Millennials are slowly taking over the workforce and in fact, becoming the majority of the population at work. One key characteristic that sticks out for this group of people? A lack of loyalty. Or at least, a perceived lack of loyalty. This perception is a result of their short average tenure of 2 years where perhaps the more “loyal” ones stay just a little longer. That said, they still leave and do so way earlier than the likes of the Baby Boomers who at one time, believe in lifelong commitment to ONE organization.
When talents leave, companies fret. They start panicking about what they need to do to retain this people or at least, keep them engaged longer in hope to delay their departure from the organization. This is the conventional thinking about staff engagement and talent retention but has that translated into true impact for the organization today? Has it really been that effective? I have my doubts about that. Ultimately, the employee that you are putting so much resource on still leaves and you go back to scrambling mode to find a replacement for him just to start things afresh. Is it really meaningful to then just focus on talent retention? Why are we spending that much effort to retain talents? If we take one step back, aren’t we actually seeking to retain the value that these talents bring to the organization? So instead, why aren’t we focusing on value retention?
The value that a talent can bring to the organization is multi-fold. Firstly, it’s about the knowledge that they have acquired during the time they spend with the organization. Throughout their career, a talent will acquire knowledge and translate them into the work that they do. These knowledges include both tacit and explicit knowledge. Some will be shared but others might be acquired and belong solely to the individual. Question is, how do we ensure that such knowledge, especially the tacit ones, are translated into something transferrable so that they rest of the organization can still tap on when the talent leaves?
Next, the network that they have established for the team should simply leave with the talent. Good talents are strong “magnets”. The may not necessarily be the most sociable people around but they are often able to connect effectively with others. With such connections, it opens doors for organizations which in turn lead to further opportunities. What happens if the network is created but solely linked to the individual talent? What happens if he suddenly leaves? How can you ensure that beyond a personal connection, these networks are also linked to the organization itself? That’s key.
Then, the ideas generated during the course of their work should also be captured and expanded at an appropriate time. Have you faced situations where great talents throw in a lot of ideas but were deemed as not ready for implementation at that time? Then at a later stage when you are looking for ideas, the earlier concepts are forgotten and you just hear complaints of not being able to think of something innovative? Talents are often able to help generate value through their synthesis of ideas or breakthrough thinking. Such ideas may not be implementable immediately but guess what, always keep track of good ideas because you never know when you can use them and how you can expand with them in the near future!
Finally, it’s about keeping the positive momentum going after the talent has helped create a positive flow of energy within the organization. Top talents are leaders in their own right and they get people on a journey with them while keeping a high morale level. What happens then when they leave? Do you simply allow people to feel disheartened that someone key to the team has left or, create a mechanism to allow things to continue functioning when one key piece leaves? Momentum is something that is hard to build but easy to lose. Do not waste the momentum created by the talent and find ways to keep it going even if he eventually leaves the organization.
That said, I’m not suggesting that we should not spend time managing and empowering our talents. It is the most, if not one of the most important agenda for every organization. What I’m suggesting is this: Since we know that talents today are highly mobile, stop creating a false expectation that they will stay with you for as long as you check all the right boxes. What you should focus on is to provide them with the best resources and opportunities to be the best versions they can. This in turn allows them to deliver greater value and then, focus on how you can capture and retain such values. On top of that, think of what is necessary to leverage on the value they have brought to the organization and create a sustainable model. That way, losing a talent will not be as painful and companies have a better shot of retaining their competitive edge even when the best talent leaves.