Bottom Up Succession: Diversity Key to Retention


By Pam Paquet

Retention is notably measured with numbers, percentages and metrics. While recognizing those measures is key, so too is recognizing people as individuals with skills and interests beyond their roles.  Diversity surrounds us. To keep it alive and well, we must go beyond job descriptions, duties and roles to access the potential of our differences.

Though differences are often obvious, rarely are they explored, understood oe optimized. Great retention strategies begin with foundations that challenge the pockets, boxes and bubbles used to categorize individuals. Respect can soar when workplaces embrace diversity, implement education and increase awareness.

The link between succession and retention is strong and well correlated. It is simple—lacking the team and talents required, succession cannot succeed. The obvious shift needed is re-thinking where succession plans should focus and how they are communicated.

People Basics
People think, feel and behave in rather habitual and predictable ways. Their desire for basics such as respect, consideration and honesty are common. Succession plans and retention strategies are only as successful as their ability to meet people’s basic needs. A second level requirement is to clearly communicate the succession plan to provide clarity, transparency and encourage conversation. Bottom line: building trust with staff enhances the probability of success in succession plans.

When a basic level of trust is not present in a workplace, the impact/result can be seen daily. Employees may whisper over the water cooler and the conversations can begin to spread wildly and even begin to boil over. Staff then stop talking because of a continuance of assumptions and unsubstantiated fears. There is a new dilemma born for employees when succession plans are devised or kept “under cover”. They question whether to stay and trust it will be okay or begin a search for a more trusting company.

This clash of allegiance and self-preservation is not minimal or insignificant. The recent Canadian Management Centre Build a Better Workplace survey recently found 61 per cent of employees have no trust in their leadership. If generational characteristics were added to this data, one might expect it to be higher for Gen X’s who strive for work/life balance and even higher for Gen Y’s who want to know, in no uncertain terms about their opportunities for learning, promotion and rewards.

On the other side of the table, companies, management and executives will profess inclusiveness with development and communication of the plan. They believe that policy manuals and wall plaques are sufficient methods to share visions, missions and business plans for the future with staff. They will proclaim and are convinced “we told them” and “staff are very aware” of our succession plans and their role. Companies will not believe that the future is contrived behind doors, staff are on board and people are excited to implement.

Moving business into a position of organizational future success requires 4 steps/phases:

1. Avoid B2B Attitude: Be a people business rather than functionally driven
There is no need to keep secrets and hold cards to your chest. Success and future planning are key to everyone so treat the people in the company as assets, investments and treasures to nurture, grow and optimize. Staff is not the competition or the enemy; they are the key . . . they put the success in succession. Focus on their needs, wants and feelings while assessing their statistics and functionality. Make people number one rather than lean systems, maximized operations and financial rewards.

2. Avoid Hyper Stasis: Be hyper present to fix the now before next or later
Retention and succession are all about creating a future filled with personnel continuity, loyalty and business success (maintained or growth). Do not look past the problems, issues and challenges that exist today to dream of a Pollyanna picture of tomorrow and the future. Dangling the carrot of “what will be” doesn’t bode well for those trying to survive and cope with today’s problems. Create “now” solutions so that “next” and “later” have a solid base of success and good momentum. Succession is impossible if today is laden with tension and retention issues.

3. Avoid Rote Communication: Use timeliness and clarity to create movement and forward momentum
Repeating the company line and referencing a vision (mission or values) plaque on the wall will go a long way to cripple communication, retention and succession. Gone are the days as well as the generations who are willing to accept messages without meaning. Retention and succession require clear communication and explanation. If communication has no clarity nor transparency, then succession is stopped in its tracks. If trust is not evident in everyday conversations, including difficult conversations and assessments, then listening and loyalty cease. Communication needs to be personalized, energized and consistent to create forward and future movements of people (laterally and upwardly) in companies. Challenge the elephants in the room and skeletons in the closet to allow transparency and clarity to become the norm. This builds trust in people and in the future.

4. Get Your Head Out of the Sand: Stress impacts retention
Responsibility and accountability are crucial to business success and how each is managed by management is a great predictor of retention and organization succession. The challenge for many HR professionals is finding the common denominator between operations and “human” resources. The soft stuff, like personalized communication, enthusiasm and engagement, get missed by executives but is crucial to staff at all levels. No harm, no foul will turn retention on its butt and throw success out the window. The communication of strengths and futures are just as important as talking about challenges and present issues to tie together retention and succession.

Retention is essential for succession; people are essential for succession. The anchor between good retention and succession is clear: transparent and honest communication flows at all levels when succession plans are being made. In short, improve leadership, trust, loyalty and engagement from the bottom up. Most importantly, hang onto the most valuable assets—people—by ensuring appreciation, inclusivity and smarter thinking.

Pam Paquet, MEd is a master level facilitator and principal of Pam Paquet and Associates ( Speaking internationally, she is an instructor with BCIT and certified with the Canadian Counselling Association.

(PeopleTalk Fall 2013)

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