They’re leaving in their droves – this new breed of employees, and there seems little anyone can do about it. You invest time, money and effort into training them, only to be rewarded with: “Thanks for everything, I’m leaving.� And all you have to show for your costly investment in human capital is a one sentence resignation note, and your competitors’ smug smiles as they poach your talent.Sure high turnover is not a new battle that management faces, but these days the nature of the struggle is. It used to be that the best would stay and the mediocre would fall away – but now the best are leaving. Why? Because they can. And so we’re starting to feel the pinch of working in a free market environment – where the most talented individuals have the most negotiating power. Success is no longer determined by your position on the organizational chart (which gave managers their traditional power through the promise of promotion for performance), it’s determined by the marketable skills you have and the tangible results that have your name on it.
As for security, we’re living and moving in a post jobs era – with chaotic markets, and unstable resource needs. No more can companies offer the refuge of long-term employment to it’s employees. Security has become the responsibility of the individual, and the new generation of employees not only understands that, they’ve accepted it – and have risen to the challenge. They may look like disloyal job-hoppers, but in reality, their loyalty is to themselves (who will fend for them if they don’t?), and their job-hopping ensures continuous learning and the acquisition of new marketable skills.
That’s their predicament, and now that you have a little more insight into theirs – let’s look at yours: How do you retain these talented individuals? Remember: it’s the talented ones who’re leaving, and you want to keep them.
The simple answer is: “You can’t.� Long term employment is fast becoming history, and the sooner you accept that the better.
The knotty answer is: “You can, for a bit� – if you redefine long term employment. Let them go without saying goodbye, don’t slam the front door, and keep your back door wide open. Expect that they’ll work for you (and various other employers) on an “on and off� basis. One year as an employee, the next as a consultant, the next as a telecommuter or flexi-timer, then an employee again. Does it really matter what their title is – as long as the job gets done and you’re getting a return on your investment.
The toughest answer is: “You can� – if you radically restyle the contract. If you can’t offer security, you can’t ask for long-term commitment and loyalty. You can’t offer the security of long-term employment, so is there any other security on offer? The scary answer is that the more marketable and mobile your best employees feel, the more likely they are to stay with you. You have to develop them beyond their current job functions and ensure they’re continually developing.
That’s all good & well, but it still doesn’t answer the burning question – how exactly do we keep ‘em from leaving so soon! This is where the seven bribes come in handy … seven reasons that would motivate bright young things to stay on. It’s a framework that requires your input, and your personalization depending on the industry and business you’re in – it’s an ideas backbone, you add the flesh.

  • 1. Performance based compensation: Bright young things want to know that if they work harder and better they will be rewarded in direct proportion to the value they add. Pay for performance, nothing else – in fact, maybe it’s time to stop paying people and start buying their results.
  • 2. Flexibility is a big carrot. They want to know that as long as they’re meeting goals and deadlines; they will have some control over their own schedules (and even location) if possible. Why measure their input if it’s their output you really want? Is the right process as important as achieving the right product at the right time?
  • 3. Marketable Skills: “I’m gonna stick around if I’m continuously challenged at work, learning new proficiencies and improving myself all the time. As soon as the job becomes just a job, or I get bored – I’m gone.â€?
  • 4. Communication: Their security lies in their resourcefulness, and how will they know that they’re still needed if there’s no regular feedback. Forget 6 or 12 monthly reviews – try a word or two daily. Bruce Tulgan preaches FAST feedback – Frequent, Accurate, Specific and Timely.
  • 5. Recognition: Money moves people, recognition motivates them. Personal credit for results achieved, means they can put their names on concrete results. “I want a claim to fame, rather than simply making my boss look good!â€?
  • 6. Ownership: Two people can’t be responsible for the same task. Give them a clear area of responsibility and try not to look over their shoulders all the time – micromanagement is a morale killer. Be specific on goals and deadlines, then hand over the keys.
  • 7. Creative Expression (and fun): Messages like – “There aren’t a lot of rules here,â€? and “What do you think?â€? go a long way to give them a sense of the Sinatra Syndrome they long for … “I did it my way!â€?

Apply these principles and you might just hang on long enough to get a decent return on your investment – but the hard fact is that they’re likely to leave anyway… and that’s OK. Lifetime employment is only dead for those employers irrevocably attached to the old fashioned, one-size fits all model of hiring & firing (full-time, on site, uninterrupted). For those willing to reinvent their companies as fluid & flexible organizations – long live long term employment.

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