Retention > Acquisition (Or “The benefits of keeping the best for longer”)

The next time you have the opportunity to watch a child playing with a creative toy such as Lego, take a note of the way they tend to interact with it. At first it’s all bricks over the floor, chaos and mess but, eventually, they settle onto something that they’re happy with. And then they build upon it, crafting and making it better. The mess on the floor is gone. The chaos is over. It now becomes an exercise in making advancements to their creation in line with their imagination.

So what do multi-colour building bricks have to do with keeping the best people within an organisation?

It’s basically all about development, and taking the best people within a company and ensuring that they’re given enough to keep them engaged. In the same way that a child builds a Lego spaceship and then develops it further, the senior management teams should be looking at how best to ensure that they’re building and developing their teams so that they can retain the best people for the business.

Promoting personal development within your company will attract more talent, help retain it for longer and see your hires perform better in the longer term.

But what is personal development? Well, PD isn’t necessarily training. It’s more about experience on the job. PD improves awareness and identity, and develops an individual’s talent and potential which, in turn, allows the organisation to benefit from having a stronger, more focused team that is ready to adapt to change and move towards a common goal. PD is also about feedback and coaching, and giving people different kinds of challenges, usually the more senior people who are able to work independently. It keeps people interested and engaged. There still needs to be a structure so that they can come back and talk to their boss / peer group and gain other peoples feedback and input, and it’s important that the coaching and feedback that is given is constructive, honest, and includes the negative points as well. After all, how can people can grow and learn if you continually tell them that everything they’re doing is wonderful?

In a recent client survey (undertaken anonymously), we discovered that 55% of those staff we interviewed felt that they weren’t achieving their full potential, due to a lack of training and PD opportunities, and 57% of those we spoke to planned to leave within the next year for the same reasons. Senior managers who feel that they are underdeveloped are 5 times more likely to leave than those who feel that their company develops them well. So ask yourself this question – if you ran an internal survey today, how many of your staff would express these same views?

Development of staff doesn’t “just happen”. It’s an active process that requires planning and due consideration. In my experience companies need to focus not only on the appraisal process but personal development planning and goal setting at the same time. It is important to be supported and mentored regularly to help you achieve those objectives.
In an ideal world, an appraisal would run hand in hand with a PD plan so that you not only look at what you did you’d also look at what you’ll do.

Coaching is an important part of the personal development mix, unfortunately there is a generation of more senior people who can’t relate to the coaching paradigm, but more and more people have been exposed to this kind of development opportunity and, once they experience the benefits, they understand how it can unlock an individuals potential. However, coaching of staff shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. It is best left to a trained and experienced coach. Why? Well, coaching is about discussing issues that prevent people from moving to that next stage. You need to be a very skilled coach in order to ask the difficult, challenging questions that need to be asked. Also, a lot of people don’t like confrontation or conflict and when coaching someone you will often come across those two problem areas. People feel uncomfortable about discussing the bad things, and coaching is about discussing difficult situations in order to learn from them and move forward. Do not underestimate the value of having an unbiased 3rd party to coach your senior management team.

So, to recap, it’s worth holding these thoughts in mind with regards to your organisations PD needs:

• Development of staff doesn’t just happen – it needs to be planned so that it becomes integral to the organisation.
• Development means challenging experiences, coaching, feedback and mentoring.
• Encourage the talented people within the company to share their skills and knowledge amongst their peers.
• Ensure that there are PD plans in place to cater for everyone’s needs, as well as one-to-one coaching.
• Identify high potential employees, and ensure that mentors are assigned to these people.

As a final thought, I personally believe that the culture of personal development and mentoring should be set from the top of an organisation. This includes the MD / CEO / the highest-ranking executives who should be proud to impart their experiences to their management team by taking the role of mentor. No one is above wanting to be better at what they do. If the attitude is right from the top then that will trickle down. If it isn’t right this will encourage a culture of small mindedness, apathy, or both.

- Nikki Wells

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