It has been an interesting year, gang, hasn't it? At the beginning, it felt like we'd really started to put a lot of the COVID disruption behind us, but the continued financial pressures took hold and have made for a tough year for many businesses and sectors. There still seems to be quite a high degree of uncertainty about the future, where business survival and consolidation remain the number one focus.
Now, from my perspective, as someone who's trying to help businesses get stickier from the inside out, and help them drive engagement, retention and sustainable success, it feels like there are three camps emerging.
Three Camps Emerging
There's those businesses that I think continue to believe and see the benefits from, a focus on engagement, retention and culture development. There's those that also like the idea of it but are still a little unsure about pulling the trigger on it, and need some help and convincing to get things going. And then there's still some businesses out there, I think, burying their heads in the sand and hoping the need for all this culture stuff and change will just go away. The thing is, I don't think it will.
If anything, the themes that I think will continue to emerge going forward will be around certainty and purpose. So what can you do to show and connect your people to where the business is going and why and how they are contributing to something bigger and perhaps more meaningful?
Facing Into The Generational and Labour Headwinds
In a number of episodes of my Sticky From The Inside Podcast this year, we've talked about the headwinds coming, punctuated by the generational shift that's going on in the workplace that's expected to leave a large skills gap with people opting out of the labor market and the effects of Brexit in the UK also all contributing to a gap of about two and a half million people when we want to fill the job vacancies that we're going to have in the next six years or so. So in this country, the labour pool will continue to feel smaller. It will be harder to find and get the talent that you want and need. So retention and development is going to be even more important. I'm afraid burying your head in the sand isn't going to help.
Twelve Retention Tips For 2024
So with that in mind, and on a Christmas and New Year theme, I thought I'd share my twelve retention tips for 2024. These are some tips I shared at a recent client conference. I think they give everybody something to think about and act on that can have a positive effect on enabling your people to bring their best selves to work and give them far more reasons to stay than just a paycheck. And it will also, I hope, do wonders for your employer brand over time, in organically attracting good people to you and your business. So sit back and tune in as I unwrap my twelve retention tips for a happy, productive and prosperous 2024.
You can listen to the podcast episode these tips came from here too. Yes, that's a picture of a dog on the episode badge. All will become clear if you listen...
Tip #1 - Align Your Vision Mission & Values To Your People
Number one. Moving your company vision, mission and values from what appears on your marvelous wall mural to what's in the mindset of your people is the key to seeing true benefit from them. If you aren't using your vision mission and values to guide behavior and keep everybody clear, aligned and moving in the same direction. You are missing a big retention trick, my friends. People like to know where they're going and that they're going. With like minded individuals, it brings a sense of certainty, trust and belonging. And right now that is what people are looking for.
Tip #2 Retention Is The New Recruitment
Tip number two. Retention is the new recruitment. Every business needs a retention champion. You need to listen, understand and support your team to keep them. For years, businesses have had recruitment specialists, whole departments focused on recruitment and we now need retention specialists. And arguably, and I would argue this strongly, this is not just one person's job, it's all of our jobs. But really understanding and responding to your employees' voices and addressing their skill gaps now will pay dividends as we face these headwinds that are coming in the future.
Tip #3 "If I'm Learning I'm Not Leaving"
Tip number three. If I'm learning, I'm not leaving. Don't give training. Encourage learning and development. Think about what is available for your team members that helps them grow, stretch and develop. Now, Dan Pink wrote a brilliant book called Drive that talked about the three keys to human motivation. And they are Purpose - being part of something bigger. Autonomy - being able to get on with things and not feel micromanaged. And Mastery - feeling like you're on top of your game and constantly learning and improving. Now ask yourself, how can you make learning and development feel relevant to the business and the individual? And have some fun with it too.
Tip #4 Appreciate The Rainbow
Tip number four. Appreciate and recognise the rainbow you're working under. Try and see everyone as an individual. Each brings different skills and perspectives, and then adapt your style to get the best from them. Now, as a leader, remember, it's not your people's job to adapt to you, it's your job to adapt to them and that is how you will release their full potential. Also remember, one person's idea of hell is another's nirvana. Take the time to understand, not assume what your team, enjoy doing and are good at. Recognise and utilise all the colours at play in your team or organisation's rainbow because this is what will help you all enjoy and benefit from its collective power.
Tip #5 Set Each Generation Up For Success
Tip number five. Set each generation in the workplace up for success. Individual and generational learning styles can be very different. Xers like me, mainly respect authority. Millennials are generally more curious and need to understand the why behind stuff. And Z's? Well, they just want to know the truth and in very many cases it's their truth they're searching for. But don't ever assume that age means you can't do something. Whilst there is much to be learned from each generation's preferences and their background context as to how they were brought up. It's actually all about understanding how you can set each and every individual up for success by understanding what it is they need to bring out their best more often.
