How to Keep Your Best Employees

Posted in : HR Updates ROI on 18 January 2017
Brian Downes
Performance Cubed
Issues covered:


Talent Retention: How to Keep Your Best Employees (Transcript)

There are four decisions that Management in growing companies must make. Those four decisions are on people, strategy, execution and cash. The people decisions, they're about getting, keeping and growing good people. Do you have the right people and are they in the right seats?

The second is strategy. Strategy decisions, and these decisions drive revenue and growth. So you'd be asking, "Do you have a plan or are you just reacting? Are you doing the right things?" Thirdly, execution. Flawless execution decisions are about profit. They're about RoI. They're about RoIT. In other words, are you doing things right? Do you have growth and recruiting strategies to help execute these plans?

The fourth, these are cash decisions. These are the decisions that produce the oxygen for your business. You can survive a long time without profit, but you can't survive a day without cash. Are you maximising your cash-conversion cycle?

In this webinar series, we're looking at the first three of these: people, strategy and execution. I would suggest that it is people, strategy and execution in that order of importance. If you have the right people, they will come up with a strategy and execute it flawlessly.

But, the right strategy without the people to own and execute it, will fail. So, it's much better to get the talent around doing business strategy with depth.

The DEAP System

In this webinar we're looking at people; specifically how to retain the best people. Our model for this is the DEAP System from TTI Success Insights Ireland. That is D-E-A-P: Discover, Engage, Advance and Perform.

Just to explain those a little:

  • DISCOVER - that's about finding the right talent internally and externally to drive organisational and personal performance.
  • The second, then, is ENGAGE retention. So, it's about engaging people at the deepest level using five integrated sciences. Behaviours, motivators, competencies, potential and EQ.
  • The third is ADVANCE or develop. Utilise deeper insights to help the organisation and individual advance to higher levels of engagement, satisfaction and effectiveness.
  • Then it's about PERFORM or managing, helping individuals and organisations perform at their best, by understanding and applying their unique talents.

Employee Engagement

So, we discussed DISCOVER in the first of this series and now we'll focus on ENGAGE. I suggest that companies who strategically use the resource, to provide a superior employment experience, would stand up more dramatically than everyone, compared to competitors with a poor employee brand.

Going forward, I think company survival, staff development and employee job stability will all be entwined. Businesses will be competing to retain the top talent that will help them to thrive, and we're seeing that already.

How do you retain your best people? How do you retain your best talent? The answer is simple. You have to want to stay. People stay where they feel engaged. Engaged means people who are involved with, committed to, enthusiastic and passionate about their work and where they work.

Engagement is not about you. It's about them. Research has shown that the major reasons for people leaving are, well, you can see on the screen there, poor relationship communication with their superior, lack of a sense of room for growth and advancement, and job-related stress. That very often comes from a poor job/person match.

I really believe that communication is a key issue. Remember the old chestnut, people don't quit jobs. They quit managers. I think that's very true. I believe that in general, people don't want to leave a job that plays to their strengths and talents. Where they're properly managed and where they see a clear career path, or clear progression path.

When an employee isn't engaged, obviously their productivity will suffer, but there's also a wider cost to the organisation: lost opportunity. The untold business benefits that the person could have contributed if their energy and creativity, were flowing into their work, and was properly directed. When that person goes beyond being disengaged, becomes seriously negative, the effect on the organisation can be devastating.

So, the numbers you see there are from a Gallup study in 2015. So, they say that only about 30% of employees are actively engaged. They say 55% are not engaged. So they're doing the minimum. They're turning up. They're doing what they've got to do, just the bare minimum. And 15% are actively disengaged. That means damaging the team, damaging the company, losing business by not treating customers properly, etc., etc.

These are consistent statistics year after year with little improvement over the last decade. We all have experience with a bad apple. So, Felps, Mitchell and Byington reckoned that one bad apple could reduce team performance by 30% to 40%. That's a huge number. So engagement, or lack of engagement, is a real issue with real ramifications.

But, let's not despair. There is hope. Watson Wyatt Worldwide found that work engagement can be improved through adopting certain workplace behavioural practices that address supervisory communication, job design, resource support, working conditions, corporate culture and leadership style.

Their research also found convincing evidence that companies with highly effective internal communication practices produce better financial results. They have great organisational stability and higher market return premiums, larger shareholder returns, greater employee engagement and, a lower attrition rate, when it comes to their talent.

How do we keep our best people?

These are the people you don't want to lose and engage those who are not fully engaged. The answer may be simple, but it's not necessarily easy. That's just where one needs to focus on.

  1. Build from the beginning: that's hiring right.
  2. Rebuild the existing team: so job match your existing team as though they were new hires.
  3. Succession plan: so build personal development plans for now and future career progression.
  4. Build competency communication: so everyone's talking the same language.
  5. Build congruence: Everyone singing from the same hymn sheet.

