Businesses large and small in every sector seem to be struggling with the same issue: they can’t find enough qualified candidates to fill their job openings.
In March 2022, 52% of small business owners said it has become more challenging to find quality job candidates. Similarly, 69% of corporations report that employee acquisition and retention are significant burdens.
Whether we call it the Great Resignation, the Big Quit or, as the US Chamber of Commerce recently referred to the moment, the Great Reshuffle, it’s clear that attracting and retaining staff is a top priority for today’s business leaders.
In response, companies are throwing every possible solution at the wall, hoping something sticks. They are raising pay, increasing flexibility and autonomy, reinventing office perks, reconnecting people to purpose and more.
While none of these things are wrong, and many companies probably need to invest in these priorities anyway, the simple but unpopular truth is that the key to attracting and retaining top talent lies with management and leadership.
In other words, if management and leadership are doing their jobs well, people will seek out opportunities to work for and remain at these companies.
More specifically, highly effective leaders foster and facilitate a culture where people want to work because they are known, understood and empowered. Simultaneously, these workers will attract others to your organization, enhancing workplace culture and improving retention in a virtuous cycle that, partly, insulates organizations against shifting hiring trends.
To be sure, this solution is simple, but enacting it can be difficult. However, to meet this unique moment, we, as leaders, must invest first in our employees, trusting that it’ll produce a compelling workplace culture that supports critical outcomes, including hiring and retention.
Here are two easy ways that any manager/leader can begin investing in their employees today.
1. Invest in interpersonal relationships.
According to Leigh Branham, author of The Seven Hidden Reasons Employees Leave, 89% of managers state that employees leave due to compensation—when in reality, only 12% of employees leave their jobs because they want more money. This disconnect is the root of the issue. Management isn’t taking responsibility.
According to a January 2022 employee survey and analysis by McKinsey & Company, more than half of people who quit their jobs in the previous six months left because they didn’t feel valued, lacked a sense of belonging and wanted to work in an environment with stronger relationships and connections.
As the survey notes, they wanted “to be seen.”
While many leaders recognize this dynamic, their responses miss the mark, pushing for returns to in-person work to restore connections and collaboration.
Instead, managers need to invest time in getting to know their people. They need to understand their needs and aspirations as people. It’s where all genuine connections begin, and it’s not location-dependent. In my experience, three strategies have helped facilitate this process.
• Share highs and lows. When conducting introduction sessions or general meetings at my company, we often rely on an activity called “Highs and Lows” to help build connections and foster empathy. The concept is simple: people share a personal and professional high and low. Responses can be brief, but it opens a window into understanding and connection that was once inaccessible.
• Request scaled responses. We are reflexively conditioned to give rote responses to routine answers. “How are you doing?” a manager might ask. “Good,” the employee undoubtedly responds. The manager moves on, and there is no connection. Scaled responses are more helpful and insightful. For example, ask someone, “On a scale of 1-10, how would you rate your connection to your coworkers?” This allows people to be more honest and reflective, while prompting follow-up questions that can inform a sincere and constructive dialogue that builds connections and promotes better outcomes.
• Conduct meeting debriefs. Always debrief meetings. Before leaving, ask attendees if there is anything that they are carrying forward into the day that will affect or impact them. This is an opportunity to clear the air or identify positive or negative aspects that will impact company culture.
These strategies can help leaders actively invest in their teams as they conduct their day-to-day responsibilities, ultimately facilitating better relationships that drive recruitment and retention efforts.
2. Invest in developmental opportunities.
Most people want to grow and advance in their careers, becoming more skillful, insightful and capable. Therefore, leaders should invest in developmental opportunities for their teams, ensuring that people don’t feel trapped in dead-end jobs but that they are moving forward.
At my company, we’ve developed a series of courses focused on employees’ personal and professional development. These efforts aren’t just directed at becoming better at their immediate task. They include topics like personal vitality, financial management, visioning and more.
These resources are immediately available to new employees, and they are accompanied by personal coaching to help our people build a life they love.
Often, this coaching helps them fulfill professional desires, too. If people want higher pay, more responsibility or new opportunities, we provide coaching to help them pursue a path to achieving these outcomes.
This is part of a holistic effort to invest in our people. We also provide a complete, in-office cafe that people can use at no cost with friends and family. Additionally, we allocate ambitious time-off policies that are differentiated from vacation or standard sick-leave policies so people have space to account for their personal responsibilities.
Each of these efforts reflects a commitment to support people’s personal and professional growth, creating an environment where people want to stay and where they can attract other excellent people to our team.
These initiatives will necessarily look different at each company, but the principle is the same, regardless of the organization: invest in people as people, and they will be more likely to remain committed to your organization.
It’s easy to blame external forces, but the simple, if unpopular, truth is that we can only control what we do, and as leaders, we need to do more to support people in achieving their dreams. If we do, our hiring and retention problems will dissolve.
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