Staff retention is hugely important to all businesses. It can be confusing because when it relates to new starters (first 12 months) it’s called attrition. This article isn’t looking at long term retention – because that’s not my area of expertise, and that’s when the HR department kicks in and manages the company culture, values, team leadership and all the good stuff that a company puts in place to encourage people to stay long term.
But retention does start with recruitment because companies need to take a long-term approach; there’s little point in getting all the long-term stuff in place, if the person isn’t recruited properly and doesn’t stay beyond the first 12 months.
Recruitment will often be a knee-jerk reaction and be focused on finding the right skills and experience to fill the hole the employer has right now. But, if a company is recruiting to fill that space, then they aren’t looking to match the candidate’s career and personal aspirations with what the business is doing longer term. And that’s where attrition kicks them all in the bum; the interviewer and the candidate get excited and both parties over sell themselves, but then three or six months later everyone realises that the job / the company is not quite what they thought it was and the disconnect appears.
Recruitment shouldn’t just be focused on the here and now needs of the business, and it shouldn’t be focused on what the business needs an employee to do. Building retention into the recruitment process involves taking a deep dive into everyone’s future; who are the people they’ll be working with? Who’s their line manager? Where do we see this role going in 12 to 18 months? If the employer wants the employee to be promoted in a year, what support do they need to put around them to enable this?
It’s a balancing act; an employer needs someone who wants to take that step up but they should not forget that the candidate will need their support to do it. If the training, support etc isn’t there to enable this step and further steps, then the employee will not feel supported and will leave.
It’s not about being ‘honest’, because I would hope that people are honest, and it’s not about when people say “Oh yeah, I tell them the warts and all” (they don’t, by the way). It is about ensuring that everyone understands the key question: why would anyone leave where they are now to come and work at that company?
If the employer can’t answer that question, then they are setting themselves up to fail.
To gather these insights, a company needs to ask their teams: Why do they stay? How do we excite you? Why are we an attractive work place? Why are we a career of choice? Ask the new recruits: Why did you choose to work with us? Could we have done something better in the recruitment process? How could we have made your life easier? All this helps with retention because if a new recruit joined a company because they’d had a good experience, because they felt wanted and also because they feel that the company is going to support them, then that’s a huge chunk of the retention done.
Once they have these reasons, an employer should incorporate these traits right through the recruitment process; into their job adverts, job descriptions and their interviews, and make sure they are communicating these factors to every interested candidate so that they come along enthused and really looking forward to being interviewed.
Employers tend to go into job interviews thinking “I’m interviewing you for a job” rather than “I’m looking at whether we’re a match for you as well’. What happens though is the interviewer simply asks competency-based questions, or tells the interviewee about the operational side of the role; “You’ll be doing this, and that and this.” The interview is the place to make sure the candidate’s aspirations line up with those of the company, ensuring that they have the infrastructure, and the business plan to support the employee. The interview is a match-making exercise so everyone needs to be aware of what both parties need and can offer – for the long term. Although it’s a small differentiator, it will have a huge impact on attrition and retention.
An interviewer needs to understand what the candidate is looking for and what they want to do. Not to ask “Where do you see yourself in five years?” But to ask about which skills they’d like to develop and which parts of the role interests them the most. To focus on emotional intelligence; to actively listen and find out the future needs and wants of the candidate, and what they will need help with.
The other big mistake that every interviewer makes is to hire someone because they get on well. This happens a lot and I for one can testify that a great personality that everyone likes doesn’t always translate into a great hire. My advice is don’t hire for personality, hire for aspirations and added value for all parties.
Retention needs to be part and parcel of your recruitment process; all your interviewing, all your appraisals, all your 1-2-1s, all your team meetings, all your conferences, all your staff away days… Recruitment can be boiled down to three parts: attraction, selection, and retention. If an employer gets the first two right, then retention is so easy as it simply just falls in to place.