“It’s not only that we can’t recruit that’s concerning, it’s that we can’t retain either, and that’s putting enormous stress on those who remain.” That’s what’s on the lips of lots of leaders Axiom has been working with of late.
‘The Great Resignation’ as this phenomenon has become known began during the pandemic, and, just like Coronavirus, we hoped it would pass quickly. It hasn’t. So, ‘what now?’ is the million-dollar question.
If you’re looking for practical ways to answer this, keep the talent you’ve got and get your team advocating, so others want to come and work with you or your wider organisation, then keep reading.
It’s much easier, of course, for us to point to HR and say, ‘fix recruitment and retention’. The truth though, is that while HR policies, processes and procedures can either help or hinder, it’s culture that really matters here. And it seeps through, teams from the top and in the way we communicate.
That means there’s plenty within our gift, as leaders and communicators, to create the conditions to secure full and thriving teams. Axiom has been partnering leaders the world over for more than 25 years to better engage people to join, stay and succeed. We’ve seen first-hand what hurts and what helps, so here we offer three pragmatic steps to ensure your best people don’t slip through your fingers.
1. Make the work interesting
People want and need to find purpose and meaning in their work. Organisations invest a great deal of time, energy and money crafting and communicating their vision and what they stand for. It’s a critical step but not the only step needed to help everyone feel they are part of a bigger purpose.
The power of purpose – a parable
Legend has it that after the great fire of London the architect behind the rebuild of St Paul’s Cathedral, Sir Christopher Wren, visited the site and met three workers. He asked what they were doing. Each gave a different response.
The slowest didn’t look up but said, ‘I’m earning a living’.
The second looked puzzled because the answer was clearly obvious, ‘I’m building a wall’.
The fastest looked up and beaming with pride said, ‘I’m creating a Cathedral’.
We know the most engaged and productive people are those with purpose, but what we often forget is that we need to help our people see how their work contributes to that wider vision.
We assume that sharing the grand plan and how our organisation is a part of something great is enough – that somehow our people can ‘join up the dots’ for themselves and see how their day-to-day work adds meaningful value.
The line of sight is certainly easier for some than others, but regardless of whether it’s Fiona from Finance, Lucy in Legal, or Martyn from Marketing, everyone wants to know their work matters and every team needs to understand how their work contributes to their organisation’s purpose, vision… and ultimately success.
2. Make the experience enriching
People need to progress. That doesn’t mean they necessarily need or want promotion, but forward momentum matters. One simple way to enrich the experiences of those in our teams is to give them equitable access to opportunities to learn, develop and grow.
Every star should shine story
As Kim Scott explains in her book ‘Radical Candor’, if we want stable teams, we need to keep our solid and stable ‘rock’ stars as engaged, excited and enthused as our ambitious ‘super’ stars.
For while the superstars shine bright and rise fast, they also behave like shooting stars – passing by us quickly. What we mustn’t forget is all stars want to shine – whether they’re shooting or not. Our role as leaders is to both encourage and enable this because, no matter our rank or role, we all want to be valued and our contributions recognised. It becomes far easier to help others realise these desires when we create an enriching environment, an environment where we:
- Invite contributions, questions and challenge
- Make it safe for people to speak up, make mistakes and learn
- Listen to understand, let people know they’re heard and act accordingly.
Axiom offers a wealth of engagement skills development workshops that enable leaders to build enriching environments and give their teams access to enhancing development opportunities.
3. Make the culture vibrant
Working from home or homing from work? The traditional barrier between our home and work selves has gone and there’s no going back. The pandemic has shown how intrinsically intertwined home and work now are.
People want to bring their whole selves to work and have the flexibility to decide the location they work from.
According to a 2021 YouGov survey in the UK, commissioned by Flexa, 68% of men and 74% of women said flexible working was important to them – that’s a 30% jump for men since 2019.
Trusting our teams to work flexibly, to deliver against agreed outcomes, is a great first step, but we also need to make the culture vibrant and inclusive regardless of where, when and how everyone best works.
People want to work for emotionally intelligent leaders who inspire them to be creative, empower them to bring their authentic selves to work, and offer them purposeful work that aids their development. And they want all this regardless of where they work from.
Fully virtual, or hybrid working makes this harder, but Axiom has seen first-hand that it’s not impossible. Internationally dispersed teams have been making hybrid work for years… and we’ve been helping them. One effective thing the best exponents do is carefully design and deliver video conferences for key meetings when not everyone is in the office to attend in person. When effectively facilitated, those meetings provide a democratic environment where everyone’s contribution is truly equal.
Virtual and hybrid are here to stay, so if we want to maximise the engagement and contribution we get from our teams, we must now be able to present brilliantly online, create a psychologically safe space and keep our meetings truly interactive.
Leadership has never been easy but doing so in a volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous world, with gaping holes in our teams, is further challenging our leadership and communication capabilities and putting heightened pressure on those we lead. It’s simply unsustainable.
“It’s not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it’s the one most adaptable to change.” – Charles Darwin
To hold on to our best talent, not have it slip through our fingers, and ensure we can bring in new talent we need to adapt fast. We need to make our teams and organisations interesting, enriching and vibrant places to work – over and above the competition. That way we not only retain the talent we have but enable them to become brand ambassadors, advocating others join them. We become ‘sticky’ leaders, creating ‘sticky’ cultures so that it’s the Great Resignation that disappears, not our great talent.
Axiom’s passion is helping organisations realise their full potential through the actions of their own people. We focus on practical application – inspiring and equipping leaders to take their teams with them on their journey to excellence. If you are a leader looking to develop yourself or your team, we’d love to partner with you. We provide leadership coaching and development programmes that help cultivate inclusive, digitally-savvy and purposeful leaders. You can download our leadership development prospectus or reach out to us email@example.com.