You Recruited – Now Retain! 4 Strategies For Keeping Top Talent (part 2)

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recruitment & retention

During one ​coaching session I talked to an agency owner who lost some top-performing employees within a short time frame. During their exit interviews, these employees assured the owner that it was nothing personal - they were leaving to pursue evolving career goals. 

It’s an explanation that people always use when they don’t want to get into the details. How many times have you had to tell a non-performing employee that “It’s not working out?” In this case, they are essentially telling you the same thing.

If you wait until key employees leave to find out why they chose to move on, you’ve lost two golden opportunities:

  • To keep your best performers on board
  • Identify and correct problems in your agency before more people resign

In this second part of a 2-part series on recruitment and retention, I would like to discuss why employee retention is so important, common reasons why people leave, and how you can make your agency a place where people are eager to build their careers.

Why Is Employee Retention So Important?

Like other agency owners, you need quality talent and stability in a tight economy. Losing a member of staff can be very disruptive and stressful (for those who have to pick up their workload).   Another reason why retention should be at the top of your agenda is that the cost of turnover is high: depending on the employee’s position, you could be spending up to 2.5 times their salary to replace them. Given the fact that the average turnover rate in UK agencies is around 20%, costs can quickly become prohibitive.

There are also other costs, like reduced productivity and disengagement among your current workforce, some of whom may ultimately decide to leave too.

The good news is that talent exodus is not inevitable. Although people can and will leave for reasons beyond your control (and which have nothing to do with your agency), there are proven ways to increase retention, and they start after you say, “You’re hired.”

The Challenge Begins After Hiring

In part 1 of this series, I explained how retention starts during the recruiting process. From reviewing CVs and screening applicants to conducting first and second interviews, you seek candidates who are a good cultural fit and have career goals that mirror what your agency has to offer. This involves:

  • Looking beyond what’s written on their CV
  • Asking the right questions and listening carefully to the answers (especially around their values)
  • Looking for signs of commitment and loyalty - did they work for a previous employer for many years? Or have they had three jobs in the last four years?

After weeks (maybe even months) of interviewing, you find the right person. You make the offer, they accept it. Now you can rest easy.

Not so fast. This is when the challenge begins, not when it ends. It can take new employees an average of eight months to get up to speed, and to make the transition as successful as possible, your agency needs a strong induction process.

What Makes An Induction Process Strong?

Starting a new job can be an exciting yet stressful experience for anyone. When you have a process in place that introduces them to colleagues and outlines what their first few weeks will be like (down to the nearest hour), you’ll raise their confidence and set them up for success. 

Recommended steps include:

  • Pairing them with a ‘work buddy’ who can answer all of their questions, especially about things that they might not want to ask their manager.
  • Offer (and seek) formal feedback regularly, especially at the beginning. As they become more comfortable with their duties, less input will be necessary.
  • Make sure that the employee understands what they need to do to pass your agency’s probation period. If you’re not sure about their suitability at the end of this period, don’t extend it and hope that things will work out. Either the employee is a good fit, or they aren’t!

It is important to have realistic expectations. Even the most experienced employees need time and support as they settle into their new roles and understand how your agency operates. Clarify what you want them to focus on and achieve during the probationary period, and keep the momentum going until you know for sure whether or not they’re going to work out.  If you take a formalised pragmatic approach to onboarding a new employee then you should never have to extend their probation period.

Let the Retention Begin!

Your new hire has passed their probationary period and joined your team. Congratulations! Now you need to give yourself the best chance of retaining them for the long-term.  Proven retention strategies include:

  • Regular reviews with each team member. Develop a template for carrying out appraisals so that each one is fair and based on the same criteria.  AND take a keep it simple approach.
  • Encouraging collaboration. In the beginning, new employees will need you to set their objectives. As they become more familiar with the role and your expectations, let them recommend their own objectives and present them to you for review and approval. When staff have early input into their responsibilities, you’ll have more buy-in.
  • Use SMART objectives. More on those below.

