be viewed more as an opportunity to go-slow-to-go-fast. Much like you can’t build trust with a client overnight, a large change starts with small steps.

(1) Set realistic retention metrics.

Be prepared to take an honest look in the mirror (and at the data).  In today’s day and age, most companies are not going to retain entry or mid-level talent through to retirement. You wouldn’t settle for a client telling is “the best outcome possible” because it’s not a measurable success metric, so you shouldn’t settle for “as long as possible” regarding talent retention.

Determine what a good tenure would be for your organization in specific roles or departments. Aim to meet that number.

(2) Managers win when their team wins.

Your goal as a manager is to manage the work through your people. If you’re a director, your role is to manage your managers. The farther up you go, the farther away you should be getting from the day-to-day work. Your success relies on the results of the people who report to you. That can be a tough pill to swallow and often why so many team members complain of micro-management. The best way to figure out what your people need is to ask: “What’s the best way I can support you, so you’re set up to win?” Anticipate the answer varying by person and be prepared to shape shift into that role (ex. you may be surprised to learn that your most seasoned individual contributor that just got promoted to manager would prefer to meet 2x a week while they navigate the transition).

(3) Curiosity it key.

Managers often worry about discussing career trajectories for fear of opening a can of worms. They fear the conversation will result in verbalized wishes that can’t be granted so they often – albeit unintentionally and subconsciously – err on the side of ignorance being bliss.

Your top performers are likely assessing what they can get from your role or organization and how it can translate to the next – even if the next one is years down the line. The talent you’re worried about losing are likely already thinking about these things; it’s the reason a lot of employees are saying “too little too late” when they’ve tendered their resignation and are being counter-offered. It’s better to get ahead and know what would keep them before they set their sight on something new. (And it’s never too early or too often to start having this conversation with employees).

Tips for navigating these conversations:

  • Ask open ended questions.
  • Ask them to craft their dream job as they know it today. Preface that this will likely – and should! – continue to take shape; nothing needs to be set in stone. If that’s too daunting or theoretical for some, ask about what gives them energy in their day-to-day job. Ask what drains them. Refrain from interjecting with your own input (ex. “That drains you?! But you’re so good at it!”).
  • Ask what else they’ve been curious about and if there’s anything they’ve been wanting to learn. Ask about this from both a professional AND a personal standpoint.
  • Thank them for their time. The conversations and vulnerability may be really challenging and uncomfortable for some. Summarize what you’ve heard and let them know you plan to continue the discussion.

Understand that professional development is going to look different for everyone.  When you have enough of these conversations, you can work on getting the right people into better seats that are more suited to their desired growth. Know that “better seats” does not have to mean new roles or titles – it can mean giving that weekly hour task that drains them to someone else and filling that hour with something more fulfilling. And remember this: what drains someone might energize someone. While not all solutions will be as seamless as two people swapping tasks, the more you know, the more strategically you can move. 

The ultimate goal is to be playing less organizational Jenga and more Tetris.

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