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OPINION

Keeping the Best for Last

Keeping the Best for Last

The longer you are able to retain the talent in your team, the greater the chances are that you will continue to enjoy business success for many years to come.

I have a friend who works in the HR department of her firm. That friend is also an NFL enthusiast, a “side effect” of her studies in the United States. The other day, she drew a very amusing parallel between her job and the process of the NFL Draft. She said that, in the same way as teams get to pick the brightest prospects from the college system each Draft season, HR departments do the same thing, weeding out the bad candidates from the good ones by using a checklist of qualitative and quantitative traits, such as their academic and professional track record, extra-curricular activities and the body language they exhibit during an eventual interview.
Just like the NFL Draft, this HR selection process does not always work, my friend says. You win some, you lose some. And, once in a great while, an auditing or accounting or banking quarterback comes along and gets picked, scoring several (work) touchdowns during the (employment) season. The lucky organisation must then ensure is that the star professional will stay on their team, season after season, and keep scoring those touchdowns. Fortunately, nine-to-five employees have long careers compared to American football players, whose average retirement age is 35!
A 2016 study conducted by Bodjrenou Kossiv et al and published in the Open Journal of Social Science, stresses the need for organisations to retain their talent, since their ability to remain in business depends on it. The study, which draws from a multitude of other studies looking at how employee satisfaction can be increased with a view to persuading someone to stay with an organisation for the long term, has concluded that there are eight determining talent retention factors, as follows: 

 

1. Management/Leadership: The way an employee is managed by his superiors can make or break his/her decision to stay for the long haul. A bad managerial style can harm an employee’s morale and push him/her out the door, as opposed to a good one that can encourage people and make them thrive in their assigned role. Adapting one’s managerial style to fit the different sets of personalities under one’s authority is one of the gold standards of management. 
 
2. Conducive Environment: A work environment that sends sunbeams down on employees’ heads instead of rain is guaranteed to persuade them to perform to the best of their abilities, irrespective of the job in hand. Factors which ensure that a work environment is conducive include privacy, flexibility, two-way communication between team members and freedom of expression. 
 
3. Social support: Being accepted by your peers is one of the greatest forms of satisfaction and if you work from nine to five (sometimes even longer), Monday through Friday (sometimes on weekends too), guess who you spend most of your time with: that’s right – your colleagues. It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to argue that, when someone has the social support of colleagues – whether this translates into being invited for after-work drinks or being the subject of a surprise birthday party at the office – he/she will be one happy employee!
 
4. Development Opportunities: Pointing employees in the direction of the corporate ladder is not enough. Pushing them upwards, step by step, when they deserve it, works wonders for their commitment to the organisation. Awarding promotions when these are due and richly-deserved is a failsafe way of retaining talent through the simple – yet not so often adopted – regime of meritocracy. 
 
5. Autonomy: At a cocktail party, I once heard someone say that micromanagement can ‘kill’ more employees than a financial crisis. At the time I laughed at the statement, only to find out the hard way, some years down the road, that it was actually not far from the truth. Giving your talent some breathing space, instead of a managerial rope around the neck, will pay (retention) dividends in the long run. 
 
6. Compensation: Feeling that one is being fairly (or, even better, generously) rewarded for what one is producing in terms of work output, is another cardinal rule that directly affects employee satisfaction and, as a result, talent retention. Linking performance to reward springs employees into action and motivates them to go the extra mile. Do you think that the NFL pays those thousand-yard, million-dollar bonuses for nothing?
 
7. Training and Development: ‘Always keep learning.’ Isn’t that what our grandparents used to say to us when we were kids? Well, not only does the saying hold true in the professional arena, it also translates into being both content and confident while at work. Continuous professional development is a must for an employee who wants to give his/her best self at work, and employers who enable this through training are deemed to play their cards right when talent retention is on the table. 
 
8. Work/Life Balance: A plethora of articles have been written on the subject yet it continues to exist mostly in theory instead of being fleshed out in the workplace. In most organisations, the line between work and life (play) is blurred, bringing about that dreaded state in an employee’s career called ‘burnout’. I have yet to come across a bionic employee, thus no matter how talented and capable a professional may be, he/she still needs to rest, play and spend time with loved ones, otherwise you run the risk of losing him/her to mental (and sometimes physical) fatigue. 
 
Not so long ago, I caught up with a friend of mine who is the co-owner of a small audit firm. Over coffee, we discussed issues like clientele growth, the implementation of the new IFRS 9 and innovative ways of reaching out to potential clients by using technology. Then an employee of his came to mind: a hotshot auditor who, in recognition of his talent, commitment and industriousness, had been fast-tracked for career progression and groomed for a directorship.
‘How is he doing?’, I asked. ‘Still going the extra mile in our line of business’ ultramarathon?’.
My friend was quick to answer.
‘Oh, didn’t you hear? He left’.I was dumbfounded, to say the least. My friend, seeing that I was in dire need of an explanation, went on to enlighten me. He said that the firm’s ace auditor had handed in his resignation, not because his employer did not check all the boxes on the talent retention factor list (it did, and in spades) but on the grounds of wishing to join a larger firm – one of the ‘Big Four’ – in the firm belief that such a move would bring him greater professional prestige.
We decided that it was time to head back to fight the good fight from the corporate trenches but, before parting ways, we agreed on one thing – sometimes, no matter how hard you try, talent retention may prove to be futile. Not for lack of trying by the employer but for the employee’s own reasons, which may be sound and plentiful. This does not mean, of course, that efforts should not be directed towards retaining one’s most talented employees or, at least, in managing to keep the best for last. After all, the longer you are able to retain the talent in your team, the greater the chances are that you will continue to enjoy business success for many years to come. As some of you may have heard on February 4, the New England Patriots are living proof of that!
 
Info: Spyros Yiassemides BA MSc ACA is a Partner in Yiassemides & Co, a professional storyteller, and a natural-born cinephile. His PhD in Film Studies is just around the corner.

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