Tip #6 Set Up Open & Transparent Communication Channels
Tip number six. Open and transparent communication channels are absolutely essential for building trust and fostering collaboration. Remember, communication is a two-way street, guys, if you want to foster trust. And if you ask a question, be prepared to respond to all the answers, not just the ones you like, or are easy to answer, or fit with your existing plans, or perhaps perspective. The two simplest ways to effectively manage for trust come from the work of Professor Paul Zach and his book Trust Factor. Really simple things. Firstly, share information more broadly. The trust signals that sends out are completely untold. And recognise excellence, which sounds obvious, but sometimes we forget to thank the good stuff because we're preconditioned to dealing with the problem stuff.
Tip #7 Bust Down Silos To Improve Everything
Tip number seven. Busting down silos in an organisation is by far the fastest way to improve engagement, problem solving, productivity and liberate creative thinking. The sad fact is that 67% of most organisations' employees are simply present. They turn up but don't give you their best effort or ideas. In the main, it's because no one's ever asked for them. Now, in most cases, I do believe two heads are better than one. Now, by championing collaboration and actively rooting out siloed thinking, you can bring a wider perspective to your thinking and give people the opportunity to be and feel involved, to contribute, to share ideas, and altogether build stronger relationships that move the business and the individuals forward.
Tip #8 Don't Trade Values For Short-term Gains
Number eight. Please don't trade your values for short term gains. Tolerating and rewarding poor behavior will quickly destroy your culture and lose you good people. This is one of the biggest, yet toughest actions I think you can take to boost your culture and the levels of retention in your business. Now, we've all been there where the absolute ar*e in the company keeps winning the plaudits and awards. They're great at their job, but they're awful at the people stuff. And it drives good people nuts and often out the door. So look, never underestimate the power of getting shot of those culture killers in your business. The energising power and conviction it shows you have in the values and behaviors that drive the business could shock you.
Tip #9 Treat "I'm Fine" As A Warning Sign
Tip number nine. Treat I'm fine as a warning sign. Watch out for changes in behaviour as a signal to offer help. In a lot of the work I do, and particularly where I'm an associate at Purple Story, we're very big fans of the check-in at the start and end of any development session that we run. And we do it to understand how people are feeling and where people's heads are at before we start a session. What it does is it helps us see where we might need to put a bit of attention, where we might need to put an arm around the shoulder, or perhaps where we might need to sort of just back off. Now, when we hear the words "I'm fine" in that check-in, our spidey senses go off. So look out for the brush-off behavior, or tiny changes in demeanor because these are often signs that something isn't right. And your ability to see that and deal with this stuff and really noticing the individual makes an incredible difference in trust, relationships, collaboration and all those good things that drive retention, but especially a sense of belonging.
Tip #10 Maximise Initial Excitement With Great Onboarding
Tip number ten. Great onboarding quickly turns initial excitement into engagement, retention and productivity. You can maximise that sense of excitement with an onboarding program that immediately makes it clear what you loved about that candidate so much that you ended up hiring them. Why does the company need them? And specifically, how are they going to be contributing to success? Answer these questions on day one and you can launch someone into the stratosphere. Also, see them as the baggage-free gift that they are. Because for the first 90 days, they come fresh as a daisy. And asking them for their honest and clear feedback on how the cultural promise your businesses make matches up to the reality is a great way to check that you're matching up properly. Also, this very act alone sends huge trust messages and reinforces the importance of your values and culture from the get-go.
Tip #11 Retention. It Can Not Be All About The Money
Tip number eleven. Retention. It cannot be all about the money. If you make it that, it's a fast race to the bottom. It has to be about so much more. If people are talking about leaving you for pence in the pound, that is the piece that's broken the camel's back. There's far more behind it than that. But having said all of that, if you don't have the right table stakes, you're not in the game. If you're not paying a fair wage, you have no hope of bringing retention to the fore.
Tip #12 Be Kind, Not Nice.
And finally, number twelve. Be a kind leader. Not a nice one. To retain talent and foster effective cultures, I think we have to be authentic leaders who prioritise kindness over niceness, and I think this is a mistake loads of us make. Kind leaders genuinely care about their team's well-being, growth and development. They prioritise empathy and support and don't duck out of having difficult conversations. They tell people what they need to hear, not what they want to hear. And in my experience, kind leaders build the best, most loyal and capable teams.
So there are my twelve retention tips for 2024. I think picking any single or combination of those things, depending on where you, your team, or your business is, will, I'm sure, make you stickier. It's never too late to invest in this stuff, and with the emerging future ahead of us, the winners are going to be the people and businesses that take this stuff seriously.