Your top performer may have already quit: Quint Studer's 4 tips for better talent retention

"What can we do to keep you? Why didn't you tell us?"

These are questions an employee may hear quickly after they turn in their resignation.

Or how about this: Remember that pay increase you asked for? The one where you were told it could not happen? Now it can happen if you stay. You wanted a new job title? Take back your resignation and that new title could be yours.

Then, at your going away party, your boss says all these great things about you that you rarely heard. Maybe you never heard them at all. You get a nice send-off.

I've asked the hundreds of groups I've spoken with this question: Have you ever noticed that an employee gets treated better after they resign than before they resign? Many heads nod.

At times when an employee quits, some organizations quickly walk them out the door. However, my observation is if you are a good performer, you're more likely to experience the knee-jerk inquiries like the examples at the top of this column. I refer to it as the "Hail Mary" pitch.

And oftentimes when a good performer is presented with that Hail Mary, and offered those extra benefits that they had been working and asking for, the employee still stays with their resignation.

Why?

The actual resignation isn't the start of a departure, it's the end of the process. When a person quits, it's not a sudden decision. The actual resignation starts weeks, months and, at times, years earlier.

Research also shows if an employee is convinced to take back their resignation and stay, he or she will still be gone within a year.

Years ago, I was going over the results of my annual review with my supervisor. We were coming off a great year.

Then I heard my pay adjustment and was disappointed. I was told the goal of the organization was to pay around the 50th percentile compared to similar companies.

This seemed confusing. If our goal is to be top-tier performer, why is the goal of compensation to be average? I requested he re-look at the adjustment; I felt I deserved more. He said he would and he did. We met again and he shared that he was not going to adjust it.

It was not the money I was seeking, it was the acknowledgment that we had a great year and that the areas I oversaw did very well. Of course the fact that the board of directors had recently given him a very good pay adjustment was not missing from my thoughts. While I did not quit immediately, the my interest to stay began waning. Next time someone approached me about a job, I listened. I don't think I would have been ready to listen if some small pay adjustment had been made above the norm.

Every day is a day a supervisor must focus on retention of employees. If a supervisor is not skilled in retention, they get lots of experience in recruitment.

Here are some tips on effective employee retention:

1. Show those you supervise you care for them beyond the workplace. This is preventive retention. Consistently ask questions beyond just, "How are you?" A tip I learned years ago from a supervisor is to send birthday cards to your employees' children. I have done this for years. What does it accomplish? First, I know the names and ages of the children. I know when the child's birthday is, so when I see the employee I can say something. It is usually the first time this has happened to an employee. I receive nice notes from the children and it is a deposit in the retention "bucket." Of course we also send birthday cards to employees. This connects to the key Gallup question, "My boss cares about me as a person."

2. Don't wait to provide feedback and development conversations. It is all too common for a supervisor to have a development talk once a year. In two recent employee engagement surveys facilitated by the Studer Community Institute, one of the top two areas employees want engagement in is development. Say to the employee, "We are committed to your development and want to invest in you. What skill would like to develop?" If the employee can't think of one, ask them to take their time and in the next few weeks you want to meet with them to hear their thoughts. If they are still unsure, bring up your ideas. This again shows caring via the investment in the person. It's shown over and over again that millennials are putting a very high premium on development.

3. Ask, "Is there any reason you would leave here?" On a regular basis, include this with such questions as, "Who should I recognize?" and, "Do you have the tools necessary to do your job?" Don't be afraid of this question. It leads to great conversation.

4. Trust the employees. Employee engagement surveys show it is not unusual to see weak spots listed like communication and teamwork. This is even more likely if some employees are working virtually. Throw this back to the employees. Ask a group or all the employees how they think communication can get better. Same with teamwork. Employees want to be included and their input valued.

These are just a few tips, but they will make a difference. Remember: People start quitting way before they actually quit. While being able to recruit talent is important, the ability to retain talent is vital to a well-run organization.

Mr. Studer founded Studer Group in 2000. In 2015, Chicago-based Huron Consulting Group acquired the company. Mr. Studer retired in early 2016 to pursue community improvement projects in Pensacola, Fla.

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