In 1998, the consulting firm McKinsey coined an expression, “the war for talent”. This was the battle to keep key people. Whether employees, staff or management, attrition can be quite costly.

The financial cost of turnover was placed at 2-3 times the person’s annual salary, benefits and bonus. But of the person is an innovator or a leader, the costs are 10 to 100 times more than that. The simplistic answer is pay them more. But that does not really help. Well, it might in Greece if they have had multiple pay cuts in the recession and debt crisis. Getting people back to where they were before it all began is a start. The reason is that fair pay, or equity, is experienced as a fairness and justice issue – not merely market rates.

The real answer is to make it exciting to work with you. Most people want development and novelty in their work. They want their work to be meaningful and have a purpose greater than selling shoes (or whatever it is your organization sells). This is often referred to as the crisis of engagement which I addressed in the last column.

One technique is understanding the personal vision or dream of each person reporting to you. Yes, their dreams, not goals. Our fMRI studies have shown that 30 minutes of talking about a person’s dreams 10-15 years in the future, keeps them in an open state of mind (also called growth mindset these days) for weeks. Whenever they see the person with whom they have had that conversation, their brain activates a neural network (i.e., DMN in the last column) that enables them to be open to new ideas and people. When you compare this to a 30 minute conversation about how they are doing at work and whether they are getting things done or not, you see the dramatic difference. The latter activates a defensive posture, often arousing the body’s stress response and closing the person to new ideas, and causing various levels of cognitive, perceptual and emotional impairment. Who wants to come to work every day and use their discretionary time (when in the shower or driving/commuting to work) to think about new products and services?

Keeping people, or retention is one step. The next step is keeping them engaged and excited about their work. Without the latter, retention is a hollow victory. For Millennials and those who want to spend time with their families, creating a series of longevity perquisites would also be a good idea. This might be in the form of sabbaticals (several months paid leave for each five to seven years of full time work), paid time off each month to work in a non-profit or community organization for each year of full time work, credits for going to courses (i.e., escalating credits after ten years of full time work), and so forth.

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