How to Recruit and Retain Your Staff by Conor Kenny

Tuesday, April 19, 2022.
by Conor Kenny
How to Recruit and Retain Your Staff by Conor Kenny

In 1940

When Annabel, then fifteen, now aged eighteen, was asked to deliver a presentation on how schooling had changed in the last 50 years, her answer was that it had not. To illustrate this thesis, she started with a photo of a classroom in the 1940’s and one of her school today.

The only difference was black and white versus colour.

If you reflect on how the world has changed in that time and the effect those changes have had on generations, it is a lazy, out of touch response yet we persist with the outdated memory test at the end of term.

Thankfully, by default, this rotten pandemic has forced a wake-up call in how to recruit, develop and retain your staff.

In an earlier article here, a year ago – ‘Something Wicked This Way Comes’ – I highlighted the impact of a forced pause and the inevitable haemorrhage from hospitality. And why? Simply because today’s young people react, respond, and are motivated entirely differently compared to my generation. An unexpected pause gave time to reflect and so the exodus began. Poor pay, long antisocial hours, and the collapse of investment in training, learning and development, forced their hand into the arms of new, exciting industries that understand their desire to learn and understand that the days of retaining staff, and how it is done, have changed forever.

It is one thing to retain good employees but quite another to attract them. If you need to recruit the brightest young brains then you must decide if you keep flogging the dead horse, wait for ‘the good old days to return’ or open your mind to being relevant and interesting for this fast moving and brilliant generation.

Looking At You

Recruiting used to be a little like the struggle Ernest Hemingway described in his classic novel – The Old Man and the Sea – where Santiago spent eighty-four days trying to have the greatest catch of his life.

Recruiting was always a tense battle of wits and overflowing with false behaviour. Power lay with the employer and the interviewee behaved as if they were having afternoon tea with The Queen. Today, it is equal but in a lush employment market, the balance of power favours the candidate. A pseudo false humility will no longer cut it. You get to their level, or you do not.
That is a big percentage of how they decide.

Where do you interview? What is the style? Is it homage to a King or Queen or a friendly fireside chat? What questions are you asking? What are you trying to discover? Do you ask them what they think of you and your company? Do you express the values and culture of where they want to work? And that is just for starters.

As the railway man used to shout from the platform – ‘all change’

The Must Haves

In the past, a ‘respectable job’ was described as ‘permanent and pensionable.’ The underlying conclusion was certainty. Perhaps World War 2 had ingrained a need to ensure that there would be no need for rationing if you were lucky enough to get a pillar of society job – The Bank, a teacher, a doctor, or the Civil Service.

Today, some companies are still emitting a slightly contemporary version of the same thing. It fails because that is not what motivates young iGen professionals, in fact, it is anathema to their desire for freedom and flexibility.

Today, you will be adjudged on your sustainability and contribution to the health of the planet.
You will be assessed on how inclusive you are. Your social responsibility will be under the microscope, your care for the environment, your social media output, and you will be examined on career progression and, more importantly, on your training, learning and development programmes.

These are your starting points and creating superficial in-house part time training specialists or programmes masquerading as authentic professional development, will see your rising stars exit far faster than their entrance.

In The Beginning

It is easy to say that it is at the recruitment stage that mistakes are made. But what about the advert? Did it promise an amazing career? Did it make promises that were not real? Did it exaggerate? Did it reveal the down sides? Did it talk specifically how a career would be nurtured or did it simply look the same as your competitor? Did it change since the pandemic? Did it tell me about your culture, values and can you demonstrate it?

Engagement, discussion, personalisation, these are not exciting opportunities, these are the basics before a conversation.

If you are still using the same message and methodology pre pandemic and from even further back, then do not be surprised you got so few applications.
Inspiration should be a highlight of ethos, offer and behaviour. Wild cliched claims that promise amazing opportunities and a heavenly career are populist ‘me too’ promises that bear little connection with reality.

A hard job is a hard job. Long hours are long hours. Pressure, stress, deadlines, politics. These are present where there are people. But you are missing the point by sugar coating hard work? Successful people always work hard, that is why they are successful. But hard work alone is not enough, it needs to lead somewhere and most adverts I read on Linkedin do not talk about the destination, only the immediate journey and whose need is that anyway?

And What Are You Looking For?

