Retaining Talent in Singapore

Last week I got to participate in a Talent Talk in Singapore hosted by 33 Talent, a recruiting firm focused on the areas of big data, communications, and public relations. With two other speakers and about a dozen industry participants, we had a chance to discuss employee retention and how to identify, and overcome, the biggest challenges to keeping your best people. At first, I thought it was a little unusual that a recruiting agency wants to help their clients keep, rather than replace, their people, but it actually makes a lot of sense – firms with successful people policies are more likely to grow, and when they do, that’s when they will turn to an agency for help.

One point that quickly emerged is that, for many employees, learning and development are more important than pay. Though we did not dive down into the details on this, the logic behind it might be that employees see their development as a way to set themselves up for long-term success, so it becomes more important than the short-term impact of a larger paycheck today. Younger employees in particular may be looking at economic events of the last decade and realizing that future success is not guaranteed, so they look for an employer now who will improve their chances of success and financial security in the future. One speaker made an excellent point in this regard: if you are competing for employees on the basis of salary or title/status, you will ultimately lose. These are not sustainable, because someone else can always offer a little more money or a fancier title. Change the nature of the competition to something where you have a chance to come out ahead.

Another good point along these lines: one speaker asked how many people had read “Drive,” by Daniel Pink – unfortunately, no hands went up. That’s too bad, because in that book Dan reviews studies showing that for many people, after a minimum “survival-level” salary is reached, the real boost to employee performance and engagement comes from internal motivation rather than external sources. Leaders who can trigger that internal motivation can come out ahead in the talent competition and not only improve retention (which cuts costs) but also improve performance (leading to higher revenue). Sounds like a winning philosophy.

There was a big discussion about how “the grass is always greener somewhere else,” and how employees who feel frustrated may make a move toward something they think is better, but really isn’t. The discussion here was around people moving from agencies into in-house roles at their former clients, but the same can be said for movement between companies in any industry, or even moving between industries. One interesting suggestion was to host a forum or a lunchtime session where some of your former employees who have moved on come back and share their experiences. Obviously, you may have an incentive to find alumni who regretted their move, but it would also be good to have some folks who are happy about their change – let’s face it, you probably have some employees who are not the best fit for you, and letting them get the real story about other opportunities might encourage them to move along.

Do employees leave because of bad managers, or because of bad culture? This was a big point of discussion near the end of the session. The answer is probably “both.” In many ways, your people managers are the keepers of your culture, because no matter what your organization’s values and priorities might be, it is your managers who create and implement the policies that either support those ideas, or conflict with them. It is important to have a workplace culture that aligns with your business needs, and that only works if your managers are on board.

I found this to be a great session, and am continuing my discussions with some folks who attended. I would be interested in hearing what other strategies and techniques you have found to be effective in boosting retention.

One Response so far.

  1. Dave Ellis says:

    Right on the money in my view Dr. Thomas. Well said. Dave

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