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Culture Based Retention

Last month, we hosted 15 agency leaders at our very first Talent Talk Breakfast Seminar. The topic of the day was Retention, and we had a panel of 3 speakers discussing their thoughts. One of our speakers William Thomas of Designing Leaders, shares his thoughts below.

"At the recent Talent Talk about retention, one of the participants challenged a bit of conventional wisdom. He suggested that the belief that “people don’t quit jobs; they quit managers” is not quite right. More accurate, he offered, is that “people don’t quit managers; they quit cultures.”

His point is well taken. An employee who has a problem with a manager might push back against that individual, might try to transfer to another manager, or may simply complain to HR or enlist the support of higher-ups. An employee who does not fit into the culture, though, has nowhere else to go inside the organisation, and so is more likely to leave. If they have a skill you need, especially one that is hard to hire, then now you have a problem.

So, how do you make sure your employees fit your culture? Two thoughts immediately come to mind.

First, ensure the reality of your workplace matches employees’ expectations. Too many organisations say they want a particular kind of culture, but then design a working environment that prevents it from emerging. If you want certain norms and priorities to take hold, you need a structure that encourages and reinforces them. For example, companies that want to move away from hierarchical, top-down environments toward more collaborative cultures, so they can improve information flow and the sharing of ideas, will probably need to change the policies they had before. It makes no sense, for instance, to tell people “We want to be collaborative,” and then have 90% of a performance review focus on individual work. When you create expectations, but then impose methods that contradict that, you frustrate your employees, and this can push them out the door. Make sure your practices, policies, technology, and other elements of the workplace contribute to the kind of culture you want, so your employees do not end up with mixed messages.

Next, be sure to communicate your culture accurately in the hiring process. When you write your job ads or the “About Us” section of your website, or when you conduct your interviews, you should tell a consistent, and accurate, story about what it means to work at your company. If you want to attract people who fit, you need to be honest about the company into which they are supposed to fit. Remember, the retention process starts with recruiting. If you recruit people who fit your organisational culture, they are more likely to stay and grow with the company. They are happier because they fit in, and you are happier because they are probably performing better and you end up saving the costs of turnover.

Finding and retaining employees who fit well in your organisation means you really need to first understand your own culture. Can you describe it? Can you explain it to someone outside your company? If not, you may have trouble using your culture effectively for retention, because you might not know it as well as you think. Create the culture you want, identify the right people for it, and you will go a long way toward solving your retention challenges."

(Read more from Designing Leaders on their blog and on Twitter.)