Coaching Leaders about Employee Attraction and Retention

It’s a seller’s labor market. Jobs everywhere are going unfilled. Unfilled jobs handicap an organization’s ability to deliver on its promises. Unfilled jobs can even become an existential crisis for some companies.  Let’s look at how you might be able to help.

Most companies seem to think that money is the answer. But for organizations looking to get out in front of their competitors for talent, it is only part of the answer. Unfortunately, many leaders don’t know what to do when they play the money card and it doesn’t work.

Dan Pink, in his book Drive, talks about what motivates employees beyond money.

Pink notes that the thinking and practices that most companies use today evolved to solve problems that were very different from the ones your client organizations now face. He calls it Management 1.0. Those problems and solutions have their roots in the Industrial Revolution. In those days, most industrial jobs were repetitive. If you worked in a car factory, you did the same thing repeatedly all day long, next to co-workers who were also doing their jobs over and over again. Workers were told: “Here are the steps to make your part of the car. Don’t deviate. Don’t think. The more times you complete your part, the more money you make.”

Today, most jobs are thinking jobs. They require workers to use novel problem solving for different situations. For example, a physician has to think carefully about each patient and condition. CPAs are constantly having to learn new tax laws and apply them to the myriad of different businesses and individuals with different tax situations. Leaders of organizations rarely face exactly the same problem twice. Thinking, judgment, and creative problem solving are essential. How do you motivate someone to do those kinds of jobs?

Money is the starting point. People have to pay their bills. Therefore, knowledge workers have to be paid fairly. But while money might get people in the door, it won’t keep them there. What will motivate people to stay? Pink reviewed decades of psychological research, discovering three factors that not only motivate people to stay in a job, but elicit their very best efforts as well. These factors are levers that leaders of your client organizations can use to solve their labor problems. He calls his approach Management 2.0.

  • Autonomy: People value the ability to make their own decisions about how do their work, particularly when they are in jobs that often require novel problem solving.
  • Mastery: People value being in jobs that challenge them, jobs that are so challenging that one can never quite master them, where there is always room for growth and learning. Otherwise, the work gets boring.
  • Purpose: People value being in jobs that have meaning, in which they are able to contribute to something bigger than themselves.

We are in the process of having the bathrooms redone in our home, the one we built forty-two years ago. (It seemed to be about time!) One of the workers is an expert in installing stone tiles. You might think of construction workers as people who have “been there, done that.” Just looking for a pay check. Not this guy. Sure, he wants to get paid, and would not do the work without pay. But he wants to make decisions about how to do the tiles, based on his thirty years of experience. He will ask us questions about what we want to accomplish. Then he loves figuring out how to do what we want. His favorite phrase is “Trust me. I’ve been doing this for a long time.” (We trust but verify.)

He also clearly likes learning about his craft. Every job presents different challenges. He enjoys the complexity of measuring, cutting, and fitting to make things just right.

Finally, he feels a sense of purpose. He is creating beauty for others to enjoy.

You probably won’t have too many chances to coach construction workers. But you might have an opportunity to coach the owner of a construction company, who either can’t figure out why he can’t keep workers, or just wants to be proactive in keeping his very best.

Now let’s consider another example. Healthcare systems are facing a dramatic nursing shortage. Traveling nurses, the ones willing to move to a new city for a short-term engagement, are making a fortune. But that situation is unsustainable, because it is bankrupting healthcare systems.

How might you coach leaders of a healthcare system to use Pink’s factors to help solve the nursing shortage? Let’s take a look.

Autonomy: How does the healthcare system provide its nurses the chance to make meaningful decisions about how their part of patient care gets done? It’s a challenge. Physicians have been trained to take full responsibility for their patients. Such training has often led doctors to leave nurses little room for judgment. To get and keep good nurses, systems will need to find ways for physicians and nurses to share decisions about patient care. Each group knows things, and can do things, that the other is less skilled in.

Mastery: Healthcare is a process no one has fully mastered. For our purposes, the question becomes how healthcare systems can provide opportunities for nurses to continue learning. What is the budget for continuing education? Is there a system for senior nurses to provide mentoring to younger ones? Are mentors trained how to mentor? What about leadership training and opportunities for senior nurses?

Purpose: Healthcare is a great profession within which to find meaning. How might healthcare systems accentuate the meaning of the work that nurses do? In a field in which mistakes can be catastrophic, how can the system find ways to show their nurses the difference that they make with each patient?

Management 2.0, can be adapted to pretty much any work setting in which people have to think to do their jobs. Oh, wait! That includes us! Use your own autonomy to figure out how you could help client organizations attract and retain key employees. It will be an ongoing process of mastery, because what sounds straightforward often gets complicated. Hospital systems, for example, are complex, with multiple lines of authority!

Finally, imagine the sense of meaning that you will feel having helped everyone win!

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