People and culture

A formula for alleviating workforce problems

How to hold on to good employees? For starters, understand that employees may consider leaving, competitors try to outbid you for them, and employees have their own personal career goals.

“If one starts thinking about employee turnover when the person is already on the way out the door, it’s too late. Managers and human resources staff have to constantly have on their desk a plan for keeping their employees,” said head of Swedbank Estonia’s career centre Grete Kotkas on the Äripäev newspaper’s radio show “Õigusruum.”

In addition, she says, there has to be a plan in case someone leaves. That’s the key to planning for young replacements and developing employees. “A manager has to hire people who are smarter, more capable and better than they are and find people who have a desire to lead and fill positions that have been left vacant.”

Katrin Oblikas, Leading Adviser for People and Culture with the Grant Thornton Baltic consultancy, says that if they feel they are valued, people want to be at a company and don't think of leaving. “For one thing, they have to get the sense that they are valuable, and second, get feedback that they are contributing in the right place and that the contribution is valued, and third the job performance could be reflected in numerical indicators that confirms all of it,” said Oblikas.

Labour migration isn’t bad

Kotkas says that it isn’t negative if an employee gets offers from other companies, as it attests to the quality of the company that stands to lose the employee. “Going away does some good from time to time. Many of our employees also do, but they come back, and at the end of the day learning from others and getting experience is very valuable,” said Kotkas. “Secondly, recognition is necessary for the people themselves as well – it’s important to know that they are valued outside their own organisation.”

Oblikas says that the situation on the labour market is tough and good employees get offers to defect or they reconsider their career moves at least once a quarter.

“The first risk area for losing an employee is when a manager feels that their subordinates won’t get the call from anyone else,” she says. “I’d recommend a manager to develop a rapport with their employees so that they talk to each other even about the job offers they get. The manager should also know what his or her employee is thinking and what they want – it’s always good to learn about a desire to leave earlier so that a replacement can be found, not have them give notice unexpectedly,” adds Kotkas.

Planning for future young employees has to be continuous and begin with employee reviews. “If you see that a given field is right for the employee and the employee wants to grow, they should be supported and guided and offers should be made,” emphasises Kotkas. “A good manager helps capitalise on strengths and finds roles that rely on the strengths.” He cites the example of how people at Swedbank can move around within the building and if a certain position isn’t right for them, it’s always possible to return to the original position. Rotating employees can cause confusion among teams, but Kotkas says it’s just something to get used to.

“People have different strengths and they have to cover a missing link if necessary – it’s normal to be in a position for 2-3 years and then move on, so it’s better to make movement normal and get used to it,” Kotkas says.

Managers’ role in passing on values

Whether moving to a new position within the same organisation turns out to be successful depends on the employee’s fit with the organisational culture. If there is no fit, rotation and promotion may not keep the employee in place. “For example, the person’s role in conveying cultural values increased in a manager’s role. As a rank-and-file worker, they are consumers of values but as a manager, they develop and pass the values on,” says Oblikas.

If an employee has moved to a new position or a manager’s position, Oblikas says they have to be continually supported. “One support measure is personal development support. It’s necessary because if you train the employee, you can only pass on 10% and they pick up 20% from other employees. However, 70% of it comes from what they experience themselves.”

“If a person is in a new role, it’s too late to crib from textbooks; they have to start performing right away and at the same time they have to smile at their team members and superiors. So the issue of how the new manager can cope with all of that internally falls by the wayside.”

Important feedback

It’s also very important to give employees constant feedback. “People want to know what is going well. That encourages and inspires the employee, gives them reason to be proud,” says Oblikas. “It’s not enough for their manager not to say anything or for silence to be read as approval.”

“Even if a person does something wrong, they want to know how to go on from there – we all want to communicate and there’s always too little rather than too much communication,” added Kotkas.

Oblikas reminds managers that every subordinate merits a personal approach and precisely for what that specific person should be praised. “Everyone values different things, and a manager has to know how to recognise their employees. It’s important to look around at one’s team and ask yourself if you know what is important to a given person,” says Oblikas.

Kotkas emphasised the need for employee reviews at least twice a year. A career plan is important, Kotkas says. A person should look up to five years down the road at where they want to get to and based on that, set development goals that help them get there.

Not everyone makes a good manager

Promoting employees to manager has to be considered carefully, because not everyone is cut out for a managerial position, says leading adviser for people and culture with the Grant Thornton Baltic Katrin Oblikas.

“If the desire and the will are there, then the rest of the training depends on how much time and energy is needed for that and whether the company is prepared to make that contribution,” she says. “When a specialist steps into a manager’s role, most get hit by a breaking wave and people who aren’t cut out for management might want that role,” said head of Swedbank Estonia’s career centre Grete Kotkas.

At the same time, it’s natural for the beginning to be difficult. “People learn in difficult junctures, and the difficulty is a sign that people learn – if it isn’t hard, there’s no challenge,” said Kotkas. “It’s important for employees to be constantly slightly uncomfortable – then they will develop.”

Oblikas added that new managers have to have the skill to let go of their old work. “Leadership takes time and you have to make that time for yourself.” Often new managers think that if they don’t get a lot done, their contribution is smaller than it was. “If they liked their work as specialists, it can be quite hard to let go,” said Kotkas.

For beginner managers, she says, it’s important that they have the opportunity to share their experience with someone. “There has to be a good working relationship with the direct supervisor,” she said. “Even though the team is familiar to the new manager, expectations should be made compatible with the direct supervisor. To keep other employees from working at cross-purposes, it has to be clear and transparent why that specific person got the role – the rest is just one-on-one work with team members and getting to know them based on the new role,” she said.

It should also be accepted as normal for a change in manager also resulting in a change of team members.

By: Aivar Hundimägi

The article was originally published in Estonian in the Äripäev supplement Palga TOP.