Set SMART Objectives

Keeping an excellent new employee means that you have to be smart. To be more precise, you need to use SMART objectives that establish a definite roadmap for their career progression. Vague and ambiguous goals don’t provide the direction needed to inspire top performers - they need to know what’s expected, when, and how you want them to achieve those objectives.  I guarantee that a vague ambiguous objectives will lead to misunderstandings and frustration so take the time to get this right.

Below is an overview on how this acronym (which stands for specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and having a set time frame) can apply to performance management at your agency. 

The meaning of SMART

  • Specific: Be precise about the goals for their position. Avoid generalised objectives such as “increase account revenues.” Instead, provide a clear goal that the employee can work towards, such as “increase account revenues by 25% by the end of our financial year.
  • Measurable: Make sure that the employee understands how you will be measuring performance against each goal. It helps if you be as precise as possible by saying something like, “I would like you to increase sales among our London accounts by 10% during the first quarter.”  
  • Attainable: While it’s fine to set ambitious goals, especially with employees who love a good challenge, these goals need to be attainable. Even high achievers will soon be demotivated and leave when you create unrealistic benchmarks for success. The idea is to create challenges that give them an opportunity to shine.
  • Realistic: Assign goals that are realistic given the employee’s role and experience. If they have little to no experience with a service that your agency offers, make the goals more modest until they have acquired more proficiency.
  • Timeframe: Provide a time frame for goal attainment. Without one, you risk creating an ongoing task that’s impossible to measure. This step requires you to take attainable and realistic goals and consider how long it will take the employee to achieve them.
  • Use Retention Strategies

    Succeeding in your employee retention efforts requires you to think about what matters most to your team. While everyone is different in terms of goals and values, practically all employees want the following:

    • Work that challenges and excites you
    • Compensation that is equal to or above current market rates
    • A good benefits package
    • Appreciation, recognition and fair treatment from their employer

    Think about what retention incentives you can put in place. Successful strategies include:

    • A focus on education. A commitment to training and professional development will be perceived by your workforce as an investment in them and provide them with a major incentive to stay with your agency.
    • Salary increases based on merit. Fair compensation and a merit-based bonus strategy are always top of the list of employee wants. You can further inspire loyalty by sending a sincerely-worded email of appreciation for a job well done or giving them an extra day off.
    • Flexible working conditions. Flexible working conditions go a long way toward helping employees feel they are valued.  When you give people the option of working from home, a flexible schedule, and/or a CSR programme so they can do charity work, job satisfaction and loyalty both go up.
    • Attractive benefits package. Review your benefits package to confirm that it meets the needs of your staff. Some people value added perks like gym memberships while others prefer paid more paid sick days or employment development opportunities.
    • Pointing out future possibilities. Talk to each new hire about how their role, responsibilities, and pay can increase as their abilities and achievements grow. Schedule regular performance reviews so that they can see their progression. When your staff can envision a future at your agency, they’re less likely to explore other opportunities. 
    • Promoting from within. Rewarding your current talent instead of looking outside the company will make them feel valued and present your agency as an employer that acknowledges their contributions to its success. The key, however, is to promote those who have the potential to advance and accept the new challenge. If no one is suitable, contact your recruiting agency.
    • Investing in quality managers. There’s a saying that goes, “Employees join companies but leave managers.” According to a Gallup poll of over 1 million U.S. workers, the top reason why people leave their jobs is a bad supervisor or manager. Make sure that your management team receives adequate training, education, and access to mentors who can show them how to excel.

    Be Prepared For Turnover

    Sometimes turnover is inevitable. People will leave for personal and professional reasons, but you can minimise the impact on your agency by implementing a succession plan that enables vacancies to turn into growth opportunities for existing staff.

    In Conclusion

    An effective employee retention program should start on a new hire's first day on the job. The training, support, and incentives that you provide from Day One can boost job satisfaction and set the stage for a long tenure at your agency.  

    As always, I hope that you enjoyed this article. Using the strategies, insights, and tools that I’ve discussed here, I’m confident that you will be able to:

    • Reduce turnover
    • Hire employees who will be with you for the long term
    • Cultivate a workforce that will take your agency to the next level

    If you have any questions, please leave me a comment below and I’ll be happy to respond.

      Rob Da Costa

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