“Appreciate everything your associates do for the business. Nothing else can quite substitute for a few well-chosen, well-timed, sincere words of praise” ~ Sam Walton
Every leader desires to create an environment where people feel appreciated and, in turn, value their work and the company they work for. So much has been said about employee motivation and retention, yet it remains a constant challenge that many organizational leaders face. Leaders are left confused and unsure how to create a workplace where people are simply enthusiastic about their work and stay in their roles. This month, we focus on motivating and retaining talented people for quality outcomes so high turnover and constantly trying to replace good people isn’t a point of frustration.
“A Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults revealed that one in two had left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career” (Harter & Adkins, 2015). So when 50% of people leave their job due to their supervisor, it’s important for supervisors to understand the actions necessary to retain staff so that turnover is not an issue. The problem is that when leaders think about turnover, they often refer to the actions they take after they have hired staff and not before or during, which is two-thirds of the game when it comes to motivating and retaining your talent. We offer a model for ensuring that your staff are the right people in the first place and then ready to go when they join the organization and need your support to grow, add value, and improve performance.
Leadership Assumption: Motivating our employees to improve productivity and retention is something we focus on for our current staff.
A well-known reading strategy that good readers inherently understand is called “before, during, and after,” (BDA) which refers to what good readers do before reading, during reading, and after reading a selected text. Simply described, readers who prepare themselves for the text of their choice by thinking about where they left off and what might happen next, who think during their reading time by summarizing and pausing to improve comprehension, and who then after reading reflect on the content of what they read, either fiction or nonfiction, have stronger reading success than those who approach a text as a singular experience. The fact is that the same is true for motivating and retaining staff. More of the motivation and retention happens before and during the hiring process than can ever happen after we hire someone to join our team. And, as Collins (2001) stated, if you have any inclination to micromanage someone, you’ve likely made a hiring mistake. We introduce a BDA model with 4 components in each so that hiring managers don’t make any critical errors in motivating and retaining key staff for organizational fitness and ultimate success.
Before You Hire
#1. Know the type of employee you want in general.
The first aspect of hiring new staff and motivating and retaining them is developing a set of key attributes that you want in every new (and existing) person in your organization. In other words, if you had to describe the personality of your desired candidate, what kind of person would you like them to be? These characteristics are not skills or technical expertise but rather general dispositions. And, they are critical to define for employee motivation and retention because supervisors won’t even be inclined to motivate and retain people who doesn’t match the personal attributes that the supervisor desires in her direct reports. We developed three that we think are the most important (and to serve as an example):
- A positive attitude. We are looking for people with a consistently positive attitude who see possibilities and who only view obstacles as challenges to overcome.
- A desire to grow. We are looking for people who crave feedback and want growth opportunities, both personally and professionally.
- A strong work ethic. We are looking for people who care to make a contribution by working hard every day.
#2. Know what you need from the employee who is filling the position.
The second aspect to consider before hiring that lends to motivation and retention is the key needs you have in any new position for hire or vacancy. These are the skills and expertise that you require your new person to have or easily obtain. These are not experiences but rather talents that people have and a track record and pattern of excellence in applying their talents (Gallup, 1999).
#3. Have a clear vision and core values.
If you can’t explain your organization’s vision and core values in less than 30 seconds, they don’t exist. Employees are motivated by the WHY in an organization more than they are by money, fame, or the people with whom they work (Sinek, 2011). Your organization’s vision should be clear and communicated. Your values should be something that attracts applicants, which will also retain them since they joined the organization because of their moral compass and not just a paycheck.
#4. Communicate the role of the job — Posting.
The final strategy to use for employee motivation and retention before you hire staff is to ensure that the job posting clearly communicates the first three aspects above. The posting should not be generic. Instead, it should communicate the desired personality traits, the skills necessary for success, and the company’s vision and core values. Think of it this way…a generic posting will attract a generic candidate, but a specific posting will attract exactly what you’re looking for.
During the Hiring Process
#1. Go slow.
The first aspect of employee motivation and retention to consider during your hiring process is the speed at which you onboard a new hire. Most companies consider a vacancy with urgency and hire fast to fill the void. Bad idea. We say “go slow” when hiring. Slow your hiring process down to be sure that you’re getting the right person on the team. A fast hire might seemingly get someone to fill your urgent needs, and the work you’re doing yourself to fill those needs in the meantime, but imagine all the work you’ll do if the person isn’t a good fit and needs “endless rounds of feedback and a painful performance improvement plan” (McKeown, 2014).
#2. Be creative in your interview process.
When you’re hiring people who you need to be motivated and who you want to stay with your organization for the long haul, think differently about your interview process. The typical question-and-answer process isn’t good enough to scout talent. You need more than that with rounds of interviews, including group interviews, panel interviews, speed-dating-style interviews, and any number of first, second, and third rounds as you narrow your pool down to the very best person.
#3. Include a performance task.
People are motivated by the work itself when they feel confident in producing results. Never hire anyone before seeing the product of their labor. It’s best when you can see them in action, but when that’s not possible, it’s important to provide mock scenarios or request sample work products.
#4. Communicate the role of the job — Interview Questions.
At every step of the employee motivation and retention BDA strategy, we have “communicate the role of the job.” Before hiring, the communication comes in the job posting. During the hiring process, it happens through the interview questions. Too often, leaders have a set of interview questions that are used for every vacant position. That’s not good enough if you’re interest is in gathering the right intel about the person on the other side of the interview table. The questions themselves should be tailored to the role that you’re trying to fill in terms of the personal attributes, talents, and core values that you want the person to have. General questions about background and experiences can be gleaned from a resume but too often find themselves on the list of boring interview questions.
