Feb 28, 2012

The Art of Retaining Your Best People

Retaining star performers is just as important as finding new prospects.

Finding and hiring top talent has never been tougher than it is today, but retaining star performers is tougher still. Unfamiliar with the psychology of work satisfaction, managers reward their best employees handsomely and assume they’re happy. But when these employees leave, as they frequently do, managers conclude that there was nothing they could have done to prevent the departure.
That’s where they’re wrong. What’s often missing from top performers’ jobs are responsibilities that coincide with their “deeply embedded life interests.” These are more than hobbies or enthusiasm for certain subjects—they are long-held, emotionally driven passions that bubble beneath the surface like a geothermal pool of water. Most people possess one to three of eight basic interests, which include theory development and conceptual thinking, counseling and mentoring, and application of technology. These interests don’t determine what people are good at; they drive the kinds of activities that make people happy. Thus, people keep returning to these interests throughout their lives—even though they may not be fully aware of how the interests are subtly influencing their career decisions.
A manager can help uncover an employee’s life interests by probing, observing, and applying a little psychology. That done, manager and employee can customize work with job sculpting—a process that matches the employee to a job that allows her deeply embedded life interests to be expressed.
In the job-sculpting techniques listed below, the basic life interests appear in italics.
  • Ask employees to play an active role in job sculpting, perhaps by having them write about their views of career satisfaction—an excellent starting point for a discussion.
  • In some cases sculpting can begin simply by adding a new responsibility. An engineer who has a deeply embedded life interest in counseling and mentoring might be asked to plan and manage the orientation of new hires.
  • A change in assignment provides another sculpting opportunity. A salesperson with an interest in quantitative analysis might be given new duties working with market-research analysts.
  • Good sculpting results when a manager listens carefully and asks questions. When a pharmaceutical sales rep told her boss how much she enjoyed helping the company find and lease new office space, he probed further and learned she wanted work that met her interests in influence through language and ideas and creative production. Her sales job encompassed the former, so new responsibilities in marketing were added to provide an outlet for her creativity.
  • Sculpting often calls for more substantial changes. When a star analyst in a Wall Street firm received an unprecedented pay increase, she angrily said the company “thinks it can solve every problem with money.” Her boss discovered she wanted to direct the research group—an expression of her interests in enterprise control and managing people and relationships. She was made coordinator of research.
  • Even greater sculpting changes are some-times required—for example, when a man-ager can only meet a worker’s interests with a transfer to another department. In other cases, amicable separation is necessary, as when an engineering firm has no job for an employee with a life interest in influence through language and ideas.-(hbr)

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