The retention of highly
skilled knowledge workers is one of the major challenges today for all managers
and supervisors. Knowledge workers are, for example, the developers and caretakers
of the computer and tele-communication networks that keep your business running.
They are also the producers of the dazzling computer graphics presentations
that help your sales force land new customers. And they are even the bank customer
account reps who look into data bases to decide whether to grant a loan request
or to explain investment options such as money market, stock, and bond funds.
According to Peter Drucker,
knowledge workers are those whose work primarily requires the use of "mental
power rather than muscle power." Knowledge work involves analyzing information
and applying specialized expertise to solve problems, to generate ideas, or
to create new products and services. Knowledge workers are therefore extremely
valuable because they keep the factories churning, the customers satisfied,
the new products coming out the door---they are the backbone of your company.
So how do you keep these highly skilled and valuable workers from jumping ship---from
going to a competitor?
You can respond to the retention
challenge by first understanding the Tootsie Roll Pop Strategy. Inside a Tootsie
Roll Pop is the chocolate core. This core is the traditional way of attracting
and retaining workers, that is, through wages and benefits. Yes, a competitive
compensation package is a factor, to a point But, in a job market in which candidates
can be picky, they are looking for more than money. Pay and benefits will get
people to show up for work, but they will not generate the attitudinal commitment
to be a high performer and to remain with the company.
However, in a Tootsie Roll
Pop, there is also the outer layer--the different flavors--red, green, orange,
etc. These different flavors are the variety of programs and benefits that a
company provides for its employees. Today's professional worker desires family-friendly
programs, flexible work arrangements, and, particularly, career development
opportunities. They stay committed to a particular company as long as the work
environment allows them to continually learn, to grow intellectually, and to
work on challenging and interesting projects.
Managers and supervisors
play a definite role in the development of a work environment that promotes
the continuous improvement and professional development of their knowledge workers.
Here are some retention hooks that are within the scope of your managerial responsibilities:
Support training and
development. What highly skilled workers realize that in a fast changing
world, those who snooze will soon lose their marketable skills. The latest technology,
or software package, or self-development program not only can lure knowledge
workers, but can also induce them to stay on board. A manager, who encourages
his people to upgrade their skills, acquire new or updated knowledge, enrich
their current jobs and pursue their individualized career goals, will more likely
get and keep highly-skilled and quality people.
Provide special assignments.
Knowledge workers will more likely remain if they know they are learning new
things, gaining exposure to 'hot areas', and increasing their visibility inside
the company. Some examples of short-term developmental projects include leading
a task force on a pressing business problem, handling negotiations with a customer,
installing a new system, integrating systems across units, supervising product
or equipment purchase, and presenting a proposal report to top management.
Rotate jobs and responsibilities.
The movement of workers to different tasks at specified intervals enables them
to develop and practice new skills and determine areas in which they can best
use their talents. Also, a staff that is prepared to function in a variety of
capacities and to perform a variety of duties will bring breadth and depth to
your team or department As a side benefit, rotation of people to different areas
can result in better communication and work relations.
Show interest. Ask
your valued workers how they are doing, what's going well and what's not. The
more you know about your people, the better job you can do matching them with
opportunities and the more satisfied and productive they will be. It's a win-win
situation for all. Finally don't wait for yearly performance review time to
recognize good work. Do it on a regular basis. As with most people who take
pride in their work, knowledge workers value recognition, nearly as much as
One very savvy manager said
to me, "What's important to these people (knowledge workers) is a great work
environment, great tools, the opportunity to learn surrounded by winners, knowing
that they're fairly compensated, and recognition for their work. You can't just
throw money at these folks. You have to make sure they have a chance to grow."
The organization that is
able to recruit, motivate, and retain the best workers is going to have a huge
strategic advantage. Therefore, companies that offer comprehensive training
with planned, on-the job experience, complemented by enlightened supervision
and opportunities for ongoing professional development, will be more successful
in retaining their valued and highly skilled people. In other words, give knowledge
workers room to grow---or someone else will.