The games people play

Sep 07 2007 by Charles Helliwell Print This Article

Has it ever struck you that the way organisations behave when they are attempting to retain staff is very similar to the way that mobile phone and utility companies carry on when they're threatened with the possibility of losing a customer?

This only occurred to me recently because I am currently in the throes of reviewing my mobile phone contract and looking at what other deals are out there, something I haven't felt the need to do for the past three years.

Why have I suddenly felt the urge to do this? I'm not exactly the most techno-literate person around and I tend to use my mobile phone probably to only a quarter of its capability. In other words, to make and receive calls.

Internet browsing, videocalling, FM Radio and even the camera are, for the most part, a complete mystery. And you know what, I've been a very happy bunny, just bumbling along in blind ignorance.

Until, that was, my current network provider sent me an email notification to tell me that now my contract had expired and as I hadn't upgraded, my bill was going to double.

Just like that; no explanation; no justification; just a bland email telling me that my charges from the 1st September would be double what I have been paying for the past three years for exactly the same service. Well, thank you very much! With that sort of loyalty, who needs friends.

But hunting around the marketplace and find out what mobile phones do these days and what sort of alternatives are available from the network providers has been a real eye-opener. Options that I'd barely thought about three years ago are now commonplace - and of course, everyone's got the best deal to throw at you with phones which can do almost anything except cook dinner Ė although I suspect that by the time I get around to looking again, they'll be able to do that too.

So, what does all this have to do with staff retention? Well, I was talking to one of my clients recently about the games organisations play when they are trying to retain staff who want to leave and it seemed remarkably similar to what network providers do to retain their customers.

Take my case. Would I be looking to leave if they hadn't doubled my service charges? Probably not. Would an employee be thinking of leaving if he hadn't been over-worked, under-valued and unrecognised by his employer ?

Probably not, because he actually really enjoyed his work, his colleagues and his environment. Yet because they failed to recognise this and value him accordingly, he felt he was being overlooked and his good graces were being abused.

So he found another job just as I found another network.

He went to talk to his manager about his concerns with the intention of resigning. I spoke to my network provider to get a PAC number. His employer was horrified about losing him and asked for time to make him an offer. My network provider was disappointed about possibly losing me and asked to match my current deal. His employer took him into their confidences and drew up a plan, with more responsibility and authority, more compensation and greater visibility.

On the other hand, my network provider said that they could only match the deal in parts on an 18 month contract and for an extra £5 per month in tariff. They also played the loyalty card and implied that three years of loyalty meant that I would be better looked after than I might be by a new provider.

So the employee gave his employer the benefit of the doubt and stayed. I chose to move on to pastures new, where time will tell whether my instinct was right or wrong.

What can we learn from this? Well, the rule is that generally, people prefer stability and consistency over change and uncertainty. No surprises there you may think. But what is a surprise is how casual most organisations have become about staff retention and how myopic and negligent they have become in spotting behavioural signals from their workforce.

Consequently, this sort of reactive, knee-jerk response by employers has become a de-facto standard, by which time it is often too late.

Had my network provider come to me prior to doubling my bill and offered me an alternative, then I might well have stayed. But the fact is that they didn't - and neither do most organisations when it comes to staff retention.

Or perhaps they would rather adopt the business model of the insurance sector, where customer retention is measured by the differential between those customers they gain through the top of the funnel versus those they lose out of the bottom.


About The Author

Charles Helliwell
Charles Helliwell

For almost 20 years, Charles Helliwell has been enjoying a lifestyle and making a living as a behavioural and relationship mentor specialising in the personal and professional development of individuals and teams in the workplace.