We work and lead within a world that transformed from where it was three years ago. Is a recession on the horizon? What’s the future of remote and hybrid work? Where will we be three years from now? While we can’t forecast the future, we know retention and engagement are competitive differentiators, and even requirements, now more than ever. Ultimately, leaders and teams have limited resources. There are only so many hours, dollars, and resources. When thinking about all possibilities for strengthening retention and engagement – what strategies are most likely to drive results?
Crafting an Integrated (and Realistic) Strategy for Development, Engagement, and Retention
While not an Organizational Psychologist or CHRO, Leo echoes one of our main takeaways from our retention and engagement partnerships of the last few years. While engagement remained constant on average, many teams saw significant gains, while others experienced losses in engagement (and retention) over the past few years. What's notable is the similarities we found in what what was valued and prioritized in the strategies of the engaged teams.
Using what we've observed, here are three target areas for building realistic employee development and engagement strategies this year:
One: Change Management
A key factor for success across industries (whether healthcare, hospitality, food service, or manufacturing) was how effectively the leaders troubleshooted and tackled emerging challenges and change. When listening to employees, we found that employees understood the changes and external forces facing the company but became frustrated when challenges causing frustration and daily struggle continued unabated.
Employee Development and Retention Strategies for 2023?
If you have a strategic plan for the year, how will this affect the daily experience of employees? Are they prepared for the changes?
If you have the opportunity to take the pulse of the employee experience, consider including questions and inquiry around changes in the business that affected their day-to-day. The questions you ask might vary based on department or level in the organization.
Are there areas of strength, or possible vulnerabilities, that could be targeted with learning and development strategies and planning? For example, soft skill development for early career employees and new leaders is emerging as a common need across industries.
Two: Prioritizing Employee Safety and Well-being
Failing to respond to chronic concerns around any aspect affecting safety or employee well-being was the most common engagement and retention pitfall of the past few years. You’ve likely heard that one of the most marked changes in our workforce is the stronger prioritization of personal well-being and wellness. This could take the form of schedules that allow for better work-life flow and balance, taking steps to build inclusive teams, and proactively caring about the whole person. For example, several organizations we partner with offer financial literacy and education programs for all employees at no cost.
If you need proof of the business case for well-being, consider that our research found that employees with the greatest intentions to stay and grow with the organization are also those that place the greatest importance on their own well-being. It’s possible (and just a hypothesis) that employees who think more intentionally about their own well-being are also more intentional about how they approach their careers – and the connection between both.
Steps for Employee Development and Retention this Year
- Make checking-in about the whole person a priority during team huddle-ups, meetings, and one-on-ones. Think intentionally about how you can support all leaders in actively listening to employees. There might be easy wins leaders can act on now that will markedly increase the satisfaction and well-being of a person. Maybe it’s a parent that wants to get involved in their child’s school and needs a more flexible schedule. Perhaps it’s an early career employee that’s anxious or self-conscious with a more senior team. The challenging part of well-being is that it’s so unique to each of us – but the upside many of the solutions are realistic to implement quickly – and will pay dividends beyond a solo employee.
- Engaged teams are more invested in, and aware of, their surroundings and are more likely to act proactively to protect others and their team. Fostering commitment and engagement is powerfully linked to behaviors that support safety and retention.
Specifically, taking steps to build a positive employee experience and build the trust and commitment of your team can nurture a climate of sharing and support that benefits safety – whether that’s physical injuries in a manufacturing environment, or incivility and microaggressions in a sales environment. Consider using pulse-surveys, exit interviews, or any available data, what are a couple constraints on performance or daily joy and enjoyment of work that you could take steps to eliminate right now? Can’t find any easy to tackle obstacles or constraints? Crowdsource to your team.
It’s been suggested the past three years have sparked more sudden change in the employee experience and how we work than we’ve seen since the Industrial Revolution. Workforce preferences are changing quickly and influenced by age, geography, industry, and more. Let’s take the basics of how we work for a moment. Is the prevalence of hybrid and remote work increasing? The answer depends on the source of the data. For some industries and geographies hybrid and remote work continues to rise, while in the Southern United States, it’s declining. It’s challenging to make prescriptive recommendations and most accurate to start our answers with one of our favorite phrases, “It depends.”
