Dear Workforce How Do We Improve the Odds of Retaining Key Contributors, Especially in the Midst of a Change in Ownership

By Staff Report

Feb. 4, 2009

Dear On the Fence:

You’ve already done the right thing in identifying your “best employees”—those who will make the strongest contribution to success in the short to medium term. Ensure that your criteria for selecting these top performers are transparent and commercially sound.

Next, communicate clearly to let them know that they are important. Establish an engagement plan for each individual. For example, some of our clients commission us to interview each “high-value” employee confidentially about how long they intend to stay, what they want from the next few months, factors that might make them want to leave and factors that would make them stay, and how they’d prefer to share their knowledge with others.

Employees are handed the resulting “personal engagement plan” to discuss with their managers. You can do this internally or, for a bigger “brag factor” and more frank responses, hire an external provider.

Personalized engagement plans should include: learning and development preferences, knowledge-transfer options, changes in manager practices to encourage higher performance, and so on.

These are the people whose performance warrants access to external coaches, internal mentors and other signals that their contributions are highly valued.

Embark on other more visible changes, such as creating a working group in which all or some of your best employees work with the CEO (presuming he has earned their respect) on initiatives or problem-solving during the merger.

Ensure departures are celebrated, followed by “storming, norming and reforming” events for those left behind.

If a person has a future with your organization, tell him or her now—and reinforce the message many times, in as many different ways as possible, to assuage any concerns about job security.

On the other hand, be frank with individuals who don’t appear to have a professional future with your organization. Provide these people with financial rewards based on clearly defined performance expectations, as a way of retaining them until the time comes when they are to be let go. The amount of money you give them should result from a cost-benefit analysis relating to the value of their institutional or professional knowledge.

The key, however, is not to rely on financial rewards alone. Every employer’s money is the same color, and real talent can easily choose to walk away. But almost everyone responds favorably when they believe that the work they do is both important and valued.

SOURCE: Lisa Halloran, Retention Partners, Sydney, Australia, March 19, 2008.

LEARN MORE: Aside from cash awards, another effective strategy involves re-recruitment of high-value workers. Also: tips for how to manage retention during a downsizing.

The information contained in this article is intended to provide useful information on the topic covered, but should not be construed as legal advice or a legal opinion. Also remember that state laws may differ from the federal law.

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