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Retention Strategies July 7, 2009

Posted by Tim Rodgers in Management & leadership, Organizational dynamics.
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A few years ago the corporation I was working for decided to significantly reduce the growth of base salaries, I believe responding to an industry-wide benchmarking study looking at compensation for similar jobs. Engineers who were used to receiving a 6-10% annual increase suddenly found their base salary essentially capped, or at best they were eligible for a maximum 2-3% increase. This was before the current recession, and there was a very real risk of losing experienced and talented people.

I spent a lot of time in those days thinking about what I could do as a middle-manager to retain people, working within the constraints of a corporate compensation system. It seems that all the employee surveys and studies say the same thing: the majority of folks are not motivated by money and they won’t change jobs just to chase a higher salary. OK, but what does motivate people to stay? What retention strategies are available to a middle-manager?

The answer to the first question is somewhat unique to each individual, although I think there are some common themes. I ultimately focused on two strategies that were within my limited authority: (1) providing interesting and challenging work, and (2) building a sense of community. Everybody’s different, but I believe some people leave because they’re looking for professional growth, and some people leave because they have no emotional connection to their co-workers (which lowers the “cost” of leaving). I think the management team has the ability to influence both of these factors, through work assignments customized to each person’s interests and ambitions, and through small-scale team building activities that give people a chance to create social bonds.

Of course you can’t stop people from leaving, and sometimes it’s actually a good thing, although it’s always disruptive in the short-term. I used to tell my managers that we had to “get good at turnover,” meaning we had to learn how to not become derailed when a key contributor left the group. My intention was to minimize the impact to the organization, and use retention strategies to make sure turnover was limited and manageable.

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1. Getting Good At Turnover « Managing in the 2000s - October 28, 2011

[…] during an extended salary-and-bonus freeze at my employer in the middle of the last decade. See: Retention Strategies. Back then I was trying to figure out what a mid-level manager could do to create a work […]


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