I'm back from USA and sooo excited to be back on Australian soil! I'm back on Aussie coffee and WOW, I can sure feel the caffeine ha!
San Francisco and Vancouver were jam-packed with insights. I met with the major tech giants, head of D&I, people and development teams, HR reps, consultants and coaches.
I was ready to be schooled by the worlds best in engagement and learning hacks.
Instead, it was a lesson in retention.
Not many individuals are staying at firms for longer than 12 months, some said. "No one stays in a role for longer than 11 in Silicon Valley", said another. One said "it's less about loyalty and more about a bigger pay cheque elsewhere." One people leader admitted to offering a higher salary just to convince an employee to stay from a counteroffer.
I pictured myself earning $300,000 a year, with catered lunch and benefits all taken care of, and a recruiter emailing me with a better offer, like many of those I spoke to said were experiencing. Would I jump to a better offer on a better salary alone?
I'd sure consider it. But would I stay longer than a few months?
Counter offers can earn you up to 20% in some cases more than you're currently earning - but there's really something else at play here: if you're thinking the grass is greener, usually something is missing back home.
Studies tell us time and time and time again money alone doesn't make us happier in the long run. And the men and women that see Happiness Concierge globally tell me this: they want to stay with their firm, but they just don't feel appreciated, valued, they don't see opportunities for growth and critically: the actions of leadership don't match words.
In fact, the top values that men and women select globally in Happiness Concierge training sessions are Recognition, Family, Integrity, and Growth. They aren't made visible within their organisation, and therefore they're shopping elsewhere, or paying their own cash to come to one of my courses to communicate their value to their employer.
Did they know they had access to a professional learning budget, they could save themselves $50? "It's such a pain in the ass to get approvals", said one attendee. "By the time they approve it, I would have missed out." Another rolled her eyes. "My manager is 'too busy' to approve this sort of thing, and even leaving today at 6pm, it was seen as skyving off."
One firm doing something right is Location Labs. With a reported 95% retention rate, the firms interview and on boarding process is substantive. More importantly, the firm pre-empts employees growth and recognition needs, before the employee knows it's missing, or they've realised for long enough resentment has settled in and they're shopping elsewhere.
“You don’t want people to ever worry or question if they are part of the team and celebrated and appreciated", said former COO Joel Grossman, who started at the firm as an intern a decade ago. "When you recognize people when they don’t expect it, it earns you a ton of points, way more than the dollars a raise costs you. You make a huge impression.”
Recognising talent before they know what they're capable is something Xerox CEO Ursula Burns knows all too well. Starting her career at Xerox as a summer intern, 29 years later she appointed the CEO of the global firm. Burns is now the Chairwoman at the firm and sits on the board of Uber and has worked with President Obama.
For a summer intern to have had the appetite, support, guidance, mentorship and to have seen a role for herself in the company to encourage her to remain with the company gives us many clues as to what Xerox did right - and what we can all learn from Burns' own career steps. (Worth noting: her partner, whom she met at Xerox, stayed home and raised the kids).
Xerox is not widely considered a 'cool' brand. Yet, a closer look into Burns' career indicates her CEO appointment was a combination of internal succession support, her forming critical partnerships with the senior leadership team, a clear pipeline of opportunities and shoulder taps from leaders, a partnership with the outgoing CEO to create a succession plan and a commitment from the organisation to support diversity initiatives. All of this from inside the company, they were able to nurture exceptional talent - and all from day dot.
This is why firms are investing millions in coaching and 1:1 training to get the best out of their people - even if their time is brief, they're going to make sure it's impactful, effective and rewarding. One consultant told me of a major tech firm who had invested millions in coaching to help employees get the most out of their time there - even if it was brief. "No other project delivered as much ROI as the individual coaching, even if they stayed for shorter, they know they're delivering the best value in that time."
Perhaps unsurprisingly, the majority of people I met in SF were somewhat flippant about their loyalty to one organisation, or even the one they worked for. They prioritised networking above anything else. They were early for my networking events. They met with a total stranger. It's always good to have options.
Yet one of the biggest contribution I see to employee disengagment is having one foot in one place and your mind somewhere else. You can't enjoy either, the current gig nor the 'dream' job. And when you do land that 'dream' job, if all your eggs are on the pay cheque, when you start the gig, there's a hell of a lot riding on everything else going well, y'know?
I put all this to a seasoned people leader on one of my last days SF. Is perk fatigue plaguing large organisations and contributing to lower retention rates? Is it really all about the money in SF? What's the secret to keeping amazing people engaged? There's more to work - for me - than a fancy title and pay cheque. Am I naive to think it's the same for potential employees?
"Oh yeah", they said, laughing. "Give me all the perks you want. But if you can't tell people what their purpose is, what is expected of them in their role and give them the tools and training to do it - don't matter how fancy your ping pong table is."