Issues 2012: Retention and Engagement

Workers in America are an unhappy lot. In 2010 The Conference Board reported that only 45% of workers are satisfied with their work, continuing a two-decade trend of increasing dissatisfaction. Think about that. Nearly six out of ten people in our organizations are not bringing anywhere near their best to work.

This statistic tells me that our #1 leadership issue in 2012 needs to be retention and engagement.

Wait a minute. You’re thinking, “In this economy, no one is going anywhere.” Maybe not in the current situation, but it’s beginning to turn around and soon resumes will be hitting the streets. What you do now will impact how many resumes from your team will be in the mix.

What we know about people who are dissatisfied in their jobs is that they will leave — either physically or sometimes worse, mentally. Usually, our best performers are the first to go when they are dissatisfied. They are highly marketable and they know it. On the other end of the spectrum, our poor performers will often not leave but simply continue to be dissatisfied. The bulk of our workforce won’t be the first out the door but will begin mentally shutting down. They will begin to only do what absolutely needs to be done or only what will impact their merit increase. They will come in at 8:00 and walk out precisely at 5:00. And once they see top performers leaving, they too will begin to look toward the door.

As a leader, your new year’s resolution should be to retain and engage the performers on your team. Here are some things to think about: 

      • Look at your team. Who’s a flight risk? Whose departure would significantly impact the business or the team? Who’s not going anywhere but at the same time not as fully engaged as they once were? Create re-engagement strategies and contingency plans if a performer leaves.
      • On the chance that a poor performer leaves, how attractive is it for a strong performer to join your team?
      • Look at yourself. How satisfied are you? As a leader, your team takes direction from you.
      • What vision have you developed and communicated for your organization? Does it make people say “I want to be part of this?”
      • People are satisfied when they perceive they are doing something meaningful, have a choice in their work activities, feel they are performing competently, and are making progress. As you set 2012 goals with your team, how meaningful are they? Will the person have a sense of progress?
      • Are you giving people a choice in how they run their business or manage their work?
      • Do they have the skills and knowledge to perform competently? Are they able to use their strengths? Are you helping them build their capacity through coaching?
      • Have you spoken with people about how they perceive their current work and working environment. What interests them about it? What frustrates them? Have a conversation and create a plan together to build on what’s good and address what can be changed.
      • Finally, don’t throw money at it, unless that is the real issue. Money will only work in the short term. Meaningfulness, choice, competence and progress will motivate people in the long term.
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