Recruitment, Retention & Motivation


Tuesday 12 May 2009

Jeff Grout

Recruitment, Retention & Motivation: Key factors for surviving turbulent times

Lewis Media Centre, London

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Recruitment, Retention & Motivation

Attending a Jeff Grout event is a bit like eating at a Michelin-starred restaurant after weeks of fast food. The content is rich, varied and filling, yet easy to digest. And it's delivered with consummate precision. Grout doesn't say "um" or "er". He doesn't repeat himself, hesitate or deviate. He just imparts one piece of useful advice after another.

Some speakers limit their presentations to a handful of key points, in the belief that an audience won't retain anything more, but Grout prefers to cram in several decades of insight and experience. If you closed your eyes, you'd think you were listening to a painstakingly crafted radio programme. He's one of the best reasons to download events as MP3s (free to members) from the London Business Forum website.

Grout began by exploring some of the reasons why companies are so bad at recruiting:

  • Lack of training
  • Poor recruitment ‘Ambassadors’
  • Don’t understand the candidate agenda
  • Don’t really know what they are looking for

UK employers have some bad habits, he argued, and one of the worst is a preoccupation with younger candidates. The members of "Generation Y" are "career mercenaries... an impatient generation that doesn't expect to stay with you." Indeed, during the research for Recruiting Excellence, he discovered they expect "to spend no more than two and a quarter years with you before they move on to do something else."

This new breed of young professional regards each job as a means to improve skills and "marketability". So they will only stay at your organisation if you keep them challenged and interested. "And they're interested in the soft stuff," Grout argued. "They're interested in the vision and values of your organisation. They're interested in what it feels like to work within your business, and they're particularly interested in learning from their bosses and learning from their colleagues. So their team-mates are very important."

Attracting a career mercenary boils down to three things, he suggested: their immediate boss, the pace of opportunity and the working environment. "And when they talk about the working environment, they seldom ever refer to the physical environment... What they're talking about is the management environment and the communications environment. Because, invariably, staff turnover is down to three major causes: bad bosses, poor communications and slow routes to opportunity."

Ultimately, Grout said, "Generation Y is not only looking for a career, Generation Y is looking for a life. And consequently, we need to understand their expectations and aspirations in order to attract them. We have to speak their language."

Flexible working is one thing that is a major draw, many companies measure commitment on the number of hours worked – this, Grout argued, is wrong. Flexible workers are more engaged and more likely to stay because it creates trust between employer and employee, and people really value flexibility.

Grout also stressed that companies must create a motivational environment. But in a recession, “how can you motivate people with no bonuses, no pay rises, and no promotion opportunities?” Grout asked. It is important that you give people that “insider feeling,” everyone from the top down must feel that they have contributed to the business’ success.

With this in mind, it's crucial to develop a compelling "employer brand". This, Grout explained to the LBF, is something you have whether you like it or not: "If your [overall] brand is about attracting and retaining customers or clients, your employer brand is about attracting and retaining people for your organisation. It should provide the answer to the question, 'Why should I work for your organisation?'”

“Employer branding,” Grout continued, “is as much about retention as it is about recruitment.” Poor management skills are one of the main reasons why staff turnover is high in some companies. It is crucial, Grout believes, to outsource your exit interviews, “otherwise you will be kept in the dark about the real reasons behind staff turnover.”

By way of example, Grout cited McDonald’s as an organisation who vastly improved its staff recruitment and retention by changing its outlook and asking the right questions. In 2003 with staff turnover at 70%, the word ‘mcjob’ entered a US dictionary meaning “low-paying and dead-end work”. The Australian born Charlie Bell was brought in to solve the problem. He recognised that there is greater mobility amongst “Generation Y” and that people who joined the company did not expect to stay there forever. Bell realised that the right question to ask was, “How do we get people to leave McDonald’s better prepared for their future careers?”

Subsequently, time and money was invested in staff training and McDonald’s became the CIPD Employer Brand of the year, 2007. A knock-on effect of this was that staff-turnover decreased because McDonald’s became a company where people wanted to stay. Grout argued that it is important not to focus on the numbers of people that are leaving but on who is leaving.

You must, Grout implored the LBF, “recognise your stars, because talented people are different so you must treat them differently.” He suggested that when it comes to talent employers should ask themselves the following questions:

  • Does that person know that you consider them a star?
  • Do you make them feel like a star?
  • Have you said, “Great job” recently, and explored their aspirations and ambitions?
  • Are they paid enough, in line with other employees?

If you answer no to any of these questions then you are negligent, argued Grout. “We must,” he continued “have our arms around our star performers at all times.”

Grout added that, "Retention is no longer 20 years with one organisation. Retention is retaining access to people that used to work for you." As a managing director he used to make a point of keeping in touch with star workers after they left, and would send them letters periodically, to let them know what was going on in their old teams and to assure them that they could, if they wished, come back. "I would get back every year without fail somewhere between four and six people at no cost to the organisation," he said.

Grout finished with an equation that was used by Barbara Cassani at Go Airlines: 3X+Y. For Cassani, the 3X stood for the fundamentals of a low cost airline business, and the Y was what differentiated Go from its competitors. In recruitment the 3X should be thought of as the day to day reality of your company, and the Y is someone who should join you and who would be great for your business. After all, Grout concluded, “It is people that convey the ultimate competitive advantage!”