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Retention: Your Most Important Competitive Edge

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No matter what source you choose — Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics, or Department of Commerce — the forecast is the same for the United States:
  • By 2010, there'll be 10 million more jobs than workers
  • By 2013, there'll be a shortage of 6 million degreed workers
  • By 2020, the shortage of workers will be 14 million

And these numbers are net of the talent we import and the jobs we export!

The implications of these shortages are numerous and serious.

First, the competition for workers will be intense. Losing good employees to "better offers" will be a constant problem, resulting in approximately 30% turnover.

Second, in addition to a quantitative deficit, we're facing a qualitative deficit. The U.S. currently ranks seventh among the world's 30 most industrialized nations in producing college graduates from the 25- to 34-year-old age group. This exacerbates the coming shortage of over 6 million degreed workers, threatening organizational ability to sustain both the pace of project execution and the volume of valued services.

Third, these projections reveal a significant and tough-to-manage gap in the ages of workers. Our workforce will include those under 30 and over 49, but very few workers who are age 30 to 49. Managerial talent will have to be sufficient to manage each group effectively, and to have the skills needed to get the groups to work together productively.

Fourth, as technological advances continue to allow the automation of physical and technical jobs, remaining positions will increasingly require the "high touch" style of management traditionally attributed to females. Current and aspiring male executives will have to achieve fluency with "high touch" management to compete successfully with women.

Well informed businesses are already aware that retaining talent is now a top strategic priority. As your firm engages in this highly competitive endeavor, success will be determined by whether you can offer alignment between existing and potential employees in three workplace arenas:
  1. Job content and the developmental aspirations of individuals
  2. The work environment and the needs or preferences of individuals
  3. Managerial style and the needs of a diverse work force
Let's look at how to achieve each.

Aligning Job Content and Individual Aspirations

Job content is typically expressed in some combination of position description and specific outcomes discrete to a given review period. The position description isn't usually negotiable, and no effort is typically made to customize the job description to the specific interests of the employee. Further, although one can be promoted into or out of the position, the job of the hiring manager has always been to find a candidate who, for the foreseeable future, wants the position as described.

Today, retaining employees means being willing to revise and reformat positions, to mix and match duties, and to clarify — from day one — the path from one's initial position to one's desired position. This requires on-going, substantive communications with resident employees and applicants, integrating their input into both the design of new positions and the re-design of existing positions.

I'm not suggesting that you just snap up any and every candidate and let them design their own jobs, but I am suggesting that you be more flexible about who does what. True, there will always be specific functions that must be performed, and yes, all of us will always have to shoulder some of the less than delightful duties, but giving employees more control over a significant portion of their job content will make the difference between retaining them and losing them. Here's how.

Relevant to existing positions. Allow groups of employees to collaborate to determine how each might, or what might enhance the work product of the other; how each might, or what might help the other grow; and how each might, or what might enrich the overall work experience. Second, allow administrative support personnel to review a comprehensive list of all the duties required for all such positions, and let them divide up the responsibilities consistent with their preferences, ensuring that each has their fair share of the more mundane functions.

Relevant to new positions. Let's assume a candidate has interest or experience in two different openings for which you're currently hiring. Why not allow them to work a week or two in each job to determine which they prefer? Or, let's assume you have a candidate who is qualified for a job in your accounting department, but whose real interest is in your legal department. Consider collaborating with the managers in both departments to structure the position such that some mix of work becomes reasonable and useful.

Sound impractical? Are you thinking that you can't hold multiple job openings hostage for weeks while a candidate makes a choice between the positions? Are you thinking that managers in different departments won't be willing to restructure jobs to accommodate candidate interests? Think again. Economists are predicting a shortage of 6 million individuals with four-year degrees by the year 2016. Organizations will be turning somersaults to recruit and retain employees.

Aligning Work Environment with Individual Preferences

You'll be ahead of the game if you recognize now the need to offer a smorgasbord of work environments to align with individual preferences. The more of the following your organization can offer, the better positioned you'll be to attract and retain talent.
  • Work Hours. 35-hour work weeks; flex-time; telecommuting; job sharing; and sabbaticals
  • Education. full tuition reimbursement; mentoring; coaching; corporate universities; and certification programs
  • Professional Services. Legal; mortgage and other financial; medical
  • Personal Services. Concierge and personal assistant services
  • Family Services. On-site or paid daycare for children; after school programs; elder care
  • Facilities. On-site or paid gym; health and recreational facilities; food services; personalized work stations; employer-supplied home offices
  • Benefits. Cafeteria style; temporary/emergency/back-up transportation; child or elder care; phased retirement plans; long term care insurance; five weeks' vacation from first year of employment
  • Technology. State of the art equipment; home offices paid for by employers
  • Multi-lingual Services
Aligning Managerial Style with the Needs of a Diverse Workforce

All this collaboration and customization will necessitate considerable managerial skill, but many of us view management training as a luxury we can't afford. Wake up now and realize that retention is a strategic necessity, and that managerial skill is crucial to retention. Required will be a quality of management that elevates the function to an art form.

Unless and until senior management exerts the same level of scrutiny upon the management function as it is already applied to the functions of production and finance, the impact of poor management on retention will remain invisible. The "one-style-of-management-fits-all" approach must be shed in favor of a comprehensive template of managerial skills including:
  • Versatility in communicating effectively with numerous behavior styles, cultures, and skill levels
  • The ability to engage, motivate, and appreciate employees not just en masse, but as individuals, ensuring employees know they are valued
  • The ability to synthesize seemingly disparate preferences, needs, and opportunities, into a blended composite that serves both macro-and micro-level objectives
Make no mistake. Serious retention initiatives aren't going to be optional. That you may demean all this as over-coddling and pampering does not make it any less true. Whether you believe it or not, high salaries and interesting work won't be enough to retain employees. You can ignore this advice until the marketplace makes it indisputably clear, by which time your proactive competitors will have snagged all the best people, or you can act now, ensuring that your firm has set the retention standard in your industry.

About the Author

Francie Dalton is founder and president of Dalton Alliances, Inc., a full-line business consultancy in Columbia, Maryland specializing in the behavioral, management and communication sciences. Reach her by accessing her website or by calling 410-715-0484.
On the net:Dalton Alliances, Inc. If this article has helped you in some way, will you say thanks by sharing it through a share, like, a link, or an email to someone you think would appreciate the reference.

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 environments  businesses  workers  Bureau of Labor Statistics  nation  shortages  management  college graduates  United States  work experience

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