Now, I'm sure there are other initiatives one could undertake that are also powerful. We have found that these are particularly useful. Let's take a look at them one by one.

Build from the beginning

As we've discussed in the first series, you hire right by matching people to the right jobs. We're talking about benchmarking jobs so you understand what mix of behaviours, motivators, competencies, talents, acumen, hard skills, education, etc. is really required to be successful in each role and in the organisation's culture.

We're also saying, hire people with the appropriate mix of these, so that they fit naturally into their roles and into the culture. They feel at home in their roles and success comes easily to them.

Benchmarking explained

Here's a sample benchmark for a job:

  1. First, we have the behaviours most needed for a job. There are 12 behavioural traits here that we look at: customer-oriented, competitiveness, versatility, frequent change, frequent interaction with others, analysis of data and so on, down the line.
  2. The second is driving forces. Because they indicate what a person cares most, and least about, driving forces describe why individuals act the way they do. Revealing the inner motivation for the behaviour and what would reward them. Motivators are measured in six areas, as you can see in the slide here. Each of these has two sides, giving a total of twelve potential driving forces. With knowledge of which of these driving forces a job satisfies, each employee can be matched to a job that matches their inner drive. This component of the process ensures that the person is matched to a job they're most likely to embrace and excel at. When a person clearly demonstrates a passion for their work, it is because they're motivated and well matched to the job. It makes sense. They will be more productive and they'll enjoy doing their work. Driving forces are a powerful, underlying, source of a person's energy to perform on the job. They're also important in recognition and reward systems.
  3. The third item to the benchmark is competencies, skills you've been recognised for. All jobs require a variety of skills such as planning and organisation, resilience, contact management, continuous learning, etc.Here we look at 25 professional competencies that are generally agreed to be necessary in the workplace, in varying degrees, according to position. How important or unimportant each skill is for effective job function is going to vary from job to job, and may also be unique for similar jobs at different companies.
  4. The fourth element of the benchmark that we look at is acumen. These give an idea of how astutely a person analyses and interprets experiences as situations unfold. They give a view into how a person thinks. How clearly they understand situations and thus their capacity for meeting challenges in the business.

Here is what a complete benchmark for the job then looks like. So, we have to be able to work out what's needed for the job, the motivators, the job reward, the skills required to perform at a superior level, the acumen showing one's performance potential.

When you have a completed job benchmark you end up being able to compare a candidate to a job, as you can see here. We can see the gap between a person, which is the blue dot and the job, which is the white hoop. So you can compare a person's behaviours to those required by the job.

The motivators are driving forces. Again, the same principle, the blue dot, the white hoop and you can see where the gap is. The professional competencies or skills, and then the acumen indicators.

Then we get a summary. This is a summary of the comparison. We can see the overall match between the individual and the job. And this is the basis of engagement. When hiring, you must match the person to the job.

Now, obviously there's more to look at, outside of these pieces because you're going to look at the education, the attitude of the individual and how they present themselves when they sit in front of you for an interview. We also look at developing the key accountabilities, the competencies, the experience, etc. These are all very important and all help at matching a person to a job.

Re-building your team

The same applies to the existing teams. It's our second strategy for engagement, to rebuild existing team. We'd apply the exact same approach to existing staff. Benchmark their jobs and match them against their roles. Change their roles and responsibilities as necessary to allow them to be successful. If there's no job fit, help them move to an alternative opportunity elsewhere, where they can enjoy success.

Some people may have a problem with that last statement, let me just say. And I think it's important to know here, that we're being rigorous here and not ruthless.

Rebuilding the team then, we do the benchmark. We ask ourselves, "Do they fit?" We can look at the gap analysis. When we have the gap analysis, we can ask, "Can we develop this person?" If they don't fit, "Can we change the roles and responsibilities, and look to see is there an alternative opportunity within the organisation, where their particular set of skills and behaviours and motivators would be better deployed? But remembering here that we're being rigorous and not ruthless.

Succession planning

This leads me into our third strategy for building engagement: succession planning. The key here is to build individual personal and professional development plans for now and future career progression.

As we've already seen, you can assess talent and prepare a gap analysis on an employee's current role, and their future possible roles. From those gap analyses, you can prepare a professional development plan that shows the individual, and their superior, what needs to be done to help them become as effective as she can in her current role. And what she needs to do to move on to the next role in a clear succession plan, career path plan, if that is what she wants.

We have a website where you can key in the results of the various assessments for an individual and it will produce a personalised development plan, for the individual. It's at . You can actually go take a look at that.

Here are a few extracts from a plan generated that way. The plan here shows the gaps in competencies, in behaviours, in driving forces, in acumen. You can also see there the employee performance plan and the key accountability statement, etc. Then development areas are clearly highlighted, with certain specific actions to be undertaken, by when, etc.

