The 5 leadership habits that retain talent

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By Serendis

July 20, 2022

We knew Millennials had different expectations to their parents about their workplace and career. This was particularly a concern for organisations who invest a lot of time and money to develop and up-skill their graduates only to see them leave the firm after 2 years to a competitor or a different industry altogether.  

But the covid years have created a shift in employee experience and we are now seeing similar expectations across all seniority groups. Work and life have blended and will not be distinct ever again. This means flexibility of course, but this also increases people’s search for purpose and meaning at work. Their role is more than ever, a medium to deliver on their personal and career aspirations. Candidates are now interviewing hiring managers. So how can leaders retain them?  

We offer 5 habits you can embed in your monthly routine with your team members.

1. Share ‘Why?’ and repeat 

Your team does not have to save the world and purpose does not always have to be life changing. If you can articulate why your team does what it does in the context of the organisation and in the context of the stakeholders it delivers to, you have outlined purpose. People want to know why they do what they do, and they need to hear it regularly. There likely are different facets to your team’s ‘why’, but there is probably a more compelling one that drives you.  

During your team meeting, when you review the team’s outputs, when you acknowledge results, or when you explore new strategies; explain why it matters: 

  • Is it about protecting the organisation against possible excess?  
  • Or is your team enabling its clients’ growth by providing funding or financial hedging? 
  • Perhaps your team is enhancing the firm’s effectiveness by changing its processes? 

This may be obvious to you, but it is important for your team members to hear you articulate it regularly and in the context of the work they do. You can also facilitate sessions where each individual expresses what drives them in their work personally. This enhances inclusion and engagement. 

2. Ask for feedback 

Retaining a diversity of people requires catering for different personalities, needs and values. As managers, we tend to treat others the way we want to be treated. This is a fundamental error. We need to treat others the way THEY want to be treated. It is rarely obvious and you may be surprised by your team members’ different expectations and perspectives on the effectiveness of your leadership.  

Dedicate time in your one-on-one meetings to seek their feedback on your impact as a manager or their experience in the team. To ensure you get a response, phrase your questions differently rather than using the traditional casual ‘any feedback for me?’ which delivers the usual ‘no all good’. 

Ask them: 

  • What is one thing I could do differently to support you more effectively? 
  • What is one thing we could do as a team to enhance inclusion? 

Be prepared to listen and understand what they really need beyond their initial feedback. 

3. Boost resilience 

A study conducted by Marcus Buckingham in 2020 demonstrated that the occurrence of regular, individual and personal manager conversations was the strongest correlator to an individual’s level of resilience in a context of uncertainty.  

Whether your team is now operating in a hybrid model or whether they are all fully back in the office, their need to develop a personal connection with their manager remains. You can achieve this by deliberately having one-on-one fortnight or 3-weekly casual chats with your direct reports.  

Ask them: 

  • What is challenging you at the moment? 
  • What are you enjoying most? 
  • How can I help? 

Share your own challenges as well to role model vulnerability and make it safe for them to do the same and bring their authentic self to work. 

4. Define success 

Creating an environment of psychological safety where you focus on catering for individuals’ needs does not mean that you should give up on high levels of performance. Quite the opposite. However, our research demonstrates that individual team members often have misaligned understanding of what is expected of them and where they should place their focus. They don’t often receive the feedback they need in order to grow.  

As managers, it may be obvious to you that a team member is not delivering and why they aren’t, or perhaps that they are indeed a high performer. You may even feel that you have shared it explicitly with them. Unfortunately, your direct report may not be hearing it. Maybe, they are overwhelmed with anxiety when you deliver their performance review or maybe, they don’t really understand the subtle message that you have embedded in a supportive approach to feedback. 

Whether a team member is a high or low performer, they need to hear what growth looks like for them. You can articulate this by expressing what success looks like in the next 3 months for them. 

Reflect and share with them: 

  • What do they need to deliver that will make you see them as successful in the next 3 months? 
  • What are the key outputs you need to see to be comfortable with their performance? 
  • What are the behaviours they need to demonstrate to continue to grow? 

5. Explore their future 

Finally, and maybe most importantly, a critical factor to retain talent within an organisation is the ability to show interest in their career and provide them with a pathway to progress. As their manager, you will often be expected to play the role of a career coach. Young talent want to know what is next for them, how they can achieve it and what the timeframe is. A six-monthly conversation is recommended. 

Reflect and share with them: 

  • What do you see as their potential? 

Ask them: 

  • What skills and knowledge do they need to develop this year? 
  • Which training could help them develop these? 
  • What projects or opportunities could help deliver useful experiences for them?

When employees leave, the People & Culture teams conduct ‘exit interviews’. We now realise that many departures could have been avoided, only if we had known what the employee needed to stay. Many teams now conduct ‘stay interviews’ with their key talent. This is a useful angle to keep in mind when you have regular one on one conversations with your direct reports. What do they need to stay and grow within your team?