Executive Retention

by Tom Lovett, President, Lovett and Lovett Executive Search

Retaining high-performing executives and key personnel is a huge challenge, in spite of an economy that is characterized by high unemployment rates. In a survey conducted by the Society of Human Resource Management, 76 percent of the respondents said that they were looking for new employment opportunities. This means that companies have no choice but to come up with innovative methods of retention. And many companies are doing just that. According to the same survey, special retention practices were implemented by 49 percent of companies, versus 35 percent last year.

What can a management do to prevent its staff from leaving? A sound retention strategy should include:

  • Hiring only those candidates best suited for the position.
  • Understanding what employees really need to be satisfied and challenged.
  • Creating working conditions that attract, retain, and nourish employees.
  • Investing in relationships with employees, fostering an environment of mutual trust.
  • Giving employees the resources to excel at their jobs.
  • Performing regular reviews to ensure fair and market-oriented compensation packages.

Monetary rewards are strong incentives – salaries and bonuses are good motivators for employees to stay – but will not do the job alone. Promotions, career advancement, retraining opportunities, and flexible work schedules follow close behind. In some companies, senior managers’ personal bonuses are calculated on the basis of their success at retaining their best people. In this way, they are made accountable for focusing on employee retention as a high priority. Sometimes, a simple break in the routine may be all that is needed; many are simply bored with their job content and would jump at a chance to do something different.

Many companies have vastly expanded and improved their facilities, providing their employees with campus-like environments that have many attractions. Textronix Inc. recently added recreational facilities, a coffee shop, and casual meeting rooms that it hopes will attract and retain younger employees to bolster its aging work-force.

Of course, having opulent facilities is not the only way to retain employees; many companies strive to create an informal and fun atmosphere, hoping to be the workplace of choice. According to Cathy Parsons, administrative director of medical imaging at Cumberland Medical Center in Crossville, Tennessee, keeping employee morale high is the best way to reduce turnover and improve retention. “Morale-boosting can be surprisingly simple,” says Ms. Parsons. Last Christmas, they hung 75 stockings for everyone in the medical imaging department, including radiologists and radiography students. No one was required to put anything in them, but the stockings soon got filled with all kinds of gifts including dish-towels and poems! The employees had a great time retrieving their gifts and the warmth and goodwill generated by the whole exercise was immense.

Companies that are perceived to be philanthropic do a better job of reducing turn-over. In a survey by Deloitte & Touche USA LLP, 72 percent of respondents said that they would work for a company that supported charitable causes when deciding between two jobs with the same location, responsibilities, pay, and benefits. In the aftermath of the recent spate of hurricanes, many companies rushed to help and the “feel good” factor rubbed onto their employees as well.

To maintain its competitive edge, an organization must seek out ways of keeping its human capital satisfied. Employment for life is no longer a realistic concept for most workers. As Robert Morgan, COO, Hudson Human Capital Solutions puts it, “Employers who can elicit just an extra year or two of tenure stand to benefit from dramatically reduced turnover costs.” They must do everything in their power to persuade their most valued executives and employees to stay.