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  • Writer's pictureNeta Vizel

How can I retain talents when I cannot offer them a promotion?

“I’m a department manager. Three years ago we had a major growth leap when we hired super-talented people for key positions. Now I find myself with half the department seeking promotion and I have nowhere to promote them. I’m afraid that if we don’t find a solution, they’ll just leave. What can I do to retain them?”

A group of rowers in a racing boat
How can I retain talents when I cannot offer them a promotion?

“We’re not holding anyone against their will!” How many times have I heard this sentence from CEOs at the beginning of our consultation process, and every time it leaves me with a burning feeling.

What makes an employee decide to get up, leave and look for their next job?

In a survey that examined the most important aspect for Israeli employees (BDI) the role of the direct manager when it come retention, seems to grow with each year.

If in 2018 the satisfaction from the direct manager was ranked 4 in its importance for employees, in 2019 and 2020 it climbed to the third spot. And this year, 2021, it took the second place, with work-relationship in the first place (and not the salary, if you were wondering).

“People quit managers, not companies”

Dave Weiler

To reach optimal team performance while maintaining the employees’ commitment, managers need to change their mindset. Instead of asking: “What else does my staff need to do for me today?”, ask: “How can I, as the manager, make sure my staff is healthy, vital, focused and happy in the long term?”

Each one of us has needs and expectations, and if they remain unattended, our motivation and satisfaction start to decrease. Then one of two things can happen: Either the employee’s performance suffers and eventually they are fired or quit; or the employee feels a different manager could do a better job at developing them.

Two researchers from Harvard University, Schwartz and Loehr, studied this very subject. They discovered that managing energy, not time, is the key to generating full long-term commitment.

People shake hands to work together
It All Starts and Ends with Relationships

It All Starts and Ends with Relationships

How many times you found yourself saying this sentence: “I scheduled a meeting with everyone, and yet again I had to cancel”. We’ve all went through something this recent year, some challenge in a certain aspect of our lives. When we work remotely, it’s harder to sense each other, express our needs or understand those of others. It forces us to be more attentive, to ourselves, but also to those who surround us. When we’re talking about emotional energy, we’re actually referring to our awareness to our employees’ emotional state, to meaningful and authentic communication within our team, as well as their interpersonal relationships.

So, what can you do?

  • Get out of your pajamas and go back to meeting your people face to face. Make sure to spend time together in positive contexts, to regenerate the personal bond between each employee and their immediate manager, the other members of the team and the organization as a whole.

  • Ask, don’t guess, what motivates your employees. Look in their eyes, ask specific questions to understand where there may be gaps and where managerial action may be required on your part, and listen. Ask the employee what he feels he needs or wants in order to stay in the company for the long run.

“He who has a WHY to live, can bear almost any HOW” Nietzsche

We all ask ourselves “why do I do what I do?” and “is it important to me?” those are great motivational engines. Try to remember moments in your lives when you were exhausted, your work processes were messy and the people you worked with weren’t supportive… and yet, you kept moving on full speed ahead. What kept you going was you. The sense of value and meaning that you had from what you did and the sense that you are making a group effort for a greater cause.

So, what can you do?

  • Emphasize each person’s individual value and bring the team together around a shared purpose. Constantly communicate that shared purpose and group effort. Find out what gives each team member their personal sense of value and meaning and explain their personal contribution to the team or company’s success This will create connections between the employees and you, between themselves, and the organization as a whole in the long run.

  • Generate professional opportunities. One employee will want to be exposed to the organization’s new challenges, another will want to learn something new outside the organization, some will want more recognition of their work by the higher management or an extra touch with the company’s clients, and some will want to manage people or lead others. The manager is responsible to evaluate and create the adequate opportunities for his employees.

For a company to succeed it must hire the best talents and retain them for the long-term. There’s no way to retain talents and constantly drain out their very best without investing in them in return.

If you want to retain those talents, change the questions you’ve been asking all along. Instead of asking: “What else does my staff need to do for me today?”, ask: “How can I, as their manager, promote my team to become healthier, happier, more vital and focused and happy for longer periods of time, and not just for the current project.” That’s the key to retaining high-committed employees.

This content was also published at GLOBES, Israel's leading business newspaper.

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