Knowledge & Insight

How to retain your top executives

Mon 7 August 2017

One of the most frustrating events for any executive or senior manager is when a key member of their leadership team is lost to a competitor. We're all familiar with the dreaded words  "I'm leaving, I'm joining another company, these are my reasons…' and no matter how hard you try to dissuade them, you usually have to resign yourself to the fact that you're going to have some big shoes to fill.

With many years' experience working closely both with candidates and employers, we have gained tremendous insight into the reasons that compel employees to look for opportunities elsewhere. Based on the hard evidence of our own experience, this article clearly illustrates ways to significantly reduce attrition amongst key employees. I hope that you find this information useful, and hopefully it may help you to retain your executives and senior managers for longer.

1.    Better selection of candidates

One of the most effective ways to ensure members of your senior management team stay with you for longer is to select more suitable candidates to begin with. We regularly speak with senior decision-makers of well-respected organisations who take great pride in telling us how they managed to secure a particular member of staff by placing an advertisement in their industry magazine or a national broadsheet. And whilst advertising certainly has a role to play in recruitment, generally speaking, if you're attracting senior staff via this method, or even using recruitment agencies or retainer firms who rely on advertising to find their candidates, you are only ever going to draw interest from those  candidates who are actively looking for work. Senior managers who are doing a great job for their current employers will not be reading job adverts. By working in partnership with an executive recruitment firm like Stone Executive whose primary methodology is headhunting, it is possible to connect with these potential candidates. Such people are more likely to add greater value in terms of operational performance, and because they have come to you via a timely approach rather than through necessity, they frequently have a more positive mentality.

2.    Defined goal setting - "lack of a challenge"

One of the most overlooked areas of management is goal setting. Senior managers who are regularly targeted and evaluated against a defined goal usually become much more focused. Most successful senior professionals like to be challenged, to achieve, and to feel they are exceeding their targets. How often do you set your senior management team new goals in addition to organisational targets? Individual reviews of each member of your senior management team don't have to take long, but can go a long way to ensuring they are committed, challenged and highly focussed - and far more likely to retain interest in their job for longer. Too many senior candidates approach Stone Executive because they "want a new challenge", many feeling they have achieved all they can in their current role. This can frequently be avoided by setting new yearly targets for each member of your senior management team, allowing them to clearly demonstrate their ability to  achieve personal goals and milestones. Don't lose a senior member of your team due to "lack of challenge". Challenge them each year to achieve and do more, and keep them focused by working towards a defined goal. Remember, when the challenge goes, the person frequently follows soon after.

3.    Training Programmes

Another area that frequently contributes to senior staff moving on is a lack of learning opportunities. Remember that careers go through a cycle of learning. In the beginning people are acquiring new skills and being exposed to new ideas and ways of working. After a while that process begins to slow until finally the candidate feels that whilst they are being paid exceptionally well, they are in fact going backwards in terms of personal development. Money is rarely a motivating factor. A sense of challenge and the opportunity to learn new things motivates people more than an increase in their salary. Providing learning opportunities doesn't need to be costly. High quality MBA courses are one way to extend a senior manager's learning curve and can play a powerful part in helping them to retain interest in their role. Management and leadership courses for senior executives are also available from management consultancies at reasonable rates, and the return on investment can be enormous, not only in terms of retention but also in terms of productivity. In-house training programmes are also a useful solution for companies seeking to implement change or improve performance in a defined area. The world of business is an ever-changing landscape, and economic uncertainty calls for new and innovative ways of thinking. So don't deny your senior management team access to new ways of learning. If you do, you risk losing them to a company that embraces learning as part of its culture.

4.    Flexible working arrangements

Another factor that senior executives tell us contributes to attrition of key staff is a lack of flexible working arrangements. The role of a senior manager/executive is often stressful at the best of times, with individuals frequently working long and unsocial hours. Too often we hear candidates tell us "I'm looking to leave because of the travel" or "there's no work-life balance". Yet this doesn't have to be the case. If you know someone is 100% committed and regularly achieves targets, why not allow them to start work later to avoid morning traffic, or finish early on occasion? Allow them to work from home for a day or two per week, and arrange for a phone line or PC to be installed to make this easier. If you have a senior team member who contributes significantly towards the success of the company, it's wise to do what you can to make things easier for them, and even though sometimes this may just be a small token, it can go a long way towards retaining their confidence in the company.

5.    Salary reviews and incentives

Whilst money isn't necessarily a strong motivating factor for senior staff, paying them market rate commensurate with their skills is imperative. Whilst people are unlikely to work any harder for a 10% increase in salary, showing them genuine commitment by paying them above market rate will demonstrate to them they are held in high regard - and that is a strong motivating factor. If you are not sure what the current market rate is, contact one of our offices and we will be happy to provide some insight. Of course, whilst paying the appropriate salary is important, offering performance incentives goes much further in helping to motivate and retain senior staff. If you offer a bonus or performance related pay on top of a basic salary, give thought to how this could be paid. Split up the bonus half yearly and yearly, make the senior manager work towards a bonus payment, don't just give it away in a lump sum. Or have them tied into a bonus structure which gets paid incrementally throughout the year at different stages. Remember, if somebody receives a large bonus payment for a job well done, they are no longer tied into the company, and motivation to achieve bonus could waver. If you work within the public or third sector, and financial incentives are less important, incentivise staff with additional days off.

6.    Opportunity for career advancement

One of the main reasons senior candidates look to switch roles is a feeling that there is no upward mobility within their existing company - we often hear the term "dead man's shoes". Of course it's not usually feasible or appropriate simply to create an opportunity unless there is a tangible growth plan. Yet because a lack of advancement opportunity is the single biggest reason that companies lose senior managers and executives, it is an area that must be addressed.  Senior managers by their very nature are ambitious individuals, committed and focussed to improving their lot in life, so if no opportunity exists for them to do more within their existing company, disillusionment quickly sets in. One way to manage this is to create a tangible career plan for each of your senior management team. Clearly explain where their careers can expect to go in one year, three years or  five years from now. Demonstrate your company's potential  in terms of its growth and show your commitment to promote from within. Recruiting senior people from your competitors is always bad for the morale, and whilst this can't always be avoided, you should always try to cultivate a strong contingent of highly skilled and motivated managers to progress through your company into senior roles.

7.    Praise and recognition

It's very easy to set goals, but how often do you actually praise your people for achieving them? The feeling of being valued plays a major factor in how long people stay with a company, and once they feel they are undervalued or aren't getting the recognition they deserve, they start to look for new opportunities elsewhere. So although "praise and recognise good work" sounds like basic advice, you might be surprised at just how far it can go to help retain staff and maintain their interest levels. Plus the phrase "a little praise goes a long way" applies just as well to senior people as it does to junior staff. Praise and recognition is also one of the few things you can do as a company that doesn't cost any money, yet it contributes greatly towards the longevity of senior staff. We often hear positive feedback on annual awards ceremonies, and these events clearly enable companies to publicly recognise the efforts of valued individuals in contributing towards the success of the company.

The above points should be made part of a company's methodology when it comes to the hiring of senior staff, and whilst we appreciate that implementing these ideas will never completely negate the risk of losing senior staff, when used together these recommendations will help you  to retain senior staff for far longer.

We would be delighted to receive your feedback on this article. Please feel free to forward it to others who may benefit from our advice.

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