How to keep good employees in a competitive hiring environment

Clients pay us to introduce them to the people who are the best at whatever it is that our clients need to have done.

Not surprisingly, people who are the “best” tend to be gainfully employed and not actively looking for career alternatives.

We facilitate a process whereby an individual suspends judgment about our client and may ultimately decide to leave a place that is familiar and transition to one that is not.

Given our role in this process, we have the unique daily experience of observing how some of the best and brightest executives around the world decide to make career changes.

In other words, author their letter of resignation and subsequently join our client, often a competitor of their previous firm, to do for them what they did for their previous employer.

The “War for Talent” often leaves us all settling for “good enough” rather than the “best” when hiring, but we are all a bit perturbed when competitors poach those we have trained, tempered and trusted.

When white collar turnover in Asia runs in cycles that average 14 months, recruiting and retention must go hand-in-hand. The key question employers ask in this difficult talent environment is “How do I keep good people?”

Maintaining contentment

Having personally helped clients draw talent away from their competitors on four continents for over a decade, I’ve come to believe that people who are content do not tend to pursue alternative career opportunities.

So, how do you keep good people “content”? The root of contentment lays in motivation and the ability to discern exactly what motivates people throughout their careers.

Contentment is not the temporary condition of being happy, sad or mad. Everyone has a bad day at work. A content executive is one who is realizing his underpinning career motives at each specific stage of his career.

The answer of how to keep good people resides in the reasons why people leave one employer for another.

Having participated in and facilitated human capital transition in the Americas, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and Africa since 1995, I’ve observed commonality that can be segmented into four periods of executive career motivation. These periods can be broken down by decades. In one’s 20s, learning is the primary motivation in individual career pursuit. Earning becomes of key importance in one’s 30s. The opportunity to build, manage and/or grow something is of principle concern in the 40s. By one’s 50s, teaching is of optimal focus.

Reflect on your 20s. This is a period of exploration and identity development. This is likely the period in which Bill Clinton “did not inhale” at Oxford. Life is an adventure and anything that stifles that is something from which to escape.

You completed formal studies at a university and are out to change the world. Your mind is an open vessel hungry to be filled with new ideas and if your employer does not adequately fill it, the risks affiliated with going somewhere else are nominal in contrast with the daily pain of obtuse minutia. As a result, to keep good people in their 20s, create an optimal learning environment for them.

30 something

Mortgages, parenthood, the reality of aging parents and affiliated costs tend to become primary components of reality in the 30-something decade. The convertible is traded for the four-door minivan, and money is essential for saving for retirement and university for the kids. Motivation in employment is largely driven by one’s capacity to earn during this period and those managers who possess the most accurate comprehension of their peoples’ earning requirements can most effectively impact retention.

Realization of “mid-life” impacts career motivation and sense of contentment in the 40s. Establishing credibility of career accomplishment takes on the form of building, managing and/or growing something to validate twenty plus years of laboring away. In the event that today’s employer lacks the capacity to extend this sort of advancement opportunity to executives in their 40s, retention is compromised.

The final career decade

As an executive breeches the transom of 50, the realization that the final career decade has arrived gradually sets in. The morning run, palates, low fat diet and trainer has kept up appearances, but it is more uncommon than not that an executive will go on to a heightened career in the 60s; hence, legacy begins to emerge at the forefront of an executive’s mind and begins to shape motivation.

In 2000, I repatriated to the States in order to help our Venture Capital clients just in time for the August meltdown of the “digital economy”. Numerous 50-ish executives, CEOs, CFOs, CIOs, CMOs in my neighborhood found themselves displaced in a short period of time. Many did not need to work for the money, but the daily routine of golf, etc became mundane and I could see it in their eyes from my back patio, which overlooked the first tee box. Three that I knew personally made the decision to “give back” in the form of taking teaching roles in public education. When economic recovery came to a point that they were again in demand, it is interesting that each made the decision to continue teaching.

Contemplation of what has been learned, contributions resulting in earning and all an executive built, managed and grew over the last thirty years are knit together in the mind to find rhyme and reason for existence. The primary motivation of teaching begins to emerge in daily behavior and the executive seeks out a platform to achieve highest recognized value from disseminating thirty years of accomplishment to an enthusiastic and esteeming audience.

We consistently find four motivations at the root of executive movement across the globe, learning in the 20s, earning in the 30s, building/managing/growing something in the 40s and teaching in the 50s. This is not to say that an executive’s decision to transition from one employer to another is not influenced by numerous other items and issues, but acknowledging these four career periods will serve you well as a component of your management dashboard in assessing your people’s root career motivation, as well as assessing to what extent your employees are appropriately challenged and rewarded throughout the evolution of their career.

These four periods should also influence how you organize personnel development programs in order to shift people toward appropriate roles.

In doing so, your people’s openness to outside offers is diminished, and tenure of your “best” people extended.

Michael Thompson is managing partner with Heidrick & Struggles China, focusing on the recruiting requirements of technology-centric organizations and professional services firms.


Share on LinkedIn Share with Google+