July 15, 2018

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Interview: Beverly Kaye on Retaining Talent

Beverly Kaye is an author, consultant and speaker. Her most recent work is Love 'Em or Lose 'Em: Getting Good People to Stay.

David Creelman spoke to her about HR's role in retaining talent.

DC- What do organizations have to do to retain talent?

BK- I have felt, for the past 25 years, that it is the job of the manager to love the talent they want to keep. By love, I mean the manager needs to challenge those people: notice them, appreciate them,understand them and go to bat for them.

DC- Sometimes HR feels that is their job, not the manager's.

BK- It is the job of HR to lead the effort in talent management, but it is the job of the manager to own the effort. I talk about the three-S model. The organization provides the system, the manager provides the support and the employee provides the spark. Our new book will talk about that spark. It addresses the role of employees in their own retention, engagement, and job satisfaction.

I like to ask HR people where they spend most of their energy in the three-S model. Is it in educating managers so they know how to lend support? Is it kindling the fire under the employees so they have the spark? Or is all your energy around installing systems?

Most often HR is spending their time on creating the systems and the structures. We can create elaborate systems and structures, but unless managers know how to support, and unless individuals realize their role, those systems don't work.

DC- So does talent retention go awry because HR is too focused on their own systems?

BK- That is one reason. HR might think the system is all we need and the system alone will drive the behavior. Structures and systems do drive behavior but not in isolation. If the manager isn't supportive, if you don't have high touch, talent won't stay.

Managers need to know that loving your talent doesn't mean handholding. It doesn't mean having all the answers. It means providing support. Managers can offer that support in low cost or no cost ways.

DC- How do you get managers to treat staff differently?

BK- The first step is education. A manager who has had no role models, who has only worked for poor managers and has had no training doesn't know what to do.

It's tough these days because managers are working managers, not just people managers. They have tasks to perform and people to manage and are incredibly busy. So to get managers to treat staff differently, HR needs to make it easy for them to deal with the people end. If we don't give them prescriptions, or tips and tools, they are going to shy away from dealing with people. This is especially true for the more technical managers for whom the high touch stuff is hard.

DC- To our HR audience you are probably preaching to the converted. How do managers respond to your message?

BK- My experience is that managers are not resistant to the message "Care about your people". I have done this for twenty-five years around the world and I find that when managers resist taking care of their people it is because they don't know how to do it. They fear if they try, it may only put them deeper in the hole. They would rather not risk getting themselves into some kind of Pandora's box.

This is why my whole practice centers on giving managers practical tools that make the job of getting to know and supporting their talent easier. We try to make the process and tools delightfully engaging, deceptively simple and deliberately flexible.

DC- Have you noticed any change in the past year on companies' attitudes to retention?

BK- Yes. When Love 'Em or Lose 'Em came out, it was the height of the talent war and managers were desperately asking, "How do we keep people?" Now that the talent war looks like it has subsided, too many HR leaders are relaxing. Managers are saying retention is no big deal. In fact, we are getting rid of people. When I hear that I think, "Watch out!" because the minute the economy changes, and it will, anyone unhappy in your organization is going to jump. The war for talent is going to be bigger and tougher than it ever was. All you have to do is look at the demographics to see how tough it is going to be.

This is the time to step up your support of talent, caring about talent and nurturing talent. This is the time when you want to whisper in the ear of those you don't want to lose and let them know how important they are.

DC- You've been looking at talent issues for a long time. How have things changed over the last two-and-a-half decades?

BK- From an HR standpoint, we have become more sophisticated and smarter about the myriad of ways to deliver the knowledge manager's need to manage better. However, if you go back to basics, it is not new. If you think about it, Douglas McGregor talked about Theory X and Theory Y in the 1940s. Frederick Herzberg spoke about how pay was merely the hygiene factor. They were all saying it is more than pay that makes people stay. It is more than pay that turns a person on. It is more than pay that gets a person to love their job. In some ways, we haven't moved the needle a lot because we are delivering the same message.

DC- We've focused on the role of the HR professional and manager. What is the role of the employees in keeping themselves "sparked"?

BK- That's the subject of our next book, Love it Don't Leave It, 26 Ways To Get What You Want At Work. Employees do have a role in their own satisfaction. Staying in a job they are not satisfied with does no good for them or their organization. Employees may find that the grass isn't greener elsewhere when they learn how to make it green right where they are.

DC- Any closing remarks for HR Managers?

BK- In a world that is as crazed and busy as ours is, where there is so much pressure on managers to do more with less, HR needs to give managers what they need in a practical, easy-to-implement way.

At the same time, we need to hold managers accountable for retaining their talent. We need to invent systems that hold managers as accountable for their human capital as they do for budgets.

Beverly Kaye will be a keynote speaker at's upcoming Power of People Series being held September 28 - October 2 at the Toronto Congress Centre in Toronto, Ontario. for further information.

-David Creelman