The obvious answer is to fill a vacancy. Is that more old thinking? You really need to understand the candidate better to see if they fit the culture and values of your organisation? You need to really evaluate and understand their natural ability? You should explore and understand how effective their engagement is? Then, in depth, what their true ambition is and does that work for you both?

It is obvious to say that all of us had to learn what we know today which means we did not know it before.

Over emphasising experience can eliminate an adaptive person and remember, a good person is always a good person and employee. If it is not with you, it certainly will be with someone else. Are you really open to hiring talent or just a set level of experience?

Choose wisely and stop giving people penal reasons not to knock on your door.

Better still, check in with iGen people and see what they think.

Into The Future

Everyone has a work comfort zone. Not everybody has a view of their own future. When you are hiring, a useful conversation will focus on what you will expect the candidate to learn, what you want them to aspire to and what they might need to do to get there.

It is easy to talk with confidence about what you already know but you might find it more revealing to probe their view of the future and their view of themselves.

Access All Areas

Traditional induction and training often involved a day or week in every department but what was the real value of that? How relevant was it to the role or future? Inevitably, the temptation to give positive feedback about every department will skew reality.

Instead, how about giving them a challenging assignment relevant to the role? Timed, structured, useful, measurable, and meaningful.

Those answers will speak for themselves.

Managing Talent

Ask someone why they left a successful company, and a common answer is poor leadership, direction, and management. They are different versions of the same thing. However, managing post pandemic is different from before.

Students who went to college never went to college. More senior people thought Zoom was fast driving and working from home instantly bestowed a lazy label.

Those simple illustrations of change will be the new norm even with some evolution and modification. Collaborating with them is key, resisting and a sense of loss for the old way will get you nowhere.

“If you think it’s expensive to hire a professional to do the job, wait until you hire an amateur”

Red Adair, American Oil Well Firefighter

Money Matters

There is a difference between being motivated by money and being motivated by reward. A career is not a job, it is a career. That assumes there is a path in your organisation, but is there?

A salary should be enough to get by on. Reward might be more money, but ambitious people are more often motivated by reward, responsibility and getting where they want to go. If your policy is to keep throwing money at your best performers, it might be no harm to remember the saying – ‘the more we have, the more we think we need’ – and where does that end.

Smart young people care deeply about the culture and values of your organisation. They want opportunity to grow, excel and achieve. They need to see where they can get to. They need to be able to relate to that by meeting people they can identify with. Lastly, they need a really good leader who will guide them, mentor them, and challenge them.

A One Way Trajectory

Just because someone is really good at the job, they do today does not mean they are ready or want promotion. How many brilliant football professionals went on to be disastrous managers? How many average football players turned in to inspirational managers?

Moving up to the next level may mean a requirement for a whole new set of skills. A brilliant departmental manager of a specific function may be terrorised by a wider brief. Yes, you need leaders, but you also need foot soldiers.

Some people love what they do and do it really well. Sending them up to the next floor assumes that they want to. Not always so. Career progression is not a one way rocket to the top floor, it can be lateral.

Lateral means continuous development within their sphere and continues to grow their knowledge.
To illustrate, imagine if a brilliant heart surgeon was so good at what he did that the owner of the private hospital promoted him or her to the top job, hospital chief executive!

HR, The Front Door

Some years ago, we were working for an exceptionally large hotel in a world capital, and it was doing very well and highly profitable. By chance, we noticed that one statistic was very well hidden from our curious eyes. The staff turnover was utterly alarming and the busy day to day life and fulsome profits were a perfect curtain to prevent a closer look.

We pushed the curtain wide regardless, and the pattern emerged. In one case, the annual staff turnover exceeded 200%

What did we learn? It was in the very area that HR controlled and the biggest barrier to success was the leader of that department.

The reputational damage, the word of mouth, the gossip, and most importantly, the shocking loss of really good people, was a tragedy.

Sometimes, you need to look at the information, but look at the leader as they give it to you too. It might save you a fortune and protect your reputation.

Cliched Excuses

It is impossible for us humans to make a decision that does not benefit us. In perilous, stressful situations, the first instinct is often to protect your job. It is really quite simple. If you cannot recruit staff, it is not the job seeker’s fault, it is yours.

If your marketing is out of touch and out of date, if your message is mixed and unclear and if you are not touching the touch points young career seekers want today, then it is up to you to fix it.
How? Tune in to their wants and needs and if you cannot then learn how the younger generations want to work.

