Last week was my 5th wedding anniversary and although life is a different these days with an 18-month-old running around, we did manage a small celebration to mark the occasion. Now this may sound weird to some of you out there, but this occasion got me thinking about retention strategies… If you take hard look, there are many similarities between marriage and a career. Typically you enter both happily (and usually willingly), full of hope for the future, and perhaps somewhat naive about how easy it will be to be successful.
Then reality sets in.
In both marriage and your career, it can be hard work to retain talent. My take, is that there’s a sweet spot in terms of “experience” for both, when thinking proactively about retention. So consider this post a two-fer – retention strategies that can be applied to your marriage and your job! #you’rewelcome
I Think I’m Better Than I Really Am Phase – Years 1 to 5
When you first join a company or get married, there’s a literal and figurative honeymoon period. Optimism prevails during this stage but while you think you’ve figured out how to be successful in your role or marriage, you’re really still in the learning curve stage. You attribute your success to your skill and motivation to do well but the honest truth is a lot of luck at play during this phase. And your failures? It was the company or your partner’s fault! While you consider yourself to be very marketable (for jobs and partners), the truth is there’s literally millions of others out there just like you! Meaning… you’d better work your @$$ off because there’s abundant choice for the company and your partner and you can be replaced pretty easily!
The Reality Smacks Me In The Face Phase – Years 5-10
This is when you realize sticking with anything for an extended period of time is really freakin’ hard! Those successes and failures during your first 5 years? One part hard work, one part circumstance (or luck) and one part your company or partner. You’re no longer relying solely on youthful enthusiasm to get by and you start to learn from your failures and shortcomings to really get better at your job or relationship. You still fall back to old habits from time to time but you quickly realize those old habits only take you so far. You’re more marketable now than when you got started. While your company or partner still have many choices, the scales start to balance out a bit more and they need to think about how they’re going to retain you more than before.
The Sweet Spot Phase – Years 10-15
By this point in your life unless you’ve let yourself go to complete s#*t personally and professionally you should be hitting your stride. You know what success looks like, what it takes to achieve it and how to balance your needs with those of your company or partner. You’re more patient now but you also know what you want and you won’t settle for anything less that what you believe you deserve. This phase is the peak of your marketability. You could step into a role in another company (or relationship too I suppose) and hit the ground running. Neither will have to invest too much in setting you up for success – you learned on someone else’