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Attrition

Last year I predicted, like many, that the shock of COVID-19 would translate into people switching jobs in 2021. Hello 2021 and we are seeing widespread attrition globally. What’s going on?

 The jolt to our lives has made people think about what’s important to them. Our “purpose” has never been clearer. 

But we CAN win at this as Leaders and it’s important to keep a level head, as the eye of the storm passes over. 

Here’s what I think:

  1. Be transparent with problems 

To some extent, the fault lines were probably there before the pandemic or accentuated during the stress of its impact, in terms of what an employee was dissatisfied over or what they felt their true purpose was.   

Perceptive leaders have “fixed” the problems – either at an individual, team or organisational level. However, since many employees are tired, their patience may wear thin when the same or new problems begin again. Be transparent on the resolutions and involve employees and willing participants in fixing the known problems. This I call the “falling on the sword” approach. Don’t hold back the dam wall! 

2. Accept attrition

A bit like we may have to accept COVID-19 spreading and living with it, we may also have to accept attrition. If the organisation has strong succession planning and hiring strategies, you can stem the flow and replace before or after attrition with new employees. The upside of this is new blood brings new perspectives. This can be a complex change management exercise for those within the organisation already. However, if the standard of new employees entering is as good or better than those leaving, your organisation may actually end up performing better. The trick is to plan for attrition, be robust on management strategies, and communicate transparently on the “optics” so it doesn’t cause alarm.  

3. Concentrate on the Vision

Many smart leaders are re-imagining their organisations for the new future ahead. It’s a challenging task being so reactive but trying to be proactive. But we must build the muscle to keep the vision articulated and essentially be shrewd storytellers. This is not superficial – it’s critical. Leaders hold the key as to whether their employees remain optimistic and buy into the vision. This is no easy task when employees are jaded from transformation. The good news is you’ll know quicker than ever if they are not buying into it. 

4. Dynamic timelines on talent management

Throw out cycles now on talent management. We are back to the recent past when dynamic performance management systems that promised to give real-time feedback. It’s all about leadership teams and structures supporting them in reporting accurate data to help remedy talent concerns. These could be on a myriad of areas from compensation to job design to where the job is performed. We need to be receptive to concerns but also realistic about what we can resolve, and again be transparent on this communication.

5. Get on with business

Prescribing to a business-as-usual approach when anything is but business-as-usual, I think is key. Keeping teams focused on key result areas so they feel successful and do what they can do well, especially well through these times. This focuses everyone and if you’re lucky becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy of success. I am not suggesting we wallpaper over problems, but we can focus minds on what is going right.

6. Always Connected

Connection connection connection is where it’s at. I think of the term “always connected”. Make sure throughout your organisation you have “real” links with people as humans. Not just when it’s convenient to tap them for performance feedback or deadlines. Now more than ever be interested in people’s lives. If you have neglected this – and let’s face it, we have had a lot on our plates – start again and make an effort. This is not a superficial exercise. Connection can never be broken and it’s there to tap into. It’s the platform upon which we build understanding.

7. Virtual is the baseline

The how/where people work thing is garnering a lot of attention. My personal view – it’s 2021 – and we must optimise for the potential of how we can really work. If you baseline topic this with a talent management lens, then:

  • as we are in for more unpredictable times with Delta and other strains, before herd immunity develops, prepare for more virtual or hybrid working and double down on thinking long-term
  • spend on wellness technologies and mentors to better equip people to manage this physical to virtual spectrum (contact me on the Thrive HR Exchange / Thrive Global APAC partnership, as an example, as we are doing a lot in this space) 
  • study organisations optimising virtual working and how they are doing it (ChapmanCG has been virtual for 13 years and so many lessons)

8. Think about the rebound

We will see people switch jobs now to what they think they want, and this may well be right, but there is a chance you may recollect them on the painful rebound if it’s not right. Therefore, keep strong on your employee value proposition (look after existing employees and keep them happy) and keep in touch with your alumni.

9. Watch for smart pockets

Your organisation may be lucky and escape the attrition waves. You will be unique, and this is something to not be complacent about. We can learn from these special organisations on the secret ingredients. This is an amazing era to be looking for data points on what holds smart organisations together. Keep externally focused and plug into your networks. 

10. Self-compassion

This is the biggest step-change ever in how we are working as humans and how organisations are functioning. Cut some slack and switch our minds into parasympathetic a little more. I tell myself this often. Everyone is struggling on their own spectrum. But out of struggles come the most amazing perspectives.  Again, as a leader or an employee, be vulnerable and transparent, to the extent possible and as a listener be open-minded. Remember empathy always wins. If I find myself debating a point, with a past mindset, I fall on my sword and admit I was wrong. We can all do this more. The reality is some organisations and leaders are winning now like ever before.  As a friend said to me this morning “this is the most amazing time ever for innovation and growth: mindset and business”. Let’s use it. 

Conclusion 

These are my perspectives. The list is endless. Uniquely I see it as the founder of a variety of businesses. But most tellingly I see it through the global HR fraternity of ChapmanCG.  I feel especially grateful to be plugged into the worldwide ecosystem of HR minds, as we watch this issue first-hand. Generally, from the start of the pandemic, I have been pleasantly surprised with the response of HR leaders. It’s not been an easy game as we know. The biggest awareness is that HR issues now are shared with the business, and they have become the dual responsibility of business and HR. We no longer expect HR to fix everything. This holistic leadership team added to the bandwidth of HR and focused even greater impact on the biggest area of concern today: wellness. As wellness technologies and strategies allow us to help our workforces not get unhappier, herein will lie the amplification of smart talent management and ultimately, sustained human happiness. 


Matt Chapman is the founder of ChapmanCG and co-creator of Thrive HR Exchange, where global HR professionals and people leaders come together to co-create the future of work. Through global connections that foster the exchange of knowledge and fuel innovation, members find compassionate support, meaningful connections and diverse best-practice sharing. Thrive HR Exchange empowers the people leaders of today and tomorrow to become agents of change within their industries.

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