Attracting, hiring, and retaining the best employees is a lot more complex than it used to be. It’s no longer enough for employers to offer the same basic benefits or rely on long-term rewards to keep employees loyal. People today are savvy enough to know that in an uncertain business environment, no long-term reward is ever a certainty. They also know if they can’t get the right benefits, salary, or rewards from their current employer, they can almost certainly get them working somewhere else.
Most employees want to know what you have to offer them today, tomorrow, next week, next month, and next year. While they may have five- or ten-year plans, it’s likely that most of your people are operating under some notion of flexibility: if the right opportunity came along, it would be foolish not to take it (or in some cases, go for it). That means your negotiating power as an employer is strongest with rewards and incentives that are short-term and transactional, not long-term and traditional.
So, how can you make the shift? Here are four ways employers can infuse a more short-term and transactional mindset to their management culture.
If there is only one major culture change from this list you can make, this is it. Start considering one-time requests for scheduling flexibility, time off, or some other accommodation as an opportunity rather than an annoyance. Most people are not interested in taking advantage of these types of requests and do not make them lightly. Consider if one of your team members requested time off to care for a sick relative. Adjusting someone’s schedule for a few weeks will mean some more heavy-lifting and problem-solving on the manager’s part. But think about the message it sends to that employee. You are willing to go the extra-mile for them when they need it. Just make sure it’s clear that the expectation is for them to go the extra-mile when someone else on the team really needs it, too.
What are you doing to keep your good employees? Whatever it is, you better be doing more for the best employees. Are you offering better pay? More flexibility? Are you connecting them with decision-makers and high-level people, both within and without your organization? What tasks are you assigning them? What training opportunities and chances to expand their skills are you making available?
Keep in mind the power of demonstrating loyalty and dedication to your superstars, even when that means taking a risk. Consider this story from one of our clients in agricultural science:
I’ve lost some really good technicians just because they were exhausted, burned out. They didn’t want to be working so hard. They’re young! They want to have some fun. After that happened a few times, I realized that I had to find a way to give these people a break. They didn’t have any vacation to speak of, and our workload wasn’t getting any lighter. In one case I was going to HR to try to get someone a part-time status for a few months at his request. Finally, I told him to just quit and reapply whenever he was ready. It was a risk for both of us. But after about four months, he was in my office. Talk about loyalty.
With the best talent, it pays to be flexible and generous.
Simply put, if there is no way around having five- and ten-year rewards as the major selling point of working for you, then you have to be serious about employee development. After all, if it is going to take that long for employees to reap the greatest benefits of your employment, isn’t it only fair to set them up for long-term career success in your organization?
Start by making paths of advancement clear and establishing concrete ways for employees to get on those paths. Offer ongoing training opportunities for employees and train every leader in the basics of coaching-style management. Encourage employees to spend some amount of their time engaged in self-directed learning. Make development a point of planning and discussion in regular, ongoing one-on-one management conversations with employees. Consider pairing people with mentors or internal career counselors. Whatever you do, don’t allow anyone to slip through the cracks or become stuck in a stagnant, sink-or-swim scenario.
Everyone wants a custom deal. The more you are able to customize for them, the longer you will keep them. Don’t wait until someone is leaving to start asking, “How can we get you to stay?” Talk about retention on day one and every day after that. What people need and want is a moving target and will inevitably change over time. A flexible schedule may have been important for someone last month, while training opportunities may be what’s important this month.
Our research shows that this kind of differential reward policy only works if managers do the hard work of managing people every day. Accountability has to be a process, not just a slogan. Every single employee must understand how and why they are earning the rewards they are earning and exactly what they need to do in order to earn more. That means managers define expectations every step of the way and tie concrete rewards directly to the fulfillment of those expectations.