So, succession planning: let me just summarise what we're saying about engagement strategy:

  1. Benchmark roles and measure people against them for career progression. From this, you can put the personal development plans we've just looked at, in place, to make sure you have the talent to fill the roles as they become available. This way you can develop a pipeline of engaged people with the motivation, competence, behaviour and acumen, etc., that the organisation needs to drive forward.
  2. Hire for the future. Hiring and developing your team is an investment, an investment in the future. When you're hiring, you need to keep an eye on your succession plan. Inject an endless stream of talent into the veins of the companies as suggested by Jim Collins in "Good to Great." I don't know if you've read the book. It's well worth a read. But match your current and future needs. If you have benchmarked the various roles, you can look at people, not just in the context of the current position, but also in the context of future possible roles.
  3. Be candid with people. In interviews and in general, be candid with the team on the succession plan. Make it visible. Put it up on a wall. Usually, succession planning isn't really spoken of, perhaps because so few organisations actually have a succession plan. But be transparent with it.
  4. Ask "What's next?" Be the one to bring up the subject with your team. Engage people in the conversation. Don't wait for someone to tell you they're leaving before you broach the subject. Ask them where they want to go next. "Where to from here?"
  5. Finally, don't assume. ASSUME: it makes an ass of you and me, especially when you discover that some of your team have no interest in career progression, and want to stay in their current roles. Or, when you have a development plan coming out of a proper benchmark gap analysis, make sure this plan is aligned with the individual's personal ambitions on and off the job. They may have other plans. So you can't make any assumptions. You've got to engage people in conversation and encourage honesty and, again, be rigorous.

Strategies for building engagement

Back to our strategies for building engagement. Number 1 was build from the beginning or hire right. Number 2 was rebuild the existing team using the same job/person match system we suggest using for hiring. Number 3 was build a succession plan with individualised personal and professional development plans in place for current and future roles.

And now Number 4: build competence and communications. You can use the same tools to coach the employees to create a success, including training the coach. ie. the supervisor will have their development of the required coaching, training, communications and leadership skills training in their own professional development plan.

From the four we've looked at, you'll have individual coaching reports available and associated debriefing guides to help you coach your team, in the areas of behaviours and motivators, competencies, acumen. There's a huge amount of information in these assessments that can help you to bring somebody along. It can help you to engage with somebody, and communicate appropriately with somebody.

Build competence and communications

You can build a strong communication through the development of a mutual understanding of how people like to communicate, how people like to be managed, what motivates them, etc. You'll have an inside track on that. 

Our last strategy for building engagement, number five, is build congruence. What we mean by this is involve all your team in strategic planning. When people understand and buy into what you and your organisation are doing, and see how their roles and contributions fit into the bigger plan. And, assuming you've done all the above, how this plan supports their own personal and professional development and career progression plans. Then this sense of congruence and clarity builds real engagement. People are filled with a sense of purpose. They understand why they do what they're doing.

One of the models we use for this is something called the ONE Thing plan, where people can clearly see what the organisation stands for, where it's going, where they fit into the bigger picture, why their contribution is important.

We'll actually be discussing this model in greater detail in the next session. As we said, it's simple, but not easy.

I also wanted to talk you about one of my favourite books. It's a book called "Drive," written by Daniel Pink. He says, "Use of rewards and punishments to control our employees' production is an antiquated way of managing people. To maximise their enjoyment and productivity for 21st century work, we need to upgrade our thinking to include autonomy, mastery and purpose." He talks a lot about a new world of work and how people are approaching things differently now.

He looks specifically at how we motivate people. His contention is that motivation has evolved. So motivation 1.0 presumed humans are biological creatures struggling for basic needs. Motivation 2.0 presumed humans also responded to rewards and punishment. But motivation 3.0 presumes that humans also have a drive to learn, create and better the world.

It's presuming that humans now really need to identify with their own purpose and the purpose of what they do every day. In terms of engaging people, I think this is a really, really useful tool. It's a book that's really worth reading.

So, again, three areas to look at: autonomy, mastery and purpose. So, autonomy. Allowing people to do what they do and looking at the results. Do what they do and doing it their way. Mastery is about development and helping them to become masters of what they do. Purpose, helping them to identify with their purpose, and aligning that with the organisation's purpose. A very, very powerful set of tools.

The essence of this is that he says algorithmic work is no longer core. We're moving to a more heuristic paradigm. So it's much more now about the creativity. We're talking about people here who are enrolled where there's a certain level of cognitive work required. This doesn't really necessarily apply to, let's say, production line work. But what he is saying here is, control isn't useful. In fact, it's damaging. And the paradigm has shifted then, away from control and to accountability.


That's pretty much it. That is our presentation on how to keep your best talent. I hope you found it useful and I'd be happy to hear from any of you who would have any questions, who'd like to make a comment, who'd like any clarification on what I talked about. We've been using these tools for quite a while and we know they work and we know the approach works.

The first in this series by Brian Downes was: ‘How to Hire the Perfect Person Every Time

This article is correct at 18/01/2017

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Brian Downes
Performance Cubed

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