How Often Do We Neglect the Very People That We Want to Support?

A recent meeting with the HR Director of a well-known multi-national software development company got me thinking.

We had met a number of times before, and had recently been exclusively retained by the organisation to assist with Career Transition support following their acquisition of another smaller, related software company three months before. The acquisition had proceeded smoothly and we were meeting to discuss the support that had been provided to the people affected by the merger.

All in all, the HR Director was pleased with our support, and the positive feedback she had received from both the staff that had left, the remaining staff and, importantly for HR’s credibility, the executive team.

However, as often happens in these cases, I could hear that, whilst she was pleased with the outcome, she had something else on her mind – her thoughts had already moved on and she was grappling with how to retain her key development staff, given the high demand in the market for experienced software developers, and the special challenge of dealing with Generation Y staff who were more committed to living life experientially than to the company’s success, and being loyal.

Immediately after the merger, as part of a broader staff retention strategy, the Executive Team had approved a program focused on retaining identified high-potential staff. This program incorporated all the usual elements – higher pay and incentives, preferred learning and development opportunities, accelerated promotion and increased visibility within the organisation. The program had formally launched 2 months before to fanfare and profiles of each of the identified staff in the regular monthly company newsletter.

Sound good? It did to me although I had the nagging feeling that something wasn’t right. At my previous meeting I had asked how success would be measured and the HR Director had indicated that a key measure would be staff turnover.

However, that was what was worrying her in this meeting – the staff turnover rate had just increased quite markedly and analysis had shown that it was directly related to the staff on the high-potential program – they were leaving at almost double the rate of the other ‘normal’ staff!

The obvious question was why, and we were discussing possible causes. It appeared that the staff did not like the attention that was being directed their way by being on the program and were voting with their feet as it were.

That’s what got me thinking. And it struck me that whilst the company had had the best intention with their program, they had not actually thought about what was important to their staff, and had succumbed to organisational paternalism – assuming they knew what was best for the staff, but had neglected to actually ask the staff what they wanted. What would engage and retain them. What was important to them, not just to the company and the company’s objectives.

How often do we neglect the very people that we want to support? And take the time to really listen to what they want? Just a thought.

Brian Gardner is the General Manager and Managing Principal for Donington, Victoria, based in Melbourne, Australia. He has consulted to a large number of organizations, ranging from large multi-nationals to small not-for-profits, across all organization levels. Brian specializes in helping people build sustainable lives and careers, personal branding, and strategy development.

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