Talent Retention and Challenging Economic Times

Written by Larry Fehd, CEO & Founder / HPS

When was the last time you told your most valued employees how much you appreciate their contributions? When was the last time you asked them, “Why are you staying?” Now, I don’t mean that literally, but let’s think about this for a moment. Isn’t it true that we normally ask our employees why they are leaving after they have given notice? Wouldn’t it make sense to be checking in with them on a regular basis to determine why they are staying? You may consider asking them about their overall job satisfaction, clarity about future career path and development, feelings of appreciation and affirmation for their contributions to business success, etc.

If you didn’t have an opportunity to read last month’s issue of Leadership Best Practices, you may want to scan the article on Talent Development: A Research Based Perspective on Performance. The article summarizes compelling research-based evidence as to what is really essential for key talent development and retention.

Before we look at the “To Do” list, I would like to suggest a few common misconceptions or myths about the current economic conditions and why organizations may be at risk of losing their best talent.

  • Myth: We don’t need to be concerned with employee attrition
    right now. Besides, our employees really don’t have any other
    place to go at the moment. They are fortunate to have a good job.Reality: You need to be telling your best talent, particularly
    those whose loss would significantly impact the business, how
    much you value them and their contributions. You need to talk
    with them on a regular basis about their continued development
    and future career within the organization.
  • Myth: The employees we retained during past reorganizations,
    layoffs, reductions-in-force, etc. are very loyal employees. They’re
    smart and know we kept only the best of the best.Reality: These employees may be loyal and very committed to the
    organization. However, they are more loyal and committed to themselves,
    their families, their careers, their income potential, etc.
  • Myth: Our employees are very satisfied and know what a good
    company we are and the opportunities which are available to them
    both now and in the future.Reality: Remember the cliché, “Be careful what you
    wish for”; well, in this case, you should be careful what
    you assume. Your employees may be satisfied and may appreciate
    what a great company they work for. However, you are vulnerable
    to talent attrition, particularly as the economy begins to improve
    and hiring activities among your competitors and others begin
    to gain momentum.
  • Myth: You couldn’t pry our top talent out of this organization.
    We take very good care of our best people.Reality: Some of your best talent may have “bunkered down”
    during the recent economic times in order to weather the storm.
    As the skies begin to clear, they are prone to get out of the
    bunker and may consider some attractive alternatives to their
    current situation (e.g. returning a headhunter’s call, talking
    with a competitor just to see what might be available, thinking
    that the grass may indeed be greener, etc.)

Here are some proactive steps and countermeasures for savvy business leaders to consider:

  • Pay careful attention to the “short list” of key talent
    within your organization. Hopefully, you already have such a list
    and, if not, are planning to put one together soon. Beginning
    today, schedule time to talk with your key talent about their
    level of job satisfaction, future developmental plans and assignments,
    coaching resources, future career options, etc. Express your appreciation
    for their contributions with specific examples.
  • If you are a senior manager, you should talk to other leaders
    in your organization about some of the possible myths and realities
    within your organization. Insist that other leaders join you in
    more frequent dialogue with your best employees.
  • Hopefully, your organization conducts frequent and robust talent
    reviews with the same vigor as business planning, annual budget
    preparation, etc., and you have a list of the next generation
    of leaders and other key talent within your organization.
  • Consider your organization’s Employee Value Proposition;
    i.e. what is unique about the culture, leadership, developmental
    opportunities, coaching and mentoring programs, etc. Retaining
    key talent in today’s competitive market requires new innovative
    methods to inspire your best employees to stay with the organization.
    These new methods are well beyond the minimum expectations of
    competitive compensation, stock options, bonuses, 401(k), benefits,
    vacation, etc.
  • Evaluate the competition in terms of their unique Employee Value
    Proposition. How do they develop and retain key talent? It is
    far more economical to anticipate the risks of attrition versus
    evaluating the impact after the fact.
  • Consider investing in a formal coaching and mentoring program
    for your key talent. The best companies and leaders already have
    such programs in place as part of an ongoing commitment to leadership
    development and organizational effectiveness.

While we all look forward to better economic times — hopefully in the near future — we must be cognizant of the importance of caring for our key talent in the present to ensure our success in the future.

Larry Fehd


Larry Fehd is CEO and founded Human Performance Strategies (HPS) in 2000 following a successful career with Johnson & Johnson where he led executive leadership, team and organizational development. He is masterful at helping clients to break through inertia and the status quo.  He conceived the new and proprietary concept of Invitational Leadership™. He envisions the future of leadership as a passage beyond inertia and status quo and works with clients to develop invitational leaders at all levels of the organization.  He consults to a diverse group of U.S. and international clientele, and speaks and writes about, building high-performance leaders, cultures, teams and organizations.

(512) 415-0748

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