Keeping Your Best People – The Winter Holocaust
Keeping your best people is one of the major factors to success.
At a company where I was Chief Information Officer we used to hold People Satisfaction Surveys based on categories like career prospects, remuneration, management, the working environment etc. We held these every three months, in January, April, July, and October. One thing that we found was that morale was seasonally affected.
Morale was highest in October, dipping in January, hitting its bottom in April after a long hard winter and picking up again in July. We also found that the People Satisfaction Survey was a good leading indicator (by about 2-3 months) for staff attrition. When people are feeling at their lowest, they send out their CVs.
During the winter people come to work in the dark and leave in the dark. It is not just this factor, though, that causes lower people morale. More projects are implemented in the winter (January 1st being a favourite implementation date). Because of staff holidays fewer projects are implemented in summer.
Therefore, people are working longer and harder in the winter on projects which are probably failing without much thanks or encouragement from management. While people are working, vis inertia kicks in and they don’t find time to compile their CVs. It’s only when they have a few days away like at Christmas, Easter or one of the spring bank holidays that they start to assess whether it is worth it. Many decide it isn’t.
To be forewarned is to be forearmed. The dark days of January, February and March are the time when social activities should be organised. At this company, we used to always hold the Software Academy Awards in February. There were various awards like best manager, best developer, best business analyst etc.
Everyone in the IT department voted for these categories. An awards evening was organised, with most of the expense being met by the sports and social club. Senior management were invited. Presentations, in reverse order, were made to the top three in each category. Each of the first three received a certificate.
The winners received fifty pounds in the serious categories and a bottle of champagne in the joke categories. It was organised by the people for the people. It engendered much interest in the two weeks before and for a few days afterwards The fact that the award was given by their peers, and that the handing over of the award was witnessed by senior management, was important.
This one event won’t sustain morale throughout the whole winter but it will contribute to it. I’ve often thought of having another awards night with the awards being decided by management. This, however, is fraught with danger. As it is outside work hours, will people turn up to see what may be perceived as ‘management lackeys’ receive their awards?
This time of the year is probably a good time of the year to give out pay rises and promotions. At the very least it will narrow the differential between what you are paying and what they could receive in the marketplace. Once the CVs are sent out you are probably too late. When the staff agencies are sweet talking your people, and other companies are keen to have them, the grass seems an awful lot greener on the other side.
It’s counterproductive to try to keep them once they’ve resigned. They usually refuse but tell the rest of your people that you’ve made the offer. It becomes the perceived wisdom among the remaining people that the only way to get ahead in the company is to resign. This is not good for morale.
When people do resign, companies usually either try to make them work their full notice period (being crucial to the project) or they have them out the door that day (sometimes supervised by the security guard and marched out the door). The first is not clever. People who are going are not motivated to work. They usually spend the time de-motivating other people. It is usually people who are close to them who are next to leave the company.
The second way is too harsh. They have friends and colleagues who remain at the company. People will not appreciate one of their members who have given good service to the company being ceremoniously or unceremoniously ejected. They will feel that the company does not appreciate good service.
It is better, and gentler, to give them a couple of days to pass their work over to someone else. You are going to lose them anyway. You might as well get used to it. A couple of days is also not enough for them to seriously disaffect the other members of staff. They are usually in the first flush after their resignation and feeling kindly towards their old company. Thank them, at their leaving speech, for all the good work they’ve done for the company and wish them well in their new job. This is relatively painless and everyone is reasonably happy.