We have spoken to organisations who claim to have a retention strategy, but have no particular target in mind, or have designed retention strategies without a workforce plan. The problem with these approaches is that neither have the right information to know that the retention strategy is retaining the right people to build the workforce the organisation needs for future success.

So how do you go about approaching a retention strategy? You have a good workforce plan to give you the right context and information to build one! There are a number of principles to developing a retention strategy:

  1. Not all employees are equal, it's more important to retain some than others - you need to ensure you know which are which. Your organisation needs to apply a method of identifying the level of strategic importance of people and roles. Up to a point succession planning will do this, but succession planning is applied to a narrow group of roles, usually at the top - and there are usually critical roles below the top 50, 100 or 200!
    Consider the external market as well - it's not just about your organisation. External factors such as skills shortages are important for identifying potential future gaps and hence prioritising your retention efforts.
  2. You may need to retain the person, but not their skill set. Yes, I am suggesting that the workers you need to retain aren't necessarily at the tope, nore are they necessarily A performers. The skill set may not be an exact fit to what you require, but the general aptitude can be leveraged, and new skills learned.
  3. You can not retain all kinds of people - understand what you need from your workforce to ensure your retention efforts are properly targeted. With limitged budgets, it's critical that we are directing our retention and other efforts as much as we can to the most critical people. Your people processes and strategies will enable you to retain a particular kind of person, just as they enable you to recruit particular people - those people that make up your organisation's "culture". However, these people might not be the right ones for your future success, or they might be part of a shrinking population group.
  4. For some workers, there's no way you can avoid career changes - so plan around them rather than ignoring them. With the information we have available to use about generations X and Y, it's amazing that we still plan to try to keep them for 20 years. It is much wiser to build your workforce plans around the idea you can let people go and later get them back with greater experience and honed skills.

These all point to the main issue with retention - to do it right, you need to know who it is that you can and should be trying to retain!

Retention is one of the challenges for which we developed our Strategic Workforce Planning framework, so we know what a difference it can make. A really good workforce plan gives you a new kind of view of your future workforce - a view that lets you develop targeted and effective people strategies to maximise the value you get from your future workforce, whether it's the workforce you retain, or the new kind of one you might need to attract.