How to keep them keen

Five HR directors reveal their approach to keeping the best performers.

Brian Fitzgerald,
director of HR development, Atkins

“For engineering consultancy Atkins, which has about 14,000 staff, keeping talented people happy is a business imperative. To this end we have set up a Management Development Centre (MDC), which uses several evaluation techniques including 360-degree surveys, rigorous self-assessment interviews and psychometric testing.

“In essence, Atkins engages and examines with delegates their current capabilities and potential future contribution. Agreeing appropriate development plans has helped to create a culture in which people tend to stay and thrive. Turnover for those who have been through the MDC is significantly lower than for the organisation as a whole.

“In our experience, what marks out a contented person from a restless one is the feeling that their company treats them as an individual, and considers their careers on a long-term basis.”

Chris Thomas,
people and customers director, FirstAssist Group

“Talent management starts with a clear business strategy, enlightened senior managers and sound reward policies.

“We give our best people objectives that will stretch them, and seek to unlock their talent and prepare them for the future. We give them space, in the form of freedom to think and act, and opportunity, in the form of new and varied accountabilities.

“We find the more space and the more opportunity we give them, the better they perform and the longer they stay.

“We currently have four of our best young managers seconded full-time to a major project, which will have real influence on the future shape of our business.”

Susana Berlevy,
head of human resources Europe, HSBC Private Bank

“A good, structured recruitment process, which thoroughly assesses candidates, has to be the starting point. People who are carefully selected against criteria which predict high performance in a job, are more likely to be successful, and successful people stay longer.

“Creating realistic mutual expectations pre-employment has the effect of increasing the likelihood of candidates accepting the job offer, and dramatically aiding retention in the first year.

“Accelerated early development is essential to get people up to speed quickly. Provide real work in the first week of the new job – work which plays to their strengths – which will set them up to succeed. As well as creating value sooner, they build self-respect and a positive reputation, and stay longer.

“Some people think it is ‘off the wall’ but I’ve found that recruiting talented people without specific jobs in mind and encouraging them to work to their strengths has built immense commitment to the job. People don’t want to leave a job which ‘fits’ them well. This approach also encourages innovation which has also resulted in new business streams being developed.”

Mark Wilcox,
director of people and organisational development, HR Europe, Sony

“The key to keeping good people is to ensure that they know their strengths, and can be placed somewhere they can be best utilised. Any amount of pay and benefits will not keep people doing things they don’t like and things that play to their weaknesses.

“If you do nothing else, assess and feedback to talented people how they are seen by others in the business. Then make an effort to match their talents to the key roles in your organisation.

“Its not rocket science but it is important. Assess, feedback, coach and develop – simple stuff well executed.”

Terry McDougall,
assistant chief executive HR, London Borough of Hackney

“Having worked in HR for 31 years, I know the importance of keeping good HR staff and developing them to become managers and leaders of the future.

“There are many books written on the subject of motivation and many tried-and-tested methods.

“My experience has taught me to lead by example, model good practice, and to be straightforward and honest with people about their abilities.

“Does my approach work? Well, some staff have been with me in Hackney for many years; some have gone off to other authorities and jobs and come back to Hackney; others have made personal decisions to move on; and some have made the decision that it’s time for them to go.

“I think staff need to be encouraged and praised when they are doing a good job, and coached and supported when they are under pressure. No magical solution, just being hands-on and having good formal communication channels such as regular one-to-ones.

“My best staff say they stay because they are valued.”

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