The opportunity for career growth is the second most important reason that talented individuals stay with their organizations. The following retention strategies can be employed in this area.
Do not create false expectations. One of the most pivotal areas of retention efforts is proper management of employee expectations. Mismatched expectations often result in employees’ departures; alternatively, well-managed expectations serve as a powerful retention tool. Setting expectations in an explicit manner, starting to manage expectations during recruiting, fostering an environment of mutual trust, and recognizing that individual expectations should change over time are among the most successfully used techniques in this area. Many companies promote a policy of total transparency on how one could get to the top. Young associates in management consultancies, for example, know that they can become a partner if they demonstrate their worth and capabilities. It starts with the selection process, and then firms push and challenge their professionals on a regular basis, so that they have only two ways to go: up or out. Although this approach has been frequently criticized, there are not many alternatives. It is important, however, never to create false expectations for growth.
Establish clear career paths. Smart organizations clearly state their commitment to promotions from within and internal mobility of professionals. In other words, they let their employees be in charge of their career destinies. The corporate culture at such firms implies that anybody within the firm can apply for any position, at either higher or lateral levels. They encourage promotion from within and fill up to 80 percent of all available vacancies with inside people. Another strategy is to have a personal development plan for all professionals. This tool helps employees understand exactly what they need to do to advance and move up the career ladder; for instance, focus on certain professional skills. To put it simply, all professionals in these firms are given a clear roadmap so that they know what to expect and what to work on.
Promote continuous learning. The most successful strategy for many organizations involves the creation of intrafirm universities or learning centers, where firms develop their associates’ managerial and leadership skills and provide training for key professional competencies. Other good strategies include various knowledge-sharing techniques.
Regularly review professional accomplishments. It is crucial to regularly use appraisal and quick feedback as tools of measuring professional performance and merit. Quick feedback is one of the key areas considered by talented employees before making a decision on whether to stay with a firm. In order to provide career growth opportunities, some successful firms review accomplishments on a regular basis, measure them against predetermined goals, and make new goals based on both personal performance and business objectives. This enables managers to expand and enhance the talent of their professional employees—deep expertise in a certain professional area for some employees and management and leadership skills for others. Some of these firms have an annual competency assessment, which measures not only a professional’s current competency but also competencies that they would need in order to move one level up in their career. Having an effective performance-appraisal system of some kind helps firms communicate objectives and provide feedback on a regular basis. The effective performance appraisal ensures that all employees know what is expected from them and how they are measured against these expectations. Firms, in turn, must converse clearly and openly that there will be low tolerance for unproductive employees. At the same time, firms have to communicate that they appreciate their top talent, as these highly productive employees may consider leaving if they feel that their work efforts are undervalued.
Establish and maintain quality coaching and mentoring programs. Most successful firms have strong mentoring programs where people are encouraged to seek out a more senior person outside of their team to get personal and career guidance. For instance, some companies introduce a special adviser program for young talent that helps them through a particular project or task and assists them in learning on the job. In addition, an informal mentoring program helps people learn on a more “implicit” level, while project-based coaching can be made available through project managers.
Losing talent can no longer be viewed as an acceptable cost of doing business.
As I have stated many times before in my publications, retention is one of the most critical issues facing organizations today. Losing talent can no longer be viewed as an acceptable cost of doing business. Excessive turnover of above 20 percent per year limits growth, upsets clients, weakens internal culture, and most importantly, takes important knowledge, skills, and abilities away from the firm. In recognition of the potential negative impact of voluntary turnover, most organizations I talked to have made retention a major component of their talent management program. Providing opportunities for career growth within the company is a key component of any successful program.