“So why are you leaving?”​: Don’t treat retention discussions like a ONE TIME date

Originally published: LinkedIn (article link) 
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Subject Matter: Organization, human resources 
Style:  Persuasive/argumentation 
Author: Swati Jena (Founder, GhostWritersWorld)

That question is not a question.

In some ways “so why are you leaving?” is the answer in itself.

We are not talking of every employee. Organizations are differently keen on retaining different employees at different points in time, based on the business situation.

So, we are talking of maybe 50-60% of the organization consisting of the “good performers”, “solid citizens” and if the organization is lucky a very small percentage of “linchpins”.

Yet, even for that group, just so often resignation comes as a “surprise”. Or if there are guesses of a probable resignation, the “reason for resignation” is a “surprise”.

That the reason needs to uncovered after the resignation is the problem to begin with.

This kind of retention discussion is the biggest indication that the organization is not connected with the “pulse of people” in a meaningful way. Employee surveys are ornamental if people-to-people connections, manager-to-team communication, HR-to-employee relationship at the ground level is so weak.

How can we not know what is bothering a person we work with in and out on a daily basis?

Retention discussion with HR becomes like this one time date, where you are conversing with the person for the first time after joining and maybe last until the next resignation.

More often than not, it becomes a transactional discussion.

  • Some promise of increment or promotion
  • Some ranting of how much the organization values the person (any guess is a good guess why it missed mention to the employee earlier)
  • Showing them the ‘big picture’ of what they might be missing and all the (until-now-secret) plans the organization had for them
  • Worst, tutoring the person about how they should approach their career, how much and what they should aspire for (wonder why organizations want to retain people they can’t trust to decide for themselves about their very own careers)

So mostly, even this one time discussion is an act of “telling” rather than “listening”.

Even if it is listening, it is a case of “listening to one’s convenience”, ignoring things that imply any inconvenient amount of hard work

Such kind of retention, even when it results in a reversal of resignation, is futile. It doesn’t last long. There are studies supporting it.

For retention discussions to work, they need to be authentic, backed by a genuine interest to get to the root-cause and look for long-term solutions. It needs honest communication.

Retention discussion is not a date where we are simply saying things the other person wants to hear, even when we don’t mean it.

The biggest evidence of an authentic conversation is follow-up.

How many times is there follow-up as a matter of process, after someone has been “retained”? Too often, the organizational representatives are busy avoiding any further difficult and inconvenient conversations.

For retention discussions to be fruitful, following I think are essential.

#1) If you are surprised, acknowledge you were not FOCUSED on employees

Much too often you hear this phrase in such discussions – “but I thought you were happy!” Where is the need and scope to “think” and “assume” if someone had just done their job of keeping a check on the pulse of the team?

Good organizations firstly will not be in such a situation often. And if they are, they will acknowledge the problem and take steps to change that. Not bluff, and slyly suggest that they got misled because the employee didn’t go around with a placard saying something was bothering them.

#2) Look for root-cause-driven-solutions not cosmetic changes

It is like this. A hair-cut during mid-life crisis can give you temporary respite, but it cannot take the crisis away. So external rewards offered as carrot may work for a while, but if the core issue is not resolved, it will keep coming back (sometimes lack of “rewards” itself might be the genuine reason).

So getting to the bottom of things is critical, before rushing to offer a solution.

#3) Help the employee prioritize, but don’t manipulate them or get preachy

Employees may feel dissonance about multiple things if one or more major things are not right. The discussion should help them prioritize which ones are the deal breakers. Unless the solution addresses the top issues, it will not work in the long run.

But please don’t try to slyly get the problems you can solve to appear more important. The employee is an adult, and not a fool. It doesn’t work. Let the priority list of what is bothering the employee be a genuine reflection of how they feel and what is their preference in life. Each employee is unique. Don’t go around with a cookie cutter.

#4) Be transparent about what can or cannot be done, and give specifics

Organization might want to retain an employee for selfish reasons of business needs. However, it is not ethical to dangle a short-term carrot when there is no genuine interest to solve the real issue in the long-run. The process loses credibility in the eyes of existing employees. Be transparent about what can or cannot be done. Specify timeline, and honor it.

#5) Follow-up, follow-up, follow-up

The lowest hanging fruit on the retention tree is also the least picked. Following up on the employee who reversed a resignation, is a strong way of ensuring the retention sustains. The act in itself has an intrinsic value and communicates to the employee that the organization “really cares”. The converse is also true. Not following-up communicates that the organization did not care beyond that one meeting, and most likely you got hood-winked into reversing your decision.

I have met managers who have the authenticity to tell their team members if the organization for whatever reason cannot keep pace with the employee’s aspirations or need for challenge. I have met HR professionals who have preached, their way into hell or heaven, I know not, about how grateful the employee should be for what they have, and what should the employee’s priorities be. And I am sure we can find people of either types in either roles.The point is, the former kind of honest communication always works better in the long run.

Finally, we often forget that even if it is business, it is a human to human communication, and the rules of real world apply here too. Being misleading about your intentions for short term gain can work in a “date”. But for a long term relationship, continuous, authentic – even if it is messy at times, communication is needed.

And it’s about time we realize that.

(c) 2017 Swati Jena All Rights Reserved

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