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The Real Reason You’re Losing Your Top Talent

The absence of personalized incentivization is leading talented employees to leave companies in droves. "People first" can't be an empty mantra—you need to give it teeth.

The executive of a Fortune 100 tech company recently confided in me about being “burnt out” and “looking” for his next opportunity with less stress and greater flexibility. Although he didn’t explicitly say so, I could hear that what he was really looking for was a company with a non-financial “personalized incentive plan.”

What is Personalized Incentivization?

Take a peek at your human resources data and you will find the answer. There are two generations, Millennials and Generation Z cohorts, already in your workforce or poised to enter it. They are coming with demands: They need to matter. They seek mentoring and coaching. They want personalized professional development and rewards that align with individual preferences.

Why are they different? They’re not really. They are simply voicing what everyone their senior has not said out loud, but has acted upon when wronged: “Incentivize my professional curiosities, appreciate me as a person—or I’m leaving.”

Our new workers have become the spokespeople of that somewhat disillusioned and misrepresented mantra, “work-life balance,” but have successfully pushed the pendulum of personalized work to a place no decision-maker ever imagined could become a reality so quickly. Millennials also vote with their feet—at perhaps an even higher rate than their predecessors. This introduces high voluntary churn and unpredictable hiring expenses coupled with revenue loss.

The CEO of a medical marijuana company recently tapped me to take a look at why their turnover doubled in 12 months. This was occurring in the midst of major expansion plans, the opening of an additional facility in a new state, and, from my point of view, fairly grandiose plans for growth. Here’s what I found:

• Their published core values for “people first” were not actualized. It was a lark.

• Top talent was not being recruited in a standardized manner.

• Professional development was reserved for the executive team.

• The glamor of working for a medical marijuana company was a short-lived thrill.

Know Your People—and Let Them Surf: A look at Patagonia’s Culture

Patagonia Founder Yvon Chouinard’s book, Let My People Go Surfing, describes the mechanisms a company can implement to create a culture that is “people first.” Chouinard’s thinking, presumably based on his own philosophy of climbing and business morale, but not behavioral science, was in fact dead-on correct. Psychological studies have churned out study after study showing how happiness, mindfulness, and, of all things, play stimulate creativity, team-work, and ultimately innovation. This is a bit of a left-brain re-orientation from thinking about standard performance metrics like profit, projection completion, and sales goals. However, there are people behind those outcomes and those people, and their replacements, are clearly articulating that the old model of driving outcomes with relentless labor hours is insufficient and fundamentally intolerable. If companies insist on those old methods, they will ultimately bleed the life out of their top talent—and then lose them altogether.

Tactical Solutions For Future High Performers

• Re-design and standardize your hiring methodology to recruit top talent.

• Personalize professional development at every level.

• Create a “people first” culture both inside and outside of the organization.

• Implement company-wide mentoring.

• Utilize psychological coaching for top executives.


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