12 years ago, I was asked by my business coach to write down a list of all my frustrations in business and in life. I wrote a solid two pages of whinges. It was the permission I needed to have my own little pity parade with on orchestra of violins. It was effective. It gave me several views – an opportunity to offload, an opportunity to get clear, an opportunity to look at patterns and the light bulb moment I needed …….. it was all within my control to change.
There were no concerns about market conditions, the economy, my competitors or external impacts – everything on that list was about people, culture or leadership. There was staff turnover, there were problems attracting talent and issues with keeping people engaged, motivated and performing. The impact on me as the leader was overwhelming. I felt helpless, burnt out, tired, emotional and frustrated.
Here’s what I did to turn it around:
- Ask for feedback
When things are not going the way you want, be brave and ask for feedback. Give your team permission to tell you what they love and loathe, without fear of retribution. If that is too scary or you don’t feel you will get the honesty you need, engage a Consultant or do a 360 degree survey. I discovered that our culture was one of high expectations and high pressure, where the client was king and the team didn’t feel they could achieve a healthy work life blend. This was the number one factor why they were leaving – it was impacting their relationships, health and personal time.
- Analyse real reasons for leaving
We all know that when people resign that don’t always tell you the real reason they are leaving. They start with the polite reason such as career development or it’s time for a change. I did an analysis on the past 3 years of all the reasons why people had left – not the reason they necessarily told me – but what I knew deep down was the real reason. That was a game changer. All reasons, apart from a handful of genuine interstate transfers and family reasons, there was a consistent theme related to leadership and culture.
- Leaders look in the mirror
Retaining talent and reducing staff turnover is not necessarily about more money or perks such as days off or free yoga classes. Although nice and staff will appreciate it, it isn’t what gets them out of bed in the morning, excited to go to work and to stay long-term. It’s about you, your leadership style and your ability to engage, inspire and create an environment that is motivating where they can contribute and feel valued. I found out that I was inspiring about 30% of the time and the other 70% I was pushing my high expectations, which resulted in feelings of pressure and an inability to please me. This doesn’t make anyone feel good and inspired does it? Looking in the mirror and seeing the impact this leadership style was having on my team was the wake up call I needed to reduce staff turnover and increase retention rates.
- Culture review
Leadership is culture. Culture is leadership. A leader sets the tone and culture is caught, not taught. Write a list of the type of people you want to attract into your business – what qualities and competencies do they have, what do they want out of an employment relationship and what will make them stay? This is your clue about what you may need to change, adapt, develop or build into your culture. It was for me. I created an environment where flexibility was introduced, people were empowered to make their own decisions and own the consequences, there were ongoing learning opportunities and success was celebrated and recognised.
- Action delivers results
There is no point doing all this pre-work, if you aren’t prepared to take action. Losing your people headaches, reducing frustration and ultimately getting your life back involves taking different action – implementing and trying new things. Don’t look at it like you are losing control (yes you control freaks out there), I know it will feel foreign and little uncomfortable – that’s good. You need to feel this to get a different result. For me this was the hardest step. We stopped having meetings at 8am, people left early to go to gym or to pick up kids, we hired part-timers, we set different expectations and had to let go of what others would think (we weren’t slackers or losing our drive or ambition!). It took time, but the change was just what we all needed. The results spoke for themselves – retention rates skyrocketed to an average length of service of 6 years, we didn’t advertise our vacancies – people knocked on our door to work for us and as for the impact on our financial results, they doubled.
At the core of what make successful companies great are people, culture and leadership. Become a better leader, develop a great culture and only then can you attract top talent that will stay. Getting this right is the sweet spot in business. Your leadership will feel natural, your stress levels will float away and this empowerment will bring you work life blend, confidence and profit. Get great people and great stuff happens.
Nicole Underwood recently spoke at Elders Real Estate National Conference on Talent Management – How to Crack the Code. You can watch a snippet of her presentation