If anyone wondered what the lyrics of the fabulous Rolling Stones song 'I can't get no satisfaction', the attitudes of the new generation corporate executives may be a pointer. Staff retention and managing careers and expectations pose the biggest challenge to all major employers. That is as it should be given the rigorous recruitment processes and the heavy demands placed on new entrants. Expectations rise from the moment the interview question, 'Where do you see yourself in five years', is posed. The answer serves to provide a modicum of belief in the interviewee's thinking and ambitions. Unfortunately, it also raises expectations there and then.
Management consultants worth their salt always highlight the top factors in employees' minds and it isn't surprising that these factors change with circumstances. In times of economic certainty softer issues such as a good supervisor, a good employer outrank pay and salary in their choice of jobs. But in times of uncertainty, such as today the soft gives way to the hard i.e pay, salary and bonuses. As always with consultant findings, these too must be taken with a pinch of salt. Again unfortunately, the tendency is a wholesale revision of policy that undoes much of the previous good work in dealing with expectations.
A recent study run by Harvard University suggests that in times when layoffs outperform opportunities, staff are focused towards pay. Given the spate of job cuts in petroleum, information technology (IT) and banking, these young people want to have enough to live their lives and save for the rainy day. Perhaps rainy season is a terminology better used. That's not the only reason. Battered by the increasing instances of companies not behaving responsibly, maybe they too are under no illusions about a 'good employer' and 'a good boss', though one suspects they aren't too far off the radar of expectations.
The fact of the matter is that in uncertain times, the opportunities of growth are restricted simply because cost-cutting pre-supposes any activity outside core is redundant and thus would include the cushion of projects and even internal movements as fewer 'nice to have' positions are allowed. Companies usually use a mix of fiscal incentives, projects, cross-functional exposure and overseas placements as the development route for the hi-flyers. The dreaded bottom performers, sometimes referred to as forced rankings, mean that a percentage of the workforce will achieve their objectives but still not get a raise based on a comparative rating with others. If this seems unfair, General Electric (GE) has a harder line. They insist that this group actually exits the company. In doing so the company has shown itself to be successful in continually raising standards. What it does to the attractiveness as an employer is another matter. Over the years GE has had tossed off quite a few of its businesses simply because results were below shareholder expectations.
What is disappointing is that very few companies know what to do with perfectly satisfactory performers. Their growth and development is just as important and this group is less likely to jump the boat when offers come in. While this differs by individual it is the hi-flyers who are more likely to be poached and agree to be poached. And there arises the question of loyalty. Every company wants its employees to be loyal and treat the company as their own. But what is it that sparks loyalty?
As individuals, loyalty to family, friends and community is driven by non-fiscal measures, a feeling of belonging, respect and plain emotional attachment. Businesses don't expect emotional attachment but a loyalty of sorts. That's why it is a precarious balancing job that no one seems to have worked out quite yet. But then the hi-flyer process hasn't truly worked seamlessly either.
(The writer may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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