Looking after talent is vital in a downturn

Sep 25 2008 by Nic Paton Print This Article

Despite the economy taking a nosedive and more firms cutting jobs, U.S managers say they are now spending more time working on retaining key staff, including paying them bonuses and sending them on training courses.

According to a poll of more than 530 HR and other professionals by recruitment firm Personnel Decisions International, nearly a third ranked "accelerating development of key employees" as their top strategy when it came to retaining top talent, followed by "competitive pay and benefits".

"It may seem counter-intuitive that organisations are more concerned with retaining key employees in a down economy. But, when the economy is tight, company leaders realise that the best and brightest talent can give the organisation a competitive advantage," explained Tommy Daniel, senior vice president at PDI.

"Unfortunately, with fewer resources, many employees are overworked and worried about the future and look outside the company for other opportunities. That's why focusing on the right retention tools is more important than ever," he added.

Of course, giving managers a bit of training in these sorts of areas before letting them loose always helps. Unfortunately, by and large, this rarely happens, a separate poll has suggested.

A study by e-learning firm SkillSoft has found that "managing people" is something managers in Europe and the UK feel most inadequately prepared for, despite it being such a central part of the manager's job.

In the U.S, it is "project management" that throws most managers Ė again one of the most basic management tasks Ė although managing people still comes third, according to the poll of more than 6,000 workers.

In fact, overall, seven out of 10 workers polled said they had been asked to accomplish tasks without receiving proper training beforehand.

Two thirds of the North American workers polled agreed that training would have helped had they received it before doing certain tasks in their jobs.

"This survey not only shows the significance of leadership training, but it also proves workers need to be trained at all stages of their careers," said John Ambrose, senior vice president of strategy, corporate development and emerging business at SkillSoft.

"Regardless of a company's training programme, on-boarding plays a key role in getting employees properly acclimated, and as the employee matures, efforts need to fit the specific employee role," he added.

The PDI research, meanwhile, identified the need for senior leaders to make the effort to get out of their offices and speak one-on-one with key employees as one of the most effective methods of retaining staff.

"Leaders can ask key employees to participate in strategy discussions that make the employee feel more invested in the company and more involved in developing company solutions," argued Daniel.

Other recommendations included identifying top performers and high-potential employees, tracking turnover rates of these key employees separately from overall turnover figures and investing in developmental opportunities for key employees, it added.

The importance of face-to-face contact when it comes to engagement and retention has been echoed in a poll by U.S firm Employee Hold'em, which concluded that engagement "soared" when workers had direct, daily involvement with their supervisors or managers.

Worryingly, nearly six out of 10 workers said they were not fully engaged, according to the poll of more than 2,000 employees.

Having a good relationship with a supervisor was a key element of feeling engaged, cited by nearly eight out of 10 workers, it found.

Other important factors included having the right equipment to do the job, the authority to accomplish their job, the freedom to make work decisions, a job where the employer's products or services were highly regarded and having skills or interests that were a good fit with the organisation.

"By enhancing understanding of organisational practices and employee priorities, attitudes, behaviours and intentions, organisations can recruit, retrain, reward and retain productive and effective employees," said Marc Drizin, founder and chief executive of Employee Hold'em.