People say retention isn’t about money. But if it’s not about money, what’s it about?
A few years ago, I had a pretty sweet gig as the HR leader at an automotive component manufacturing company. I’d joined the company for the purpose of starting up a new facility. As a result, I had been involved in hiring all of the employees, creating internationally-recognized continuous programs, and developing a culture that was well-known in our industry for employee involvement levels that produced world-class, quality results.
I loved my job. And I loved having a voice in practically every decision made in creating a high-performing organization. I was there when the first brick was laid, and I had even chosen the carpet colors, the curtains, and the office furniture. I was living every HR pro’s dream of having the infamous seat at the table and was treated by my boss and peers like a valued member of the executive team.
Then, one day, our company – which had been a 50/50 joint venture between two international corporations – was purchased in full by one of the partners. It was a great move for our business, and the shift in ownership resulted in very little disruption to our business operations or any noticeable effects on our employees…
Except for the other members of our executive team — and me.
Immediately after the purchase, several senior VPs from the parent company were assigned to our facility. Our existing leadership team still existed, but now there was a “super senior” executive layer that met without us each week and made decisions for the organization. I still loved my job, but I hated not being involved in strategic planning or decision-making.
Despite the changes and my frustrations, I didn’t consider leaving the company. The work was interesting. I was paid well. My benefits were great. My boss was great. Our culture was still great.
Then one day I got a call from an executive recruiter, which was not uncommon. The recruiter asked a simple, but profound question:
I hear that you’re very happy, but I’m curious. If I gave you a magic wand, and you could change one thing about your job, what would that be?”
My answer came quickly. I missed being in that meeting each week (sitting at the table that I had personally selected out of the office supply catalog). To me, being a part of the leadership team, and functioning as a trusted advisor to the CEO and my peers had been the most fulfilling part of my job and career. Now, that opportunity was gone, and I had no idea what the next step for me was, if any, with the company.
That recruiter was the first person to ask me what it would take to make me happy.
Too little, too late
A few months later, when I turned in my resignation after accepting an offer to be a part of an executive team tasked with a turnaround, my surprised boss asked what he could do to keep me with the company.
I took the other job because he asked that question too late.
Don’t wait to focus on what it would take to retain your key employees and top performers. Re-recruit them often and make it a priority to engage in regular conversations about what they see as the next steps in their career.
Also, ask what they would change about their job or the workplace if they didn’t have to worry about how to make it happen. Remove obstacles, create and communicate your plans, and demonstrate that you’re committed to helping them grow. If you don’t take the time to do this, they’ll likely be open to pursuing opportunities to find their bliss elsewhere.
I believe the most powerful tool you have in your retention strategy doesn’t cost a dime. It’s an imaginary magic wand. Give it to the employees you want to retain, invite them to use it, and listen to their needs — before someone else does.