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Retention Strategies for Your Red Zone Employees

March 1, 2019

By: Crystal Spraggins

The Great Recession threw a lot of workers for a big loop, but folks are feeling confident again, and turnover remains on the rise.

For sure, not all turnover is bad turnover. Organizations the world over have employees that “the powers that be” wish would just leave already.

However, this article isn’t about those employees. This article is about the employees you don’t want to leave but who are nonetheless at high risk of turnover. What are some effective retention strategies to keep these employees from fleeing? Keep reading to find out.

Common Retention Tactics

Competitive wages, health and other group benefits, flexible schedules, paid leave, and free coffee and snacks are all standard retention tactics. Companies taking things up a notch add tuition reimbursement, student loan repayment, onsite gyms, onsite daycare, and onsite medical facilities into the mix.

All of that is great for sure. In fact, if a company doesn’t get the basics of retention down, nothing else will matter. For instance, regardless of how much your employee enjoys the work, if he or she is underpaid and financially stressed a move toward the Exit Door is inevitable. The same can be said for the employee who’s finding it extremely difficult to meet his or her responsibilities outside of work – as either a spouse, partner, parent, adult caregiver, etc. – because of unmanageable work demands. At some point, that employee will seek relief. If your organization can provide relief, fantastic. If not, the employee will have no choice but to tender his or her resignation, even if regretfully.

So again, the best companies take care to get the basics right. However, they do something else that all the other companies only talk about. These companies invest in management. They do so consistently and unreservedly, because they know that there’s a lot of truth to the saying that people leave managers and not companies.

The Most Uncommon Retention Strategy that Works Every Time

As another saying goes, all good things must come to an end. This is as true for employment relationships as it is for love affairs. At some point, everyone leaves.

That said, smart employers know that the goal is to get as much benefit from the relationship as possible within the time available and to take steps to ensure that when an employee is ready to hightail it, the cause isn’t a poor reflection on the company.

One excellent way to meet this goal is to put resources behind people management. When a company is willing to put its resources behind the development of its people managers, everyone wins. Employees receive the attention and guidance they need to produce their very best, and the company gets engaged, satisfied workers as well as its actual work goals met.

Unfortunately, many companies think they’re investing in management when they really aren’t. These companies may have a slew of people managers on the payroll, but the managers aren’t held accountable for their ability to get work done through other people or for their ability to move individuals forward in their careers. Instead, they get graded on their own To-Do lists, and that’s a huge missed opportunity.

Every effective retention strategy aligns with the needs and desires of critical talent, but when it comes to people management, there’s no cause to overthink things. Every employee does better with a good manager than with a poor one. That’s just common sense!

So, okay, great management is the best retention strategy ever. How do you get there, and what does it look like?

Your A, B, C Guide to Building Awesome Managers

Acquire Well.  The general consensus may be that most anyone can improve his or her managerial skills, but let’s be honest, people have to give you something to work with. No one, no matter how talented at developing other managers, can take someone with no patience, hardly any empathy, very little self-control, zero self-insight, and a ton of arrogance and craft him or her into a stellar people manager. Ain’t gonna happen. You have to start with the right stuff. One way to test your potential manager’s “stuff” is through pre-hire or pre-promotion assessments that reveals behavioral tendencies as well as behavioral preferences.

Be Consistent. Human beings are wired to repeat actions that get them what they want and avoid actions that prevent them from getting what they want. If what you want is for your managers to do certain things again and again (e.g., delegate effectively, share power, not be shy about initiating difficult conversations, provide regular feedback to staff, etc.) you’ll have to be deliberate in consistently recognizing and praising those behaviors.

Coach, Coach, and Coach Again. Managing is hard work. Every leader struggles with giving honest feedback, addressing and correcting underperformance or poor performance, confronting bad behavior, or “simply” deciding priorities when everything seems to be equally important. If your organization is committed to developing leadership talent, coaching resources, whether internal or external, are a must.

All turnover can be disruptive to organizations, but bad turnover is preventable and especially troubling to responsible employers. Fortunately, the best retention strategy – good management – is well within the reach of motivated companies!

Crystal Spraggins

Freelance Writer, Editor, and HR Consultant in Philly. You can find more of Crystal's work at:

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