It’s an unfortunate truth for every organisation that the talented employees you most want to stay are also the most in-demand and capable of going elsewhere. Whether a top salesperson, a deftly brilliant team leader, or a gifted project manager, these are the people whose performance is most likely to catch the eye of business rivals, and whose glittering CV is most likely to land them a different role.
As a consequence, many leaders spend a great deal of time in the battle for talent, conceiving new ways to keep a firm hold of their star performers. Recruiting someone new can be an expensive and time-consuming process, and is not without risk. You can often only know through the test of time and experience whether your new star recruit is really the cultural and organisational fit you hoped.
Holding on to proven talent can be a comparatively easier, safer process, even if in practice it still requires considerable effort and innovation.
Trend of transient careers
Retaining talent in our region, in particular, can be an especially big challenge. Already, job-hopping tendencies — where employees stay for just a few years before jumping to something new — is a growing trend. In the Middle East and North Africa (Mena), the challenge is compounded by the rate of economic growth, the myriad different backgrounds and cultures of the workforce, and the singularly global career outlook of many professionals settled here.
People have particularly transient careers, and the result is an employment market where new opportunities open up frequently.
Faced with this challenge, companies and their leaders can choose to pull a number of established levers. You can, of course, opt to offer a market-leading salary, and hope that this is the overwhelming primary motivator for the talent you need. You could aim to build a work culture that is uniquely appealing — perhaps by offering unprecedented flexibility in working practices, or in the perceived buzz associated with the business.
People — you hope — will want to work for you because they can’t get these same perks anywhere else.
You could also seek to polish the company’s long-term appeal by providing absolute clarity on career paths, future promotions, and leadership development initiatives. If people entering the company know there is a ladder to climb and things to achieve, you can hope they see themselves in your company’s embrace for the longer term. Show them the growth of the company will be in pace with their growth as professionals, and you can illuminate a pathway where they see themselves in management and leadership roles long into the future.
A more nuanced version of this would be to embrace the very idea of job-hopping within your talent management plans. Let us say you have a talented employee working at the top of their game. He or she is enjoying the challenge and committed to pushing the company forward. Yet, if you were able to listen in on the person’s private plans, you might discover the individual just wants to get in two years of experience at the company before taking off for a new experience with a different firm.
A smart company would ask themselves why this is so.
Keeping your people
Naturally, an insight into the inner workings of an employee’s mind is harder to do in reality. Yet, when a talented employee leaves, this information is frequently volunteered during exit interviews and chats with managers. If a departing employee is telling you that they are leaving because they want to get experience of a different department or work function, or they want to add experience doing something they felt was out of bounds within your company, you need to think about what this means.
These employees are telling you they felt somehow limited by what your company is offering, and needed to go elsewhere to reach their goals.
It might be too late for those individuals, but how do you convert that knowledge into retaining other talent? Well, you start by making sure you are having the management and coaching conversations that will help illuminate their tentative career plans.
Then you start thinking about unshackling employees to gain experience and build skills within your business. Give them opportunities to try different tasks, empower them to work on cross-department projects, embrace the idea that they might jump around different roles within the company.
If the instinct to stay agile in a career is a growing one for many, it is better to embrace that culture. Become a company that is as agile as the star performers. You won’t diminish employees’ desire to keep their careers moving forward, but you might remove the need for them to hop elsewhere to do it.
(Ahmad Badr is CEO of Knowledge Group.)