Given the talent wars we're engaged in and the cost of bringing new talent in, employee retention has become the Golden Goose.  So advice on how to keep superstar employees from leaving and how to avoid toxic behaviors that cause turnover are gold nuggets in their own right.

Key human resources executives at Facebook and Wharton superstar Professor Adam Grant just shared a treasure of their own. Conventional logic says it's all about the immediate boss when people leave. But after many exit and entry interviews (entry meaning talking with employees in their first week on the job) Facebook and Grant told The Harvard Business Review:

"The decision to exit was because of the work. They left when their job wasn't enjoyable, their strengths weren't being used, and they weren't growing in their careers. If you want to keep your people -- especially your stars -- it's time to pay more attention to how you design their work. Most companies design jobs and then slot people into them. Our best managers sometimes do the opposite: When they find talented people, they're open to creating jobs around them."

So how can a leader better design magnetic work? In these 4 ways:

1. Build enjoyment into the job.

That's right, when people are having fun, they don't want to leave. The key is to approach job design with a flexible mindset, looking for opportunities to mold in more enjoyable, beneficial work elements for the employee. 

For example, one supremely skilled finance person on my team was considering leaving the company to pursue a teaching career, something he absolutely loved. So we co-crafted a role for him where nearly a third of his job was dedicated to teaching cross-functional partners the basics of finance and how to work with people in finance. A win-win.

2. Build meaning into the job.

Employees become attracted to their work when they're connected with the meaning behind the job. You can help remind them what the work means in terms of end result impact for the company and the people it serves. Grant's own research offers three ways to do this:

  1. Introduce employees to their end customer (Medtronics medical equipment engineers have watched formerly paralyzed patients cartwheel across a stage at an annual meeting--thanks to their work.
  2. Gather stories for your employees (Volvo engineers get to read stories about their beneficiaries from the "Volvo Saved My Life Club").
  3. Encourage employees to share their own stories and open up discussion on the purpose and significance of their work.

3. Leverage their strengths.

I remember when a very high ranking person in my former company took over my business unit and began focusing on each team members strengths and how to better leverage them, not on their opportunities they need to improve.

It felt like a revelation in a company that used a ranking system for employees and reminded me what an untapped opportunity it is to simply give mind space to fully leveraging an employee's strengths.

And all it takes is intentionality. 

For example, a stellar administrative assistant I worked with absolutely loved meeting planning, which was part of her responsibility but rarely tapped into. And, wow, was she ever a machine in this capacity. 

So we got her involved in planning big meetings for other divisions (which she loved). She excitedly carried the extra responsibility for a few years while still excelling at her core role until she eventually evolved into a full-time meeting planner--the best use of her talents for the company.

4. Invest in their learning and growth.

More than ever (boosted by millennials now being the largest work cohort), your employees hunger to learn, grow, and realize more of their full potential. 

Showing you care about this human need and are intentional about creating an individualized learning plan for each employee can go a long way. And when you do so with an eye towards their personal needs/priorities, you create loyalty.

Finding top talent is hard. Losing it is hard to take. Prevent that by designing magnetic work.

Published on: Jan 31, 2018