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Handcuffing OR engaging your people?

This is a tricky year to find and keep great talent.  

It’s harder than ever to find good people for your business.  Thereby you have to balance lifting your employer brand to attract people, but ensuring that you keep your existing people engaged. 

Retention = Retaining your people (sounds a bit like handcuffing?)

We are hearing lots of business owners talk about ‘retention’.  Retention (according to Wikipedia) is the ability of an organisation to retain its employees.  

Already this sounds defensive.  When I described Sprout in the early days of the business, I used to say we help 'plan', 'find', 'keep' people for growth businesses.  That lasted five minutes when it was pointed out to me that ‘keep’ is a defensive phrase.  It has a negative connotation and we believe the same for retention.  To retain feels like you are holding someone against their will.  

We focus so much on ‘retaining people’, it has become part of the language of business, at Sprout we believe instead in ‘engaging people’.  

It’s a subtle difference, but it helps shift the mindset and change the conversation.  

Engagement = People love what they do!  

Schaufeli and Bakker (2010), refer to engagement “as a positive, affective-motivational state of high energy combined with high levels of dedication and a strong focus on work” this sounds pretty good.  

Quite simply create an environment where people love what they do and who they work with.      

Engaged employees NOT robots.

Often when wanting to lift engagement, an employer thinks about what benefits they can add.  The challenge with employee benefits is they are a one-size fits all approach to driving engagement.  People are not robots.  Priorities change, life situations change and what is important to one employee is not to the other.  Some are interested in career development or project work, versus others who really enjoy their current role and find that extremely fulfilling.  

In small to medium businesses, we are very fortunate that we can take an individual approach to benefits and employee engagement in general.  

Meaningful engagement - three key tips 

One simple way is a conversation with each of your team on three areas that will make the future a great year for them you could ask them:  

1. What would make your job fizz in the next 12 months?  

One of our clients asked this question of their team and it worked really well.  It’s important to use your language here and talk through what is natural.  But asking an open ended question about the future is key. 

This should turn into a discussion around a variety of topics, but all will be individual to the person.  It could be flexibility, projects, career growth, learning and development etc…  

Also, don’t be scared to invest in your team.  The cost of hiring is often reported to be 75% to 150% of the annual salary given this, investing in a course that might cost the company a couple of thousand dollars, to increase the engagement of a top employee, is worth the investment.  

2. Creating a sense of purpose

What is now more true than ever is the need to create clarity around the purpose (the impact that the organisation is aiming to make when you do your best work) and the vision (where is the organisation heading) very clear.  

We have conducted over 500 Sprout Conversations with our client’s team members in the last few years.  From this, we have noticed that clarity of the future and the 'why' of the organisation are key drivers to engagement.  This is important as individuals can then align their own personal ‘why’ and career ambition to the organisation’s future.  

3. Building a career pathway - a jungle gym, versus a ladder

It’s often thought that small businesses don’t offer career progression.  It’s our opinion that they offer more.  You can build a career throughout the organisation, from projects, different areas, try your hand in different roles.  We think Sheryl Sandberg said it best when she referred to it as a ‘jungle gym’, versus the traditional ladder.  

In working with start ups and scale ups in this area, we help them firstly gain clarity on their organisational structure and direction for the future.  This helps them gain clarity on where the opportunities to grow are.  Secondly, creating transparency around this.  We recently shared with our team all the roles and responsibilities we have in Sprout and included the remuneration banding.  We only received positive feedback on this area.  This instantly creates an environment of equity and transparency.  

Talk to your team

The most important aspect of leading people is to communicate with them.  We have heard of so many stories of organisations losing great people, where there was an opportunity for that individual just around the corner. 

Importantly, say “thank you”. Especially in the world of high growth businesses we can miss this one.  With out great people your business will always be a lot less

Finally, It feels fitting to “thank” our awesome team at Sprout.  We are in a unique position of being a business that is scaling, helping businesses that scale. I massively value every single person on the Sprout Fam. Thanks guys. 

Brien Keegan is the founder and managing director of Sprout.  He is a huge believer in creating highly engaged, happy employees.  If you wish to talk more to Brien about the ‘how’ of this - then you can reach him on

Written by Brien Keegan
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