Archive for September, 2012

3 Ways to Retain your Employees (Hint: It’s about Learning…)

We used to think that people leave their jobs because they weren’t earning enough, that “cash was king.” Turns out that’s not the case. Not anymore.

According to Diane Stafford, a business, economics, and workplace writer with The Kansas City Star, The biggest reason people leave their jobs today is that they’re not learning enough. She cites a recent study published by The Harvard Business Review which says that:

Multiple studies find that today’s younger workers have absolutely no intention of sticking around if they don’t feel like they’re learning, growing and being valued in a job. Beth N. Carvin, a consultant who has spent 12 years researching exit interviews, finds that a loss of training opportunities and a lack of mentors in the workplace are two of the biggest reasons why young workers leave. “Companies need to recognize that these young workers are very mobile,” Carvin said. “They have to understand that they want a personal and clearly articulated career path.”

The loss of such talent will ultimately hurt any company’s bottom line, not only because of the potential “brain drain,” but also because of the high costs of recruiting, hiring, and training replacements. Maintaining and sustaining performance, therefore, should be a key goal for your business. Retaining and providing opportunity for learning for your top talent, especially those who will potentially grow to lead your business in the future, should be a top goal.

Here are 3 important ways to create a learning-centric environment that will encourage your top, fresh talent to stick around:

  1. Provide opportunity to learn new things. Often. There’s nothing more deadening to a thirty-year-old (or younger) employee than to be stuck doing the same job the same way day in and day out. Mix it up a bit, even for entry-level folks. Is there a new project or program being talked about? Is there a new planning group bouncing around interesting ideas? Bring in the new, raw talent to be part of these forming conversations. Inevitably, you’ll find a perspective you had’nt considered, a viewpoint you hadn’t realized might be important. They’ll surprise you with what they know and what they contribute every time.
  2. Encourage mistakes and reward do-overs. Really! Nobody (not even those of us who are more “seasoned”) learns anything unless we try something once, perhaps fail, and try it again in a different way. Unless you are in the business of brain surgery, I’m guessing that there’s plenty of runway for your folks to take on new challenges and go with it. Again, the outcome will probably surprise you. More than once I’ve seen someone come up with a new way of doing things—something I hadn’t thought of—that increased everyone’s productivity.
  3. Ask them, and often try what they suggest. Initiate your conversations with a “beginner’s mind”, staying completely neutral and having no hidden agenda or preconceived outcome in mind. Be curious about what they think and where they’d go with a problem. Then, try what they come up with. This sends a powerful message that you are listening and that you respect creative opinions. This is the vortex of learning, both for you as a leader and for your workers. When you come out the other end, you’ll both be surprised at the learning that has occurred.

American author and poet Christopher Morley once said that “there are three ingredients in the good life: learning, earning and yearning.” It’s no accident that “learning” is first on the list, for without it the others are much less likely to happen. We, as managers and leaders, are in a unique position to encourage that learning in our younger staff members and, as a consequence, strengthen our organizations overall. These three ideas are just the beginning; I’m sure many of you have your own ideas as well. Please share them in the comments below.

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Understanding My Own “Immunity to Change”

Change is not always easy. At least, not for me.

Consider this:

I’ve recently signed up at MyFitnessPal, a site that allows me to track how much I eat and how much I exercise. I’m hoping for the best, despite my history. I’ve not done very well with diet and exercise over the last few years, and that’s being very generous. Changing both my eating and fitness regimes (both what and when), has not been something that I’ve enthusiastically embraced or—let’s face it—accomplished. Something seems to be standing in my way.

I think it might be me.

As part of my PhD program at Antioch University, I am rereading Kegan and Lahey’s, Immunity to Change: How to Overcome It and Unlock the Potential in Yourself and Your Organization. In it the authors write that the thing which most gets in the way of changing anything—losing weight, advancing one’s career, adjusting the way we lead or delegate, or even how we have conversations with a spouse—are the assumptions we make and the way we see and know the world. We can’t help it. It’s a frame of reference we’re comfortable with, a personal rulebook of sorts, and one that, if left to its own devices, can make us “immune” to the very change that could positively shift our lives in fundamental ways.

In my case, I think they may be onto something.

The authors argue that we encounter (and deal with) fear and anxiety as a normal part of life. We don’t necessarily feel our fear most of the time because our natural inclination is to create a sort of internal anxiety management system. Such systems help us assess our experiences and defend against anxiety, but they can also create a block to creating the change we want. However, when we open ourselves to recognizing the limitations of these frames of reference, we create the potential to recognize and shift our internally imposed change immunity.

What kinds of changes, exactly, are we talking about? The book discusses two types of change: technical and adaptive. Examples of technical change (for me) include the learning and practicing of new skills and habits related to planning, purchasing and preparing what I eat, or creating new habits around a regular exercise routine. Technical change is fairly straightforward.

Adaptive is, well, a bit more deep.

An adaptive skill requires that I risk changing the way I see the world, calling for me to change my mindset. Our mindsets, though, are driven by all those mental rulebooks—something that the authors call “big assumptions.” They argue that we can only succeed with adaptive change by recognizing the seriousness of our internal struggle, by momentarily stepping far enough outside ourselves to objectively see our own worldviews which, invariably, are designed to reduce stress or anxiety—exactly the things most present when we consider change. For example, in the case of changing how you delegate to others, a big assumption might be that delegating could very well reduce how your own contributions are viewed, something that creates a sense of concern: How then will your contributions, or you as a manager, be recognized and seen as valuable? How will you adapt to the change not only to the way the work is done, but to how you are viewed?

So, what are my big assumptions? Well, I guess when pressed, I would admit that one assumption I have is that I’ve walked down this path before, losing weight, gaining it back, then losing it and gaining it yet again. Since I’ve not fully succeeded before, what’s to say I’ll succeed this time? It’s a lot of work—all this measuring, counting, and tracking. At the end, I know I might feel and look better. But my worldview doesn’t seem to include getting off that roller coaster, and until I can overcome this immunity to change, I may not have a real chance to succeed.

The immunity to change framework works for both personal and professional lives. Our assumptions can block us from moving forward in either. What might make you immune to creating change in your life? What big assumptions might be worth exploring?

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