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Thursday, October 30, 2008

Flight of the High Performers

A new survey finds that nearly half of high performers are actively looking for other jobs. Why are they seeking greener pastures and what are companies doing to keep them?

Risk & Insurance

October 1, 2008

By MICHAEL O'BRIEN, a staff writer for Human Resource Executive®, a sister publication of Risk & Insurance®

Human resource executives would be wise to keep a closer eye on their company's high-performing employees. Chances are, a good number of them are inching ever closer to the door.

According to a recent survey by Washington-based consultancy Leadership IQ, 47 percent of high performers are actively looking for new jobs, by posting and submitting their resumes and even going on interviews. ...

This prelude to an exodus of valuable employees is a problem facing many companies, regardless of the current state of the economy. To avoid the problem is to risk watching your best assets walk right out the door and possibly into the arms of the competition.

"High performers keep companies in business," says Mark Murphy, Leadership IQ's CEO. "So every company is at risk if these people leave. If you lose some low performers, you might actually be better off. But when your best people quit, revenue drops, quality suffers and snafus increase. Even large companies can take a big hit with the departure of just a few key employees."

The list of reasons many high performers leave their current jobs may be as varied as the skill sets of the high performers themselves, but Murphy thinks the No. 1 reason most high performers leave is clear.

"Frankly, we treat our high performers worse than any other employee," he says. "When a manager has a tough project upon which the whole company depends, to whom do they turn? Who gets the late hours and the stress? It's not the low performers."

Some companies are catching onto the dangers of this negligence and are implementing programs to engage these employees before they burn out or fly the coop, from better identification and communication of their prized status to allowing them to follow their interests and participate in projects outside their immediate job description.

IDENTIFY FIRST

..."It would be an absolute shame to have (a high performer) leave without ever knowing that" the company viewed that employee as such, says Steve Robison, Dow's HR director of succession management.

...He says the company looks at each employee's performance against his or her goals as one indication of meeting high-performer criteria, and then compares them to a global competency model.

After supervisors identify their high-performing employees, Dow's HR department swings into action to organize calibration sessions, where supervisors get together to make sure they are comparing apples to apples. ...

Then there's a diversity review to ensure fair treatment, and the information is updated on the company's online performance-management tool. The employee is notified of his or her status during the annual performance review.

The high-performing group list is reviewed annually to ensure that workers with longer-range goals are being given the proper access to resources in order to achieve them. Robison says the company's attention to this cream of the crop reaps untold benefits in the long run.

"It's all about development," Robison says. "We're looking to build capacity and build a talent pipeline in the organization."

NEW OPPORTUNITIES

Indeed, the opportunity to put their skills to use in a different setting or develop new skills are two major reasons high performers seek new job opportunities elsewhere.

According to Scott Thomas, senior vice president and senior HR business partner team leader at Charlotte, N.C.-based banking and financial services organization Wachovia Corp., employee engagement surveys consistently show that "advancement and development opportunities are a high priority for our employees."

In order to satisfy that demand, a new program has been instituted there that allows the 6,000 employees in the company's IT department the opportunity to work on new tasks and projects recommended by department leaders that may lie outside their current position. ...

LIFELONG CAREER

By keeping employees focused on pursuing opportunities within the business rather than outside, one company is looking to return to the idea that an employee can build an entire career at one organization.

Linda Sharkey, vice president of people development at Palo Alto, Calif-based computer maker Hewlett Packard, says it's important for HR executives to "take the time to go out and know your high performers well, know your business and strategies well, and help people find the right path. ... That way, they know that someone is paying attention to who they are." ...

HP recently overhauled how it categorizes jobs for its 156,000 worldwide employees, by "collapsing" all their jobs into 400 job families to make it easier for employees to view online in order to plan for career moves within the organization.

The company also took a look at its own internal recruiting process and turned an eye toward giving its own high-performing employees the first crack at new openings.

"Now, we post our jobs internally (before going public) and then search our internal database, where we look for people who match the jobs. We're continuing to do more and more of that at every level of our employee base," she says. ...

The program also allows employees to "do career-development plans for themselves, so they can continue to grow within the job they have or within other jobs," Sharkey says.

However one chooses to entice one's high performers to stay, Dow's Robison says a company needs to effectively communicate their plans for employees' future development.

"The challenge is to make sure we have a compelling case as to why people should stay with us, and oftentimes, that is going to align with development opportunities. If you can't make that case, then I don't know how you can expect people to not go somewhere else where they will have those opportunities."

Copyright 2008© LRP Publication