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Unlocking human potential

Driving Culture and Engaging Workplace

Announcing the Death of Best Practices: Resurrecting Best Principles to Retain and Engage Your High Potentials
by Dr. Henryk Krajewski and Yvonne Silver On one hand, it seems like the issue of retaining and engaging high-potential employees has been around forever. On the other hand, it seems as if there is renewed interest in this important topic. We believe this renewed interest makes sense: weve heard for a long time about the impending crisis of the aging workforce, and the increased competitiveness for talent that will shake our businesses to the core. The time has arrived. The more HR and line executives we talk to, the more we hear about the real business impacts these once distant trends are having in the here and now. So, given that we have been anticipating this crisis of retaining and engaging our high-potentials, and given the advanced state of HR-related knowledge over the last 40 years, there must be a whole host of Best Practices that we can use to address this issueright? Well, although were quite sure that a mass of Best Practices do exist, well spare you the time and effort of pretending what works in one situation will most certainly work in another. Indeed, we believe its time to announce the death of Best Practices, particularly with respect to how we retain and engage our best employees. beliefs, emotions and behaviour are formed in the workplace. With respect to retaining and engaging high-potentials, these rules govern what high-potential individuals need to feel engaged, how high-potentials will react to certain kinds of experiences, and what they will need to commit to an organization long-term. At the risk of putting our many friends in the pop-business world out of work, the beauty of these principles is that they are fairly universal, and can be adapted easily to any workplace, in any industry, and remarkably, in most countries around the world. Some Best Principles to Retain and Engage Your High Potential Employees An effort to alleviate the symptoms of Best Practice Fever, weve reached back into the ether of knowledge that our field has amassed over the last 40 years and rekindle three Best Principles that can allow you to retain and engage your high potential employees. In many cases, these principles were discovered decades ago; yet, they have not to this point undergone the dramatic repackaging and re-branding that so many of our soundest, and simplest, principles have undergone. 1. Design work to be meaningful and rewarding for highpotentials. Although it sounds simple enough, we often dont look back to the literary gold that researchers Hackman and Oldham gave us in 1976 with the publication of their Job Characteristics Model. In it, Hackman and Oldham describe that three psychological states are critical to a high potential employee (i.e., one classified, back then, as an individual with a high need for growth): Experienced meaningfulness Experienced accountability and control Feedback on results The authors also describe several job characteristics that foster the emergence of these three psychological states: Skill variety using a number of different talents in a number of different activities Task identity completion of a whole task from beginning to end with a visible outcome vs. only participating on a piece of the work or project Task significance tasks that have a significant and identifiable impact on the lives or work of other people or external environment Autonomy a sense of control and discretion over how one executes ones work Feedback loops consistent flow of information to allow one to adjust, amend, and learn.

At the risk of putting our many friends in the pop-business world out of work, the beauty of these principles is that they are fairly universal...

The Rise of Best Principles vs. Best Practices Some time ago, a very wise Professor was musing about how situations and contexts significantly affect the success of what we have come to know as Best Practices. He talked about what we know, and how what we know and how we apply it, inevitably differs markedly across businesses and industries. This view makes complete sense: different types of solutions are required to achieve results in different kinds of situations. It seems, however, that in recent years, the HR consulting field has been gripped with Best Practice fever. An ailment that has resulted in a myriad of pop-business, whiz-bang manuals (and, *gasp* CD books and podcasts) that provide easy-to-implement strategies that can definitely produce the ROI you need to leverage success and drive your business. If you are like us, you stand back and think, Wow, I bet you never knew it was so easy! Opposed to the idea of best practices, wed like to resurrect the idea of Best Principles. These can be described as those precious few norms and rules that govern how human attitudes,

Unlocking human potential

It is easy to find examples of how major companies have leveraged these principles to engage their best employees: auto manufacturers using task identity by giving control to certain employees to supervise the build of whole cars vs. just car parts; major retailers using task significance by mandating new managers spend a specific amount of time in-store, relating to customers and connecting with the brand, construction and mining companies using skill variety by taking promising young engineers and exposing them to different functional units in the organization; consulting companies that allow workers to work virtually and structure their own hoursand the list goes on. The lesson here is to go back to what we know high-potentials need from their jobs and find creative ways to give them these experiences. Although those creative ways can be tough to identify, and an even tougher sell to management, the blueprint is fairly clear. 2. Provide high potentials with great managers. Scores of research over the years have pointed toward the idea that people assess their fit with an organization based on their experience with their manager. Anecdotally, we know this to be true through the popularity of the phrase, people quit their managers. Indeed, exposing high-potentials to bad managers is a worst principle to be wary of. The implication here is that too often effort goes into developing programs and learning experiences that will delight high-potentials without integrating the manager into the equation. Equal effort needs to be spent on making sure the internal managerial support is there to capitalize on the learning experiences that high-potentials undertake. The Corporate Executive Boards recent 2005 research supported this principle indicating that quality managers have the most direct, and most powerful, impact on high potential engagement. Commitment and engagement research concurs, suggesting that managerial support is critical for the high-potential employee to feel attached and obliged to the organization. Give and you shall receive. Another age old principle that can easily be made real to retain and engage highpotentials (and is inherent in all these Principles) is to simply dedicate time and effort toward their development. Essentially, it is the norm of reciprocity that is at heart here: If you give somebody something that satisfies their needs, whether they want to or not, they will feel more obliged to make efforts on your behalf. This is paramount to any negotiation, which ultimately represents the psychological contract that an employee forms with their organization. Examples of ways to leverage the norm of reciprocity include, participation in high-potential development programs; specific and actionable developmental plans and ongoing coaching support; mentoring and exposure to company executives. Often times, even without a specifically identified succession plan or available position, a high-potential will stay with a company because that company is essentially providing what

they desire most: meaningfulness and development (i.e., see Principle #1, above). The key here is that the efforts are perceived as genuine and involve consistent and supporting messaging from senior executive and policy makers. Advantageously, such genuine efforts also speak well to the recent demographic changes the workplace has seen. Generational research abounds that speaks to the entitlement mentality and increased importance that Generations X and Y place on partnering with the organizations they work for. High-potential employees are thinking more and more about what they can get from an organization, vs. what they can provide. Efforts are thus well spent on designing programs that offer the kinds of opportunities that the newer generations demand. Our research shows that if you select the right drivers and execute effectively the results show greater satisfaction for your employees and customers alike. Though deceptively simple and straightforward, these three Principles are really at the heart of many of the dominant strategies used to retain and engage high-potentials. Clearly, these Principles suggest a lesson that we consistently relearn: the old is new again and has never really gone away. Instead of trying to find the hottest new way to engage employees, one point of view is to revisit how high-potential individuals connect themselves with the workplace and start from there. Such efforts are a surer way to provide lasting engagement that seems so elusive in todays workplace. Note: Portions of this article were recently published in HR Reporter, 3 Ways to Keep High Potential Talent, March 11, 2008. Henryk Krajewski, Ph.D.,Vice-President and National Practice Leader, Consulting Services, Right Management Canada. He can be reached at (888) 926-1324 ext. 249 or Yvonne Silver, CHRP, Vice President Client Relations, Right Management Western Canada. She can be reached at (800) 349-4339 or