Partners in Working the Plan

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Becoming an employer of choice is a possible dream for every company,

no matter how big or how small it may be. But if it were easy, every

company would be one. It takes a team effort, with everyone pushing

on the flywheel—senior leaders, human resource leaders, managers, and

employees.

Senior leaders make the commitment, enlist the support of the board,

build the culture of trust, competence, and caring, approve the budgets,

and hold all managers accountable for engaging and retaining talent.

Human resource leaders link talent strategies to business objectives, balance

value-creating activities with those that cut costs, create the right support

systems for managing talent, partner with marketing to build an

‘‘employment brand,’’ help the organization understand the true reasons

people stay and leave, recommend the right best practices, support line

managers in the implementation of those practices, and track the right measures.

Managers bear the greatest responsibility, for they are the main reason

most employees decide to stay or to go. The great managers are the ones

that make their departments ‘‘employers of choice’’ long before the organization

as a whole gains that status. And yet, great managers of people have

not been honored as the heroes they are.

Companies need to select more of the right people to become managers

in the first place, be more rigorous in the selection process, and take

more care not to promote good technical performers above their level of

competence. Managers must be challenged to be great managers, given the

tools and training they need to become great, and rewarded in meaningful

ways for engaging and retaining valued workers. And managers must be

relieved of some of the loads they are bearing—doing the work of two or

three people in addition to managing their direct reports. Too many managers

are simply too busy managing budgets and ‘‘getting things done’’ to

spend quality time with their employees.

Finally, many managers have to start taking more responsibility for their

role in engaging or disengaging employees. They need to understand that

pay is not the reason most employees leave, and accept that their way of

managing is the number one reason. For many, that means stop blaming

senior leaders for not paying more (when low pay is not the culprit), and

stop depending on human resources to do all the recruiting and recognizing.

In short, managers need to own all four phases of the talent management

cycle: attract, select, engage, and sustain engagement.

As for employees, they may need to be reminded that no manager has as

much power to engage them as they do to engage themselves. Even so,

senior leaders in many companies now survey employees to track the percentage

that are engaged versus disengaged, then challenge department

managers to do whatever it takes to better engage their people and improve

their scores in the next survey. While this does engender accountability for

managing people with skill and emotional intelligence, there is a potential

downside.

It is simply this: The responsibility for being engaged does not just fall

on the shoulders of the manager—it is the employee’s responsibility as well.

One manager asked, ‘‘What about the employees? They shouldn’t just be

waiting around for the manager to engage them. Why don’t we just score

employees on how well they are keeping themselves engaged?!’’

By overemphasizing the manager’s role in engaging employees, organizations

risk creating an environment where employees may become passive,

expecting all motivation and incentive to come from external sources.

It is easy enough for many employees to fall into a victim mentality and

assume an attitude of entitlement, especially when organizations habitually

fail to seek active employee input and put off confronting poor performers.

Maintaining the fine balance between engagement and entitlement is a

shared partnership between company leaders and employees. The need for

both parties to meet each other halfway in the process makes it all the more

important for organizations to spell out exactly how they expect employees

to keep themselves engaged, as well as how managers should work to engage

their employees.