Founder & Chief Navigator at MileZero, collaborating with mid and large cap companies to use innovation to create growth and drive revenue.

In early May, Texas A&M professor Anthony Klotz declared, “The Great Resignation is coming.”

Since then, experts and surveys have predicted that as many as 40% of employees are thinking about quitting their jobs. “Thinking” about quitting, not “are quitting” or “have quit.” This means that the Great Resignation hasn’t happened yet and that it can still be avoided or at least downgraded to the “Fairly Normal Resignation.”

But companies will have to do something most haven’t had to do and few ever want to do. They will have to innovate themselves.

Image Credit: CEOWorld Magazine

What does it mean for a company to ‘innovate itself’?

Innovation is something new or different that creates value. It is a process that begins by identifying a problem and deeply understanding it through the eyes of customers, rapidly designing a solution and then experimenting and iterating until you achieve product-market fit.

For a company to innovate itself, senior leaders need to be willing to change and do something new or different because it creates value. They need to admit that they, the company or their way of doing things are the problem and why (from their customers’ perspective). Then, they need to adopt a new approach and keep changing and evolving until they get it right.

In a nutshell, the company has to go through boot camp and therapy at the same time, at an accelerated pace and often in the public eye with the belief that the company and its stakeholders will be better off as a result.

Here are three steps companies can take to innovate in order to retain their employees:

1. Take time to identify the real problem(s) and understand them through the eyes of employees.

For example, as companies begin to outline their plans for returning to work, many are struggling with whether or not to return to five days a week in the office or to adopt a hybrid model. Those opting for a hybrid model explain that it’s because their employees want more flexibility.

On the surface, a hybrid model certainly seems to deliver more flexibility than a mandatory five days a week in the office. But to truly innovate to retain, companies need to go deeper by asking just three follow-up questions:

• What do you mean by “flexibility?”

• Why is flexibility important to you?

• What else is important to you?

One of my clients did just this and the diversity of answers to the first question shocked her:

• Shift working hours to 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. instead of 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

• Work from the office when their kids are in school and from home when the kids are home.

• Permission to say “no” to meetings where they are not critical attendees.

• One day a week without meetings.

As evidenced by this list, the real problem (or job to be done) isn’t one problem, it’s several problems. Employees want to work when they are at their best, be with their kids and colleagues, feel like they have control over their work and schedule and have uninterrupted time to work.

2. Design a solution (or, more likely, lots of solutions).

Once you discover the real problem (or problems), then you can start working on solutions. But be wary of thinking you have all the answers! Instead, invite your employees into the problem-solving process rather than simply making them the recipients of a corporate mandate.

For example, my client facilitated several ideation sessions with employees and emerged with a simple set of unexpected and actionable solutions:

• Core working hours during which everyone is available in person or by phone, email or video conference.

• All meeting invites must contain the meeting purpose, agenda and required decisions.

• All employees are expected to be in the office on Fridays but can choose where to work Mondays through Thursdays in consultation with their manager or team leader.

3. Communicate how solutions were developed and stay open-minded, flexible and transparent.

No matter how inclusive you make the process, there will always be people who question the solutions you offer, often asking “But what about … ?”

But what about the manager who wants all of his people to be in the office five days a week — is that OK? But what about the meeting that happens because something unexpected took place? We can’t take time to write up a fancy agenda! But what about the team of night-owls who don’t want to start working until 4 p.m.?

Don’t run from the questions or double-down on your explanation for why the solution was chosen. Instead, listen to the question, ask follow-up questions to understand the core of their concerns, assure them that their concerns have been heard and that you are open to feedback and changes as the organization gains more experience with the new solutions.

In my client’s case, she acknowledged that every single person who asked, “But what about … ?” had a valid point. She also explained that new solutions are a starting point. Their impact, both positive and negative, will be monitored regularly, employees will have frequent opportunities to provide feedback and all of this information will be shared openly and transparently every quarter.

Defining success

It’s too early to tell whether my client prevented the Great Resignation but, to date, the quantity and rate of resignations are all well within normal limits.

By engaging with employees to understand their concerns, collaborating to create solutions and learning and adjusting alongside them as changes roll out, you can greatly improve your chances of avoiding the Great Resignation.

In fact, like my client, you may notice increased employee engagement and satisfaction because employees feel they are co-creating their future workplace. And when a “But what about … ?” occurs, they work together to resolve it rather than criticize and sit back in resignation.

And that can be the start of a Great Retention.


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