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Why worry about retention? Where are they going to go?

In recent conversations with two very senior, big-company executives, I heard this from one:
“Retention isn’t something I’m thinking much about. Where are our people going to go?”
And this from another:
“The thing I’m most concerned about is staff morale and giving them a vision of what we’ll look like after the recovery.”

I’ve heard so many versions of the first – and I don’t get the thinking—it was a relief to hear the second.  Eventually, as it always does, employment will switch from an employers’ to an employees’ market.  Which company is most likely to lose good people?

Already, one-third of the workers in one survey said they planned to change jobs once the recession is over.  The post-recession re-staffing is also going to coincide with a large wave of retirements as baby-boomers come of age.  And, according to BusinessWeek, even in the midst of the worst economy in a generation there are about 3 million jobs that employers are actively recruiting for but haven’t been able to fill.

So what do you do when you can’t promise security or big financial rewards?
• Give a clear vision of the future.  Most people are working harder with fewer rewards; they want to know what they’re working towards and that you know what you’re all working towards.
• Help people understand the plan to get there and why it’s likely to succeed.  They also want to know whether the bet they’re making is a good one.
• Recognize effort and small wins. In a stiff headwind, it takes more energy to accomplish less.
• Your “A” players (shouldn’t they all be at this point?) may be under-challenged.  Find ways they can make important contributions.  It’s what drives them.
• Communicate more often.  People want to know what’s happening and how things are going.  It’s dangerous to let anxiety run free in an information vacuum.

How leaders behave toward employees during the recession is going to influence their ability to field a strong team afterward.  Which kind of company is yours?  One people will flock from or to when the job market turns?  What do you think it takes to be one of the magnets?

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