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Combating the Great Resignation with an invitation conversation

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HR and business leader responsibilities require that they attack a problem as quickly as possible with the best solution they can find. The term "combating” highlights a first response to problems that many of us have: The need to fix a threat to organizational stability with all speed and force to solve the issue so that normal functioning may prevail.

Perhaps news of the Great Resignation is just what you needed to convince your CFO to release additional spend to purchase a new HR software package you have been excited for. My advice is that the software may certainly help, but you might also want to try something simpler: Begin with an invitation for employees to stay at your organization.

To perform this type of conversation effectively requires the following:

  • An understanding of why an invitation is required
  • A clear description of what the conversation is and is not
  • Precise guidelines on conducting the conversation
  • Positive intent for each person you are in conversation with

HR and business leaders realize the best results when they work together on choosing the best area within the organization to start these conversations. A safe place to start is with the most amenable staff. This allows leaders to get a rhythm for how to proceed before moving to workers most in jeopardy of leaving.

Once an approach that fits your organization’s context has been established, share these best practices and measure your employees’ reactions and response to further align the conversations.

Why an invitation?

Think of your own behavior after being stuck in your house for months at a time without the ability to socialize – that moment when you felt it was safe to leave your home and go back to the activities that feed your heart and soul. One such indicator is the airlines industry, which is operating near or above pre-pandemic volumes.

The workforce has the same desire to break out of the confines of their current role. The pandemic opened up organizations and the workforce to the idea of remote and hybrid as a full-time working state. Companies are shifting to these new ways of work as best they can.

The shift to remote work proved to workers that they can make changes and thrive. What they have had a harder time addressing are the elements of work that employees were dissatisfied with in the new way of working related to their role and their work environment. The option to change is not as scary, especially if it promises a more rewarding workplace, role and work culture.

This energy and desire for freedom is a good thing for your workforce. If you are able to find ways to allow your employees to channel this energy internally it can support organizational transformation. When organizations are unable to capture this desire for movement, they are in danger of losing their best employees.

An invitation to start anew

Rather than having employees focus on leaving the firm, the invitation is the opportunity for everyone to reassess themselves and the team. For the employee, it is an opportunity to share what they most want to do within the organization. For the manager, leader or employee advocate, it is listening with an eye for what is best for the employee and the organization, not just their part of the organization.

Trying to keep talent in their current sphere of responsibility and failing is much worse than enabling someone to flourish in a different team within the organization. For one, the manager is supporting the organization. For another, they now have an ally in a different part of the organization that they can count on.

What an invitation conversation is and isn't

An invitation conversation is an honest conversation. It is not, although still useful and appropriate, analyzing your HR data for why your employees are leaving.

The difficulty is that managers and employees often have difficulty speaking to each other. The manager employee dynamic is fraught with expectations, posturing, competition between staff members, hope, concern and less than 100% honesty. This is true in both directions: Employee to manager and manager to employee.

For this reason, the person having the invitation conversation with your talent may need to be another advocate in the form or a different leader, manager, coach or colleague.

Guidelines for a productive invitation conversation

Here are the steps for an invitation conversation.

  • The invitation: It should come from someone the talent trusts. This might not be the employee's manager, so consider who the best person to send the invitation is.
  • The form of invitation: The invitation is just that -- an opportunity to have a frank conversation with someone who wants the best for the talent that they may agree to, or not. The more pressure applied, the more the invitation is at cross-purposes.
  • How does it work? The invitation to this conversation is a reset between the employee and manager (or advocate) to learn where each is at today. A lot has changed since the employee was hired. The role and goals have altered with the market and organizational landscape. Here is a chance to allow employee and managers to rethink the work they are doing and why they are doing it at this organization.
  • Structure: It is an open conversation where the employee and manager (or advocate) discuss where the employee is currently and how they are doing given X, Y, Z, factors that have come up since they joined. How they are doing is up for them to respond to in their own way. Let them lead the conversation and describe where they are happy or frustrated, see opportunity, feel a lack of inclusion, etc.
  • Don’t label the type of conversation: The approach most closely follows a coaching conversation, which allows the talent to lead the discussion flow. Don’t approach the call as a management review or upward feedback session, but if that is what they most need to discuss, then go there. Remember that this is about what they need now to feel satisfied within your organization or to follow a career path somewhere else.
  • What a successful conversation sounds like: Think of it as the best job interview your employee had with an employer that they were excited to work for. One in which the candidate shared what they most hoped to do at the target firm. Where they questioned what the role was about beyond the job description so they could learn what success looked like.

The invitation conversation is meant to be a place of possibility, much like an interview where the candidate and potential employer learn about each other and what they most value in each other.

Positive intent for the person you are in conversation with is a must

Not every manager and employee need to have the invitation conversation. A manager who is not interested or able to have an open and honest conversation should avoid it. Instead of keeping team members, that manager will shed them. This is for managers or employee advocates who can listen, without judgement, to employees who join the conversation freely.

It is not a promise that the manager will have anything to offer more than a considered and compassionate listening to what the employee is most excited about. That is the simple and only offering managers should make.

Interested employees may accept the offered invitation, and those who are not interested may decline without any fear of retribution or negative consequences. The invitation conversation is something that is provided without strings attached and is meant for the employee's benefit, first and foremost.

After the conversation

Managers, or advocates, should follow up as they would in a job interview by providing clarity on what they are able to do. The difference with the manager is that they are still employing the employee who took up the invitation conversation. The employee still needs to do the job that they have been doing and are expected to do.

The manager has the obligation to be open to allowing the employee to follow their path within or outside the firm while finding opportunities for their employee to grow based on their newly gleaned knowledge from the invitation conversation.

Managers may worry that having the invitation conversation will open a Pandora’s box of employee exits. This may be true in some cases, but managers must ask themselves whether they would rather have team members who work for them without hope in their hearts or employees who operate with hope either within the organization or, in some cases, at another organization.

 

Bill Latshaw is a leadership and succession researcher and organization development professional. His experience comes from 20-plus years in consulting and research roles within Deloitte Consulting LLP, the Boston Consulting Group, Arthur D. Little and Innovation Associates Inc. Latshaw can be reached on LinkedIn.

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