How to Create a Culture of Retention

In a new report, Hyperion Executive Search addresses how some organizations can consistently secure and retain top talent as well as create a thriving culture. Among the best retention practice: clear and quantifiable career paths, consistent reviews & feedback, and two-way-street leadership.

March 10, 2021 – As executive recruiters know well, companies everywhere are full of eager employees poised for fresh starts. There is recharged enthusiasm for conquering previously unconquerable projects, and scaling new heights, according to a report by David Hunt of Hyperion Executive Search. “During lockdown and working from home, time with family and friends has allowed for the creation of elaborate dreams to assist in the accomplishment of elaborate goals,” he said. “In start-ups and corporations around the world, 2021 brings a revived optimism for all of U.S., especially with vaccines being distributed. Amongst all of this joy and good cheer looms a rarely talked about issue that can wreak havoc on an organization.”

In most industries, the days of the gold Rolex for 25 years of service have long since come to an end. Mr. Hunt says that hoping your employees will stay with your organization out of sheer loyalty or to prove a resolute amount of intestinal fortitude has long since passed as the key to retaining the vital leaders within your team (or the future leaders waiting in the wings). “The war for top talent has created a pendulum effect that fluctuates between a candidate driven and an employer-driven marketplace,” he said. “Despite this pendulum, there are organizations that consistently secure and retain the best and the brightest and create a thriving culture that engages, enriches and fulfils the employees within their walls.”

Coincidentally, these organizations, in all industries, are some of the most successful. Mr. Hunt points to Southwest Airlines, for example, whose year-end results for 2020 marked the airline’s 47th consecutive year of profitability. An organization like Southwest is not created by some magic elixir, “they actually engage in best practices that are replicable, even for start-ups.,” he said. “They have chosen to make a culture of retention a priority and to develop programs and initiatives that promote this core belief.”

Whether you have just recently hired an essential player for your team or are dedicated to retaining the current team you have, the following are just three out of dozens of best practices that Hyperion Executive Search have gathered from partnering and studying great organizations and great leaders around the world. “Simply put – we know why individuals leave organizations, and we know why individuals will likely never leave an organization,” said Mr. Hunt. “We can provide additional insights and suggestions regarding your own culture and are ready to assist in design and implementation; please do not hesitate to contact us.”

Clear and Quantifiable Career Paths

Mr. Hunt says that if you ask an individual what his or her next step is in their career, they will more than likely share with you the specific title or role that is one step above where they are currently. However, Mr. Hunt asks what would their answers be to questions like the following:

  • What is your organization doing proactively to get you to that next step, or to train and equip you with the skills necessary to excel in that future role?
  • Has the company outlined exactly what you need to do in order to take that next step? Do you think those are realistic milestones?

Related: HR Leaders Thrust into the Spotlight Once Again in 2021

  • What skill-sets separate you from the individual you report to? Are you capable of filling those shoes?
  • In what areas do you need additional experience in order to be, qualified for that role?

Mr. Hunt says that if the answers to these questions aren’t clearly defined, it is reasonable to expect that quiet complacency will only last so long, lethargy, poor productivity and exit result. “Most tend to get stuck in the routine of performing a role – vs. stepping back and looking at the big picture of how to remain a viable asset to the organization,” he said. “There might be a gap between what they are capable of doing currently, and what they need to know in order to advance – but nothing is being done to bridge that gap. There might be critical limitations in place in terms of the scheduled growth of the company, or even with the skills and capabilities of the individual performers. Invite your key employees to proactively play a role in the development of their careers – as opposed to sitting back and patiently waiting for someone else to train them, promote them, and shape their futures.”

A cleantech expert, David Hunt specializes in the clean energy and e-mobility sectors. Hyperion Executive Search is a specialist search firm acting exclusively in the cleantech sector, specifically energy storage, e-mobility, renewable technologies, smartgrid, smartcities and related markets. The firm’s senior management team all have extensive experience building and managing companies and teams across the cleantech sector, including energy storage, solar and renewables, and e-mobility, prior to moving into executive search. Hyperion has track record of working with post-investment start-ups and scale-ups across Europe and the U.S.

“Think about the critical members of the team; the more difficult an employee is to replace, the more dedicated the effort should be to challenge, inspire and lead that individual’s development,” Mr. Hunt said. Now, what if a next step does not exist? What if an individual truly is limited by the available layers above them? As an entrepreneurial and growing company, do not wait for that realization to come to them; be creative in offering alternative paths, or innovative challenges, or new responsibilities. Most people do not realize the circumstances prohibiting them from career advancement – until they do.”

Consistent Reviews and Feedback

Because reviews and (possible) financial raises seem to go hand-in-hand, most employees sitting through an evaluation are probably thinking “How is this review going and how does it impact the bonus or raise that I believe I deserve?” They tend to be focused more on the financial implications of the feedback than the feedback itself, according to Mr. Hunt. “In addition to separating these two events, consider shifting the entire dynamic of the evaluation process. Instead of sharing immediate feedback, consider seeking first to understand that individual’s perspective.”

  • How do you feel about your progress to date? Are you where you thought you would be?
  • How have your responsibilities changed and evolved as you’ve grown in this past year, as opposed to a year ago? What are you taking on now, that you weren’t able to previously?
  • How are you limited? How could we (as a team) help you overcome those limitations?

Related: Keys to Leading Your Remote Teams

  • In the past year, what achievements are you most proud of?
  • At what point in your career were you most challenged? What circumstances were at play at that time to challenge you, and how can we replicate that in the coming year?
  • Who is your mentor? Who pushes you to be more, learn more, accomplish more, take on more and grow more?

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  • Given your strengths and talents, how do you think you could use those to serve, or to help, others or our organization?

“Asking questions rather than simply telling feedback will allow a manager to learn that individual’s perspective, which can help effectively guide the person’s thought process in the right direction,” said Mr. Hunt. “If you tell someone what you think, it can be met with skepticism. Instead, ask questions to help them arrive at the conclusion on their own. This not only allows them to play an active role in shaping their career but also to take responsibility for areas of improvement and to creatively stretch themselves in areas you may not have thought of,” he said. “The purpose here follows the proverb of ‘Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him how to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.’ You want to instill in your team not just the right perspectives, but the ability to understand the mindset behind arriving at those perspectives.”

Two-Way Street Leadership

Not only should every individual create an annual professional plan that highlights what the organization can count on from them, but it should be made abundantly clear what they need from the organization, according to Mr. Hunt. “It is the role of any leader to serve the team around them, but without asking tough questions and being able to receive the honest responses, this open dialogue will rarely exist organically,” he said. “To create this type of experience and environment, a leader needs to extend a proactive invitation on a consistent basis. The underlying fear that is not commonly discussed. This open dialogue will result in a long list of new initiatives, programs, and work. With the overloaded plates of most leaders, it is easier to hope the issues solve themselves.”

The irony is that the complacency of an employee can be mirrored by the complacency of the manager, until such time as at least one individual is open to taking the step to create alternative solutions. Mr. Hunt explains that creating a “culture of retention” is a journey, not a destination. Building a clearly defined career path for each employee, constantly evaluating progress based on measurable milestones, and crafting an environment of constructive feedback is just one step in that journey.

Related: Pandemic Changes CHRO Role for Good

Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media

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