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  • Writer's pictureAmii Barnard-Bahn

Talent retention in The Great Resignation

I am frequently asked for the #1 thing leaders should be focusing on now, in this time of uncertainty when everyone is experiencing burnout from individual contributors all the way up through the C-Suite.

My strong recommendation for the near and long-term value, is to pay attention now, to talent retention.

Some of you may have seen the photo that went viral on social media: the busy roadside Burger King marquee announced, “WE ALL QUIT. SORRY FOR THE INCONVENIENCE.”

A cautionary signpost for leaders of our time. Most organizations and people are struggling with the uncertainty of return to work, hybrid models, and evaluating what has or has not been working well.

One thing is certain — employees are leaving. News headlines have been fixated on “The Great Resignation” and turnover contagion.

A whopping 95% of workers are considering changing jobs and 92% are willing to switch industries to land a new position, according to a recent survey.

If you are a leader facing this talent retention challenge (and even if you aren’t at this moment, you could be soon), here are my top three recommendations to ensure you are prepared to take advantage of this next wave of change:

1. Know who your top performers are: Understand how well you’ve identified your most valuable people, and ensure you’ve recently validated the criteria for getting on your list (Equity alert: it shouldn’t be about face time, or you run the risk of proximity bias.)

Recently, one of my clients shared that they would like to invest in the career development of their high potential employees, but they have no system in place to identify them. Our first step is working together on as fair and objective a standard as possible, using the 5 key criteria in the Promotability Index®. Surveys suggest that most companies do have top talent lists — but that even with such programs, companies only spend 10% of their time developing those highly productive employees.

Talented employees are “force multipliers”, and investing in these colleagues will produce the highest ROI for your business. To identify your top performers, use 360 reviews, personality assessments and performance results to evaluate along three key criteria: ability, social skills, and drive.

2. Have Real, Connected Conversations: Before heading back to an in-person office environment -- or even if you don’t have a return date-- start preparing for that shift now. You should be strengthening relationships so you have a strong baseline of trust, before something happens that needs to be addressed.

Managers should schedule a 1:1 check-in conversation that is dedicated to setting expectations with each of their employees. In these two-way conversations, managers should:

1. Review performance results to goals over the past 18 months, and discuss any obstacles faced.

2. Ask about career aspirations, openness to new work assignments and projects that may become available.

3. Ensure an understanding of each employee’s future interests to co-create a career development plan that engages and excites team members.

4. Inquire whether there are any work-from-home or scheduling accommodations that may need to be negotiated, and balance empathy with professional boundaries. (Pro Tip: Don’t agree to any special arrangements yet — your goal is to listen and learn, and check with HR on current policy prior to making agreements with employees).

For the executive team, it is especially important to ensure your people managers receive this same attention with regard to their career development aspirations. Give them the feedback, appreciation and leadership tools they need to lead — or they may leave.

3. Future proof your hiring, pay and promotion practices to ensure they are equitable and meet current best practices. For hiring, ensure your recruitment outreach includes a diverse candidate pool (and with remote work, you can hire from anywhere!) and a consistent, objective interviewing process. For pay equity, conduct a pay equity audit and checkups every couple of years thereafter. Lastly, review your promotion criteria. Are they objective and well-defined? Can you easily articulate why you’d promote one person over another, and help coach the non-promoted on a pathway for the future? This will help you retain and keep developing your key talent as well mitigate the potential for inherent bias.

For more of my thoughts about the future of work and what leaders should be doing to seize the opportunities in this next change cycle, check out my recent article for CEOWORLD Magazine, The Great Resignation — How to Proactively Address the WorkQuake Now.

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