What motivated me at the start of my career is different from today. The cultural and world order is different. Technology changed everything so too travel, social media, and a world where everyone can have a voice and instantly.

Cliches such as ‘young people are lazy’ or ‘they don’t work hard’ or ‘they want everything given to them’ is simply abdication.

In our experience teaching in professional development, they are a bright, mature, smart, and challenging generation. They adore anything that is meaningful, responsible, and helpful. They see work as an extension of who they are, their values and integrity really matters to them.

Yes, experience helps, but if that is your key priority, you will miss these inspiring people who move forward fast.

Playing Games

Power intoxicates some people. It fuels an ego and can be attractive to a minority of pirates who slip quietly into positions of power.

Let me share an example.

We were asked to make a presentation to a company we had worked with for many years. A good company founded by two good people. Success came and they started to hire a top heavy management team. Titles were sculpted to highlight seniority and power was bestowed.

The presentation response was led by someone so young that we had to disguise our surprise. His questions betrayed a complete lack of knowledge about the business, an ego that was bigger than the room and an absolute ignorance of our credentials and history of success with this company.
Enjoying his brief moment in the spotlight, he told us firmly that “I will let you know how you did in the coming weeks”

Naturally, with a record that anyone can see for themselves, we let him know the next day that we would no longer be available.

Fast forward and what happened next? His high flying career dived into a ditch, and he was gone. The original clients now had an even bigger problem, and it was not long before they were knocking on our door. But the mask had slipped, and the damage done, we were too busy to explain.
It is a reminder of the saying about treating people well on the way up because you will surely meet them on the way down.

Brands take years to build but if you put the wrong person in a position of power then you may end up paying a disproportionate price.

For today’s young people (and for people like me, no longer so young) money will never trump respect, values, culture, inclusivity, and care.

They might look great at the HR front door but what will you feel about them as they leave by the back?

Training Today

Everyone learns differently. Some by PowerPoint, some by lectures, some online, some in person, some by teamwork, some by reading, some by watching. Many by a combination.

Naturally, the content is the content and needs to be transferred to the students that day but …

  • Is it engaging?
  • Is it inspiring?
  • Is it challenging?
  • Do they interact with you?
  • Do they interact with each other?
  • Is there opportunity to create?
  • Do they have fun?
  • How good is your delivery?
  • What does your personality say to them?
  • Do you know what motivates them?
  • Do you get feedback long after the day finished?
  • Do you constantly update the content?
  • Do you ask for criticism?
  • Did you employ different learning forms within the day?
  • Is it fast moving?
  • Are they happy or sad when it is over?
  • What is the prize?
  • Is there a prize?

These are fundamental questions and if your answer is that you do not then you may well be redirecting your people into the arms of your competition unintentionally.

Training today, like it or not, needs to appeal to the student, not the facilitator.

Lastly, a simple idea for you – Have you ever planted a mystery guest/student to sit in on a day unknown to the facilitator? Their mission is only to point out what is good and what most certainly is

Exit interviews

I once read a course feedback form that asked four questions only. It went like this.

Please rate today’s course.

Please tick one box only

  • Excellent
  • Very Good
  • Good
  • Useful

Naturally, the appetite for criticism was not overwhelming yet it is the very thing that can guide you easily into making the experience for your colleagues better. This is especially true as they leave.

To know, to understand, to objectively seek out the reasons to leave is a priority for any business. It has a huge cost factor and comes with a big bill. Some reasons will be perfectly reasonable and that’s still good information. Some will be disguised, and you need to probe those. Some will be unnecessary and that is a priority for you.

Human nature is often tempted to avoid conflict and uncomfortable situations. That is an emotive personal response rather than a neutral professional one. That is not a choice, it is vital to understand, and it will not take you long to see patterns and localised areas of concern.

Great businesses welcome knowing their flaws and I am reminded of a quote a former Boss of mine once said – “Most of us would rather be damned by praise than saved by criticism”

Finally, my own Dad (Ivor Kenny) left me with many wonderful thoughts on managing people. Allow me share two given the subject of this article.

First, “There is no such thing as a lazy person, they are either sick or in the wrong job”

Lastly, “There are only two reasons why someone leaves a company. To get away from something, or to go to something better”

And only you can answer the question – what effect you are having on your people at the front door …. and back door as they wave goodbye.

By Conor Kenny
© conor kenny & associates. All rights reserved. 2022

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