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Turnover costs businesses time, money, and productivity. A recent study revealed that the cost of replacing an employee is equivalent to 33% of their annual salary (, Emplify, 2020). Turnover reduces the profitability of the company which can negatively impact raises, profit sharing and overall spending. Everyone feels the pain. Ouch! 

If leaders want to retain top talent, they must invest strategically in employee development, match talents to tasks – putting the right people in the right roles, help eliminate obstacles that inhibit productivity and build a culture that prioritizes meaningful recognition and appreciation.

1) Co-create a professional development plan with your employees.

I recently saw a meme in which the CFO asked the CEO, “What if we develop our people and they leave?” to which the CEO replied, “What if we don’t and they stay?”  

A leader’s job is to grow their people. That growth is facilitated when the leader sits down with the employee to co-design a development plan individualized to the talents and strengths of the employee.  A good starting point is for the leader to inquire into any goals or interests the employee might have. 

  • Are they looking to acquire a new skill? 
  • Do they want to get promoted?  
  • Are they interested in gaining more industry knowledge? 
  • What do they enjoy about their current role? 
  • What if anything is currently blocking their success? 
  • What do they need from you as the leader to thrive and feel inspired in their role?

From this initial discussion, the professional development plan should be formalized in writing and revisited more than once a year.  The plan should give the employee opportunities to grow and challenge themselves. It should be measurable and actionable, ensuring the employee and the leader know when the goals have been achieved. It should align with team and organizational goals to ensure a win-win outcome for the employee and the company. Ultimately, the plan should inspire the employee and increase their engagement, leading to a long and fruitful career at the company.

2) Help your employees use their strengths and manage their weaknesses.

Most leaders at one point or another have put the wrong person in the wrong role. When it happens, it’s difficult to undo and can have costly consequences. The impact is a demotivated unsuccessful employee who is likely thinking about leaving the company and a leader who is frustrated with their results. It’s not a win for anyone.  It is critical that leaders consider the strengths of their employees and put them in roles and assign duties and tasks whenever possible that align with their natural talents.   When employees have the opportunity to do what they do best every day, they are more likely to feel confident, productive, and engaged in the work they do.  In fact, research conducted by Gallup® tells us that employees who learn to use their strengths are 7.8% more productive and for employees who agree that their manager focuses on their strengths, active disengagement falls to an astoundingly low 1% (Introduction to Strengths Based Development, Copyright @2024 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved). 

All employees have both strengths and weaknesses but when employees feel like the primary focus of their leader is on fixing their weakness, they may fear failure, become disengaged and consider leaving. Leaders should help employees recognize their weaknesses and develop a strategy to manage them while focusing mainly on their strengths. In fact, often employees can use one of their own strengths to off-set a weakness or partner with someone who is good at what they are not. Sometimes a weakness can be overcome by building a support system such as using helpful technology or engaging a mentor who inspires creative solutions to problems.

Focusing on employees’ strengths while helping them managing around their weakness, can increase engagement and retention. Leaders may want to consider a Gallup® Strengths training to better understand the value of the strengths on their team. Focusing on what’s right with people and building a strengths-based culture is what inspires excellence in everyone.

3) Help eliminate obstacles to getting work done.

If you want to find out why things aren’t getting done on time or why tasks take so long, go ask someone who is directly impacted by what’s not working. Some of the most frustrating experiences, especially for frontline employees, are technology glitches or slowdowns, lack of responsiveness, unclear communication, constantly changing priorities, not having the tools they need to do their job and feeling unsupported. When these types of frustrations don’t get resolved, employees leave and turnover increases.  

Leaders have to want to know what’s not working. They need to go to the source and ask the right questions to the right people. Questions like…

  • What slows you down?
  • Where’s the bottleneck?
  • What equipment or resources do you need to help you succeed in your role?
  • What needs fixing so you can better do your job?
  • What solutions do you recommend?

When leaders help resolve the job frustrations of their employees, trust increases, productivity rises, and a sense of satisfaction ensues, motivating employees to remain at the company and achieve results.

4) Build a culture of meaningful recognition.

A recent study by Gallup® and workhuman® (From Praise to Profits: The Business Case for Recognition at Work) tells us that for recognition to be meaningful it needs to be integrated into the culture and pervade every level of the organization. Their research indicated that meaningful recognition is 1) fulfilling to the employee, 2) authentically given, 3) personalized to the way someone wants to be recognized, 4) given equitably and 5) aligned to the values and practices in the organization.

Recognition starts with the leader regularly and authentically modeling appreciation and gratitude throughout the organization and inviting others to do the same.  The spirit with which recognition is given matters. To make it meaningful, use the employee’s name, make it specific and describe the impact the employee achieved and why it matters to the organization. A recognition program tied to company values can help encourage employees to cultivate the character traits aligned with the brand. Finally, remember, not everyone likes to be recognized in the same way so make sure it is given in a place and time that aligns with what feels comfortable to the employee.  

When leaders invest in the professional development of their employees, focus on their strengths, help them manage their weaknesses, reduce or eliminate obstacles to getting work done and recognize both effort and results, employees will be much more likely to experience job satisfaction that translates into career growth and longevity of employment.

Copyright © 2023 Gallup, Inc. All rights reserved. Gallup® and CliftonStrengths® are trademarks of Gallup, Inc.

Sara Harvey

Founder & President, innertelligence

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