Any recommendation we’ve shared thus far starts with intentional, proactive listening and acknowledgement of the unique voices and experiences of employees informs sound decisions. Whether facing a supply chain challenge, economic uncertainty, or a candidate shortage, employees who felt seen, heard, valued, and accepted were markedly more likely to sustain engagement long-term. Through our work listening to employees through exit research, employee engagement and experience surveys, focus groups, and even coaching, we heard consistently how leaders who actively seek feedback earn trust and commitment.
For example, several of the organizations we support actively sought employee feedback on future development strategies. What programs, coaching, and support would they most value? This was used as an input for allocating resources to craft programs and offerings that spoke to precisely to those needs. In addition to the value of listening, when leaders opted against a specific development opportunity or benefit, they were equipped with an understanding of how and why. In this case, intentional listening gave leaders what they needed to craft meaningful development strategies, as well as tailored messaging by department, region, or job group.
Strategies for building positive feedback loops and communication in the year ahead:
- Start with your mission and culture. The past several years has only strengthened the connection between clear communication of your mission and culture and retention and engagement. Applicants frequently seek out information from employees on how core values are lived during the interview and hiring process. How can you more clearly communicate your enterprise’s mission, vision, and values?
- Benchmark how employees see your culture living in their daily lives by strengthening your listening strategies. The best way to strengthen communication around your mission and culture is to know how your current employee experience brings it to life. Exit research, a quick survey like that within our CultureMap™ process, and even 360-degree feedback, can provide precise suggestions on how to improve, as well as deliver a benchmark for quarterly, twice yearly, or year-over-year comparison. Confused on how to start? While we begin with a framework for the employee experience, we appreciate no organizations share the same culture and each listening tool, or survey, we provide is uniquely built to the organization, its challenges, and goals.
- Triangulate your employee listening and engagement strategies. Using multiple methods to connect and intentionally listen to employees, while always valuable, has taken on new importance. Leaders we work with are emphasizing the importance of regular one-on-one meetings even with frontline, part-time, and hourly employees. As technology becomes increasingly fluid and seamless, how do we make sense of multiple sources of data? If you have exit interviews, 360’s, engagement and experience data, and talent assessment, each may bring forward important pieces for developing strategies.
Driving Employee Engagement and Retention with Talent Assessment
When we partner with leaders and teams on engagement and retention, talent assessment is often included in the resulting strategy and plan. Employee attitude and engagement surveys often uncover imperatives, or “must haves,” for thriving within your team or organization. Hiring, developing, and promoting for those traits is key next step. For example, through intentionally listening and managing change, leaders often uncover gaps between how some employees view their mission and their own vision. This unsurprisingly sparks a conversation about talent acquisition and how the hiring process educates and attracts candidates.
As we shared earlier, candidates are actively seeking a mission and culture that connects with their own values. The hiring process is a prime place to attract those who will be energized and thrive working towards your mission. We build candidate experiences that accelerate the process of discovering gaps and points of connection with job requirements, values, and your mission.
Partnership for Integrated Talent Management: Assessment, Engagement, Retention + Culture
Our potential is strongest when our mission is connected to everything we do. When building our greatest resource, our people, this comes down to an integrated strategy for talent management that includes assessment, engagement, retention and culture. Over the past three years we’ve seen leaders with intentional listening strategies better equipped to understand the unique voices of employees, build inclusive and safe cultures, and thrive through change. Our own mission and greatest calling is supporting organizations in building remarkable places that both reach their intended results and provide opportunities for people to thrive. This happens with intentional strategies for the employee experience, engagement, and retention.
What’s driven the greatest results for retention and engagement with your employees? How has your organization connected all the pieces of building a remarkable work experience into an integrated talent management strategy?
Seeking more suggestions on connecting your culture to talent management? Access our Culture eBook for results-driving recommendations to build engagement and retention. Read our blog: Employee Engagement: Building a Reputation for Being Best-in-Class.