The Leadership Traits That Are Essential For Retaining Top Talent

Post written by

Michael Dean

Employee experience director at Peakon, helping to build the company that our people want to work for.

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Do we all aspire to be people managers? It often feels like a rite of passage, but our differing motivations for this career step can have big implications. Is it because we want the influence to get things done our way, and to see our ideas come to fruition? Is it because we’re driven by enabling others to succeed and grow? Or perhaps we see management as pure delegation, a way to outsource our work.

It’s often a mixture of the three. But one thing all leaders quickly learn is that, far from being passive resources, people have all their own complex emotions, ambitions and suspicions. Being a people leader is not easy.

It’s now well recognized that the skills needed for the job are quite separate from those technical skills that might make someone a good designer or salesperson. Most people come to this realization themselves, but our firm recently published a report, "The 9-Month Warning: Identifying Quitters Before It's Too Late," which showed just how essential the so-called soft skills are in retaining top talent.

We discovered that a nine-month drop in employee engagement often precedes people leaving their jobs. This goes against the idea that employees up and leave when a better offer comes their way, or the idea that exit surveys have tended to propagate — that there was one particular moment that made someone decide to leave. In fact, it’s more likely the case that a pattern of unsupportive conversations and unchallenging work cause people to slowly drift away.

Our research identified a clear downward trend of engagement and the feeling of loyalty toward an organization, along with these key findings:

• People don't leave a challenging workload, but rather unchallenging work.

• People leave when they can’t discuss pay, not when they feel under-rewarded.

• People leave managers, not colleagues, culture or company. This is further supported by research that confirms “managers can play a major role in designing motivating, meaningful jobs.”

What do these trends have in common? Or more specifically, is there a particular skill that people leaders require that will help them retain their best talent? In fact, the findings align strongly with Google’s well-known Project Oxygen, a 2008 study of what made great managers at Google. Being a good coach was the key skill identified then and now.

Coaching and communication skills can turn around those downward trends that cause team members to leave. Here's how.

Delivering A Positive Challenge

Let’s consider that nine-month time frame. We have less than a year to understand whether someone derives a challenge from what they’re doing, or if they need to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Using a simple coaching approach, asking open-ended questions and prompting individuals to elaborate on what they get the most enjoyment from, what they feel their under-utilized skills are, what they’d like to improve about their work and similar topics can more quickly give leaders an understanding of the direction team members should be pointed in.

Discussing Compensation

Besides always being perceived as a challenging and difficult conversation, discussing pay influences employee engagement and retention. It is, in fact, belief in the fairness of compensation — as opposed to satisfaction with the final amount — that is extremely influential. Therefore, leaders need to avoid making pay a taboo subject. To do so, they need to be equipped with the right information about how pay is calculated within an organization in order to answer questions from their teams.

Creating A Supportive Environment

The premise of being a good coach is being available. Provide the time to help individuals overcome challenges, and be a sounding board for their ideas or concerns. These conversational skills are those that elevate one-on-one meetings from status updates and “so, how’s it going?” chats to sessions that team members leave with renewed vigor and direction.

What Role Does HR Play?

First, we can make coaching a core part of leadership development programs. This may already be the case in many businesses and isn’t necessarily new. Second, however, we can utilize the new breed of continuous listening tools that provide the kind of analysis used in this article. Giving leaders this kind of insight into their employees supports the ongoing development of coaching skills. By understanding the collective voice of their teams, leaders can start the right discussions and address the topics that really matter.

Forbes Human Resources Council is an invitation-only organization for HR executives across all industries. Do I qualify?
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Getty

Do we all aspire to be people managers? It often feels like a rite of passage, but our differing motivations for this career step can have big implications. Is it because we want the influence to get things done our way, and to see our ideas come to fruition? Is it because we’re driven by enabling others to succeed and grow? Or perhaps we see management as pure delegation, a way to outsource our work.

It’s often a mixture of the three. But one thing all leaders quickly learn is that, far from being passive resources, people have all their own complex emotions, ambitions and suspicions. Being a people leader is not easy.

It’s now well recognized that the skills needed for the job are quite separate from those technical skills that might make someone a good designer or salesperson. Most people come to this realization themselves, but our firm recently published a report, "The 9-Month Warning: Identifying Quitters Before It's Too Late," which showed just how essential the so-called soft skills are in retaining top talent.

We discovered that a nine-month drop in employee engagement often precedes people leaving their jobs. This goes against the idea that employees up and leave when a better offer comes their way, or the idea that exit surveys have tended to propagate — that there was one particular moment that made someone decide to leave. In fact, it’s more likely the case that a pattern of unsupportive conversations and unchallenging work cause people to slowly drift away.

Our research identified a clear downward trend of engagement and the feeling of loyalty toward an organization, along with these key findings:

• People don't leave a challenging workload, but rather unchallenging work.

• People leave when they can’t discuss pay, not when they feel under-rewarded.

• People leave managers, not colleagues, culture or company. This is further supported by research that confirms “managers can play a major role in designing motivating, meaningful jobs.”

What do these trends have in common? Or more specifically, is there a particular skill that people leaders require that will help them retain their best talent? In fact, the findings align strongly with Google’s well-known Project Oxygen, a 2008 study of what made great managers at Google. Being a good coach was the key skill identified then and now.

Coaching and communication skills can turn around those downward trends that cause team members to leave. Here's how.

Delivering A Positive Challenge

Let’s consider that nine-month time frame. We have less than a year to understand whether someone derives a challenge from what they’re doing, or if they need to be pushed out of their comfort zone. Using a simple coaching approach, asking open-ended questions and prompting individuals to elaborate on what they get the most enjoyment from, what they feel their under-utilized skills are, what they’d like to improve about their work and similar topics can more quickly give leaders an understanding of the direction team members should be pointed in.

Discussing Compensation

Besides always being perceived as a challenging and difficult conversation, discussing pay influences employee engagement and retention. It is, in fact, belief in the fairness of compensation — as opposed to satisfaction with the final amount — that is extremely influential. Therefore, leaders need to avoid making pay a taboo subject. To do so, they need to be equipped with the right information about how pay is calculated within an organization in order to answer questions from their teams.

Creating A Supportive Environment

The premise of being a good coach is being available. Provide the time to help individuals overcome challenges, and be a sounding board for their ideas or concerns. These conversational skills are those that elevate one-on-one meetings from status updates and “so, how’s it going?” chats to sessions that team members leave with renewed vigor and direction.

What Role Does HR Play?

First, we can make coaching a core part of leadership development programs. This may already be the case in many businesses and isn’t necessarily new. Second, however, we can utilize the new breed of continuous listening tools that provide the kind of analysis used in this article. Giving leaders this kind of insight into their employees supports the ongoing development of coaching skills. By understanding the collective voice of their teams, leaders can start the right discussions and address the topics that really matter.

Forbes Human Resources Council is an invitation-only organization for HR executives across all industries. Do I qualify?

Peakon, helping to build the company that our people want to work for. Read Michael Dean's full executive profile here....">Employee experience director at Peakon, helping to build the company that our people want to work for. Read Michael Dean's full executive profile here....

Forbes Human Resources Council is an invitation-only, fee-based organization for senior-level human resources executives across all industries. Find out if you qualify a...