Over the past 15 years, I have been following several management consultancies, audit companies, and other major professional service firms to learn what keeps their best employees with their organizations. Interestingly, the top five reasons for staying have not changed much during this time. Moreover, the same reasons apply to most organizations that employ knowledge workers as well as to other white-collar employees across industries and sometimes even across national boundaries.
In a four-part series, I will introduce these top five reasons and suggest a few retention strategies in each area that organizations should pay close attention to in order to retain their employees over the long run. Some of the retention practices are already in use at certain professional service organizations and other knowledge-based companies, while others can be introduced to complement these strategies.
The top five reasons talented professionals stay with their organizations, in the order of importance, are:
- Exciting work and challenge
- Career growth opportunities
- Work autonomy
- Fair pay and benefits
- Recognition for a job well done
I will begin by outlining retention strategies aimed at providing exciting work and challenge to employees.
Pay Attention to Proper Project Staffing: The majority of professional service firms do not want their employees to stay with the same type of assignment or same client for a long time. They use project and team rotation to keep professionals interested and excited. Project staffing through an optimal scheduling system is critically important. According to my data, most professionals want to know in advance what type of projects are in the works so they know what to expect in their next assignment. At some firms, teams and individual professionals within teams are involved in the assignment process from the very beginning. They are involved in all aspects of the project, from the selling procedure to establishing close working relationships with customers. This enables them to mold their own jobs.
Delegate Some Decision-Making Power: Letting the most trustworthy and experienced professionals manage a big task or even an entire project by themselves has proven to be successful.
Make Assignments Interesting and Stimulating: The project itself should be interesting enough to keep people excited about their work. This could be achieved with the help of the proper client mix. Most of them are very demanding, with complex assignments, and in a big hurry. They are always ready to provide firms with fast feedback, which also keeps the work quite challenging. Some firms have a policy that professionals must be not only highly experienced in a certain area but also quite open-minded in order to apply their knowledge to different situations, since there are no predefined solutions to the clients’ problems. Some firms also utilize a value-led strategy, whereby everybody knows what he or she adds in terms of the common goal. The key here is the understanding by all professionals involved of what they want to achieve and how to get there, so the work does not become a source of frustration and dissatisfaction. One should not forget that boredom is one of the most important threats to retention. Also, management should use a combination of material and non-material rewards, such as spot bonuses and firmwide recognition, so people feel that their work is needed and appreciated.
It all starts with recruiting. Most firms are constantly trying to first find people who are excited to work directly with clients, and then give them that opportunity.
Emphasize the Recruiting Process: It all starts with recruiting. Most firms are constantly trying to first find people who are excited to work directly with clients, and then give them that opportunity.
Help People Develop Professionally: For many companies, professional versatility is extremely important. This enables professionals to apply their knowledge to different tasks, assignments, and projects. Most professionals in management consultancies, for example, build their careers by rotating from assignment to assignment, and the nature of the work itself provides challenge and excitement. This is especially true for IT consulting firms, since people in these companies feel the constant necessity to grow professionally and stay abreast of current trends. This factor also adds to the challenges in the workplace. Some firms, alternatively, do not rotate people from assignment to assignment, from industry to industry. The policy of such firms is to develop people fully in a certain area of expertise, in a certain industry segment. However, there is a real danger of losing tacit knowledge if an expert in a certain area of expertise decides to leave the organization despite all retention efforts.
Do More Research: Firms should always try new things and do more research. This is essential in order to keep the services highly customized and not plain or boring. That will keep professional employees constantly challenged and excited about their work. A high degree of customization will also lead to competitive advantages in particular areas of professional expertise.
Employ Analytical Tools: Utilizing complex algorithms and artificial intelligence techniques can decrease the time necessary to complete a project and contribute to employee satisfaction. By going through the database of professional employees, the tool generates custom staffing solutions for assignments and helps anticipate priorities for upcoming projects. The use of similar solutions can potentially shorten the project completion time significantly and decrease the overall human resource requirements, all while keeping the level of challenge and excitement among employees. In short, the utilization of some analytical tools for managing human capital can give companies some clear competitive advantages through cost savings, increased productivity, and lower voluntary turnover.
Finally, many experts agree that in order for work to be exciting and enjoyable, a proper balance must be struck between one’s professional and personal lives. To facilitate that, organizations may consider establishing a fair travel policy, flexible work arrangements, personal issues services, subsidized child care facilities, study leaves, paid parental leaves, telecommuting, and career breaks.