After You Hire
#1. Pressure + Support = Growth
You can’t put pressure in a system if you don’t have the supports in place, and you can’t begin to be supportive if you haven’t put the right pressure in the system to then support what you’re pressuring. Some leaders who think they are being supportive really haven’t applied enough pressure to support movement and are simply supporting the status quo. Even worse is the leader who applies pressure to people and then leaves them hanging without the resources and materials to do their jobs effectively. The result of a high pressure, highly supportive work environment is extreme growth. The equation works in that the more pressure you put, the more support is needed, and the more growth you’ll get. As much as humans seem to loathe change, growth and progress are two keys to happiness (Winfrey, 2015) and lead to real motivation and high rates of retention within organizations.
Leaders have to be present, really present, for the people they serve. We often confuse our service intentions with a focus on the customer, but it should be a focus on the people who directly serve the customer and usually the leader is not that person. We have to be present for our people if we want to be in touch with their needs. That means spending our time in their spaces and not in our offices or conference rooms. When you’re present as a leader, it’s easy to find quick moments to praise the work that people are doing. On-going and systematic praise are critical and people are motivated by the praise they receive from their direct supervisor. This model of being present and giving praise in the moment leads to productivity at a new level and productive happy employees are more apt to stay in their positions and work hard for the organization’s goals.
#3. Risk + Autonomy = Innovation
“Any sector of business depends and thrives on fresh, original thinking, taking chances, and exploring new ideas” (DiFebo, 2016). When you couple the freedom to take risks with the autonomy to do your job as you see fit, the result is innovation. Leaders have to support new ideas, the passion that individuals bring to the table, and a different way of doing business. When we encourage people to think outside of the normal business-as-usual constraints and we honor their individuality, we not only get highly motivated and loyal people but we garner new strategies, new products, and new processes for doing business from them. This makes all the difference in companies that flourish versus those who fail.
#4. Communicate the role of the job — Performance Appraisals.
The final aspect of employee motivation and retention for the people we already have on our team is our performance appraisal systems or, unfortunately, the lack thereof in some organizations who are missing the mark. When employees don’t get feedback, it can be disengaging. Even worse can be a system that isn’t aligned to the goals of the organization or is too cumbersome to understand or is too infrequent to matter. These three deadly sins of appraisals have to be avoided. Instead, appraisals should motivate people to continue on their path with guidance or to change directions. In any case, the appraisal system must continue to communicate the employee’s role long after they are hired into it, and it should support their sense of belonging through a refocus on their purpose each time you meet one-on-one. “These one-on-one meetings allow you to set goals and define how you want these goals to be achieved” (Olenski, 2015).
Let’s Meet Jacob…
Jacob is an eager 23 year old architect whose recent accomplishments include his graduate school diploma from Virginia Tech. He’s looking for a firm that he can call home so he’s job hunting, and he has the credentials and talent to be picky. During his internship, he set the stage, learned a great deal about the technical side of the business, and, most importantly, he learned how critical it is to feel valued as an employee. Now, as he looks at his options, he’s really paying attention to the core values and vision of the firms that are most intriguing to him. While searching their sites, he looks for clear communication and a true sense of purpose. His top pick is loosely based on a video that one firm has posted on their website’s main page where the CEO addresses viewers about the company’s vision and their core values for doing business in a specialized field. This firm’s name is DesignTeam456.
Jacob has a lot to offer and any firm he applies to would be silly not to make him an offer, but he’s not searching for the biggest paycheck or fanciest package. He wants to make a name for himself through his contributions. He’s far more interested in the poetic freedom of design than he is with the prestige of a big-name firm so he’s not concerned about the size of the company. As he looks through the job postings, he’s searching for clear and specific responsibilities. He doesn’t even consider anything generic. In fact, it scares him to think about the jobs that don’t provide the details he’s looking for.
He submits a professional resume and work samples to three firms, including the one where the CEO made the video about his vision. In reflecting on his three experiences, Jacob liked the feel of the company that reviewed his samples closely, asked him to perform a task using some of their design software, and left ample time at the end of the interview for Jacob to ask questions.
His questions were about being able to take risks, a few ideas he had about how to land new clients, and flexibility with time–he wants to work from home one day a week, go to the gym in the middle of the day when possible, and work on his own personal projects when he isn’t slammed with a deadline. This was also the firm that, when they called him back, told him that they weren’t interested in him taking the job as a stepping-stone to something bigger. They wanted a committed teammate, and given quality performance, they would find upward mobility for his career. They even mentioned that performance appraisals would be tied back to his role and the contributions he’s making as an individual and on the team.
Jacob took the job with DesignTeam456 even though both of the other firms made him an offer as well, one of which offered a far better starting salary.
Getting to Simple
Managing people may be complex but it doesn’t have to be complicated. The steps above are not something that have to be out of reach for organizational leaders. It takes planning and preparation and the desire to motivate and retain top talent, which starts before and during the hiring process, not just with your current staff.
strategies that empower individuals to lead better and grow faster.
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Collins, J. (2001). Good to great. New York: HarperCollins Publisher, Inc.
DiFebo, V. (2016). The one thing every company gets wrong about innovation. Fortune 500.
Gallup. (1999). First break all the rules: What the world’s greatest managers do differently. New York: Gallup Press.
Harter, J. & Adkins, A. (2015). Employees want a lot more from their managers. Business Journal. 4.
McKeown, G. (2014). Hire slow, fire fast. Harvard Business Review.
Olenski, S. (2015). 7 Tips to better employee retention. Forbes.
Sinek, S. (2011). Start with why: How great leaders inspire everyone to take action. London: Penguin Books.
Winfrey, G. (2015). Tony Robbins on how to motivate yourself and others: The best-selling author explains his philosophy for achieving financial freedom. Inc.com.