A Different Approach to Retaining Top Talent

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An old boss told me the key to success in business is surrounding yourself with people smarter than you. I've followed his advice - albeit with relative ease - for years now, and it's served me well in building the right teams to serve our valued clients.

But recruitment is only half the battle. Retention is the other half, and many companies seem to be missing the forest from the trees when it comes to keeping their best and brightest feeling engaged in and committed to their organization’s success and goals.

From ping pong tables to super-casual dress codes – all the way to unlimited vacation policies—organizations are practically throwing the kitchen sink at retention. But are any of these trendy practices actually fostering the kind of long-term employee satisfaction that drives retention? Not if you examine what employees value most in the workplace.

Some 90 percent of Millennials – who will make up three-fourths of workers in a decade – want to use their skills for good, and half would take a pay cut to find work that matches their values. And according to Inc. magazine, feeling proud of their work, being treated fairly and getting respect from their bosses are among the top things all employees want.

Given that, employers could do much more to retain great talent by ditching the ping-pong tables and instead focusing on these three tips:

Provide pathways for employees to become more civically engaged

Employees long to feel more connected to the communities where they live and work. One way to feed that desire is to provide workers with pathways to get more civically engaged through board service and volunteering. This commitment to civic engagement is in the DNA of many firms across Indiana, and a recent study shows it could be a differentiator, too.

The study – conducted by Walker Research and Leadership Indianapolis – found that only 48 percent of Indianapolis residents agree that their employer supports them in volunteering outside of work in the community. That’s a shame and a missed opportunity for organizations interested in increasing employee satisfaction and contributing more deeply to the social fabric of their communities.

In a recent talk at Indianapolis’ inaugural Civic Leadership Summit, ExactTarget co-founder Scott Dorsey emphasized the key role civic engagement played in his company’s ability to retain great talent. The more connected to the community people get, he said, the more inclined they are to stay in that community. And that sense of loyalty translates to their company, too.

To develop better civic engagement pathways for employees, consider reaching out to groups like Leadership Indianapolis or your local community foundation to discuss how to build a program for your firm. Then, provide the time and space that your employees will need to get involved. They’ll thank you for it, and it will be good for business and the community.

Support (and celebrate) what your employees are passionate about outside of work

This sounds easy, right? But in the midst of our daily deadlines and to-do lists, it’s easy to forget that employees have hopes and dreams beyond serving clients well, getting promoted and improving the company’s bottom line. If you commit yourself to caring about employees’ interests outside of work, you’ll be amazed by what happens.

A few months back, our firm rallied around one of our colleagues as she competed in her first Boston Marathon. We celebrated her qualifying for it. We showed support through encouraging messages and by cheering her along the route. And we engaged our clients in the process too. When asked about how the support made her feel, my colleague said, “I felt loved.” Now we’re making plans to actively celebrate more of what matters to our people—first homes, weddings, babies, mission work, achieving big life goals and more.

Create a culture of teamwork, trust and transparency

There’s tremendous satisfaction that comes from being on a team where everyone trusts each other and is actively committed to helping their colleagues succeed. Creating that kind of cultural norm takes time and a tremendous amount of caring and feeding. But once you’ve established teamwork as a cultural non-negotiable, you’ll be amazed by the positive impact it has on employee and client satisfaction.

When it comes to transparency, a client used to tell us that you can tell a lot about the health of an organization by how quickly bad news travels to the top. The point here is that mistakes happen, people mess up and nothing ever goes as planned all of the time. If your organization is punitive and driven by a fear of failure, bad news will get buried and fester. But if your company is one where people can own mistakes and learn from them without fear, senior leadership will be able to address challenging issues before they grow into untenable situations.

So, surround yourself with smart people, to be sure. But don’t stop there. To retain your best and brightest, step away from the ping pong table and get to work creating pathways for civic engagement, celebrating successes outside of work and building a culture that prioritizes teamwork, trust and transparency. Your employees will thank you for it. So will your clients and community.

Mike Marker is a senior partner with VOX Global in Indianapolis.

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