We’re hearing frequently from leaders in organizations that they’re interested in strategies for retaining and recruiting talented employees in this moment of worker empowerment and a tight labor market.
To hear her advice, we reached out to Tania Luna, co-founder of LifeLabs Learning, a management training company, and co-author with LeeAnn Renninger of the new book The Leader Lab: Core Skills to Become a Great Manager, Faster. Here are excerpts from our conversation, edited for space and clarity:
Given the data suggesting that many workers are considering changing jobs, what should organizations be doing to retain them?
You want to step back to say, what is our vision for engaging and retaining our team? As a leader or a manager, instead of immediately saying, how do we keep people from leaving, start with linking up to ‘What do I want for my team?’ What is ideal in terms of retention? Because then you’re designing an employee experience through the lens of a goal versus playing defense and being responsive and reactive to fear. Sometimes those people leaving and you supporting them in leaving thoughtfully is going to actually lead to better outcomes for the team in the short-term and the long-term. Not everyone should stay within their role.
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One of the things that I have been continuously surprised by is that both managers and organizations that have the highest retention encourage conversations with their team and with their employees about leaving. They’ll actually say, ‘Talk to me about this. Are you thinking about staying? Are you thinking about leaving? If you’re thinking about leaving, let’s discuss that. Is there something that we could do within your job right now that would a) make you excited or b) if you do want to leave, could you already be doing something in your work now that would prepare you and open doors for you outside of this organization?’ And then, if you’re already ready to go, ‘How can we make sure that we set up the team for success and set you up for success so that if you take on another opportunity, we can continue to be supporters for you—and you can continue to be supportive for our organization.’
Recruiting and hiring is so hard. If you can have people that leave and spread wonderful word of mouth about you as an employer, ultimately the long-term benefits of that are so much bigger than finding means of retaining people who aren’t happy to stay.
One of the tactics some managers use is the ‘stay interview,’ which is like an exit interview but for someone who hasn’t yet quit. Is that something that you recommend?
Honestly, I don’t think it needs to be all that formal. One of the things that we know from research is that the most effective managers have very consistent one-on-one meetings with their direct reports, ideally weekly or every other week.
Sure, it’s great to have a campaign where everyone has stay interviews. But the sustainable solution is to get into that habit of those weekly one-on-ones. Or if you have to, every other week check-ins. Every single one of those conversations you should think of as a stay interview. It’s not a one-time initiative. It’s a weekly, ‘Hey, how are you doing? What’s working? What’s not working?’
Once a week, we get to reflect on how we can extract the learning about what’s leading you to feel engaged and what’s leading you to feel disengaged. And every single week make a little tweak so that either you feel more invested, or you feel like you’re growing and learning more. If there are problems and obstacles getting in the way of really making this a fantastic workplace experience for you, let’s remove them.
A tool that we’ve created at LifeLabs based on our research is something called the CAMPS model. The CAMPS model stands for certainty, autonomy, meaning, progress, and social inclusion. Those are really the five biggest drivers of engagement, which ultimately is a predictor of productivity and retention. You could subtly ask about those different drivers, but especially at a time like now—be explicit about it. You can literally say, ‘Hey, I found out about this thing called the CAMPS model. Can we do a quick CAMPS check-in? On a scale of one to 10, how satisfied are you with your amount of certainty? How satisfied are you with your amount of autonomy, meaning, progress, social inclusion.’
One of those, if not more, is almost always going to give you the diagnosis you need for what is lacking for the individual that’s considering leaving. With your most-engaged people, it’s going to help you understand how to continue to invest in those areas that they care about. With your least-engaged people, it’s an opportunity to really problem solve.
How has the role of the manager evolved over the last 18 to 20 months?
The weird thing is that over the last 18 months or so, more managers’ roles are becoming closer and closer to what the roles already were of the best managers we studied. There is significantly more emphasis and desire on the manager side, the employee side, and the organization side for the manager to be more of a coach than a job and task delegator, to be more focused on emotional needs, to be more focused on not just, ‘Hey, did you get your work done?’ but ‘Let’s zoom out and look at things within the organization, or even outside of the organization, that are either supporting or impeding your success.’ There’s just a lot more focus on making sure the person feels seen and cared for as a human being.
A lot of the shift from task-based to people-based leadership that is increasingly expected is not brand new in that the best managers were already doing this and having fantastic results. Now it’s just being written into people’s job descriptions.
Is there a single piece of advice that most managers need to hear right now?
The first thing that’s coming to mind for me is that it’s really important to recognize that a manager’s job is not to manage people. As a manager, you can manage process, you can manage time, you can manage resources. But you can’t control people. And the more we try to control, paradoxically, the less effective we are getting the outcomes we want. So as a manager, it’s so important to think of ourselves as catalysts of great performance and ask ourselves, what can we do to be in service of bringing out the best in others versus how do I make sure that people do these things?
The tactics around that are focusing less on whatever we wanted this person to do and focusing more on what does this person need from me so that they can achieve great results. Getting even more tactical: ask a lot more questions than you’re already asking. One of the key things we keep finding in our research over and over and over is the best managers ask more questions than average. On average in 15 minutes, most people will ask about two questions. The best managers we studied ask about 10 questions. Try out that orientation—how can I find out what this person needs from me to be successful? Assume they want to be successful, assume you don’t have to motivate them, assume that they already just like you want to do great work, want to feel good, and want to feel like they’re making meaningful contributions.
Read the full transcript of our conversation with Luna, including discussion of the key skills of the most effective managers, and the best approach for recruiting top talent.
Buy The Leader Lab on Bookshop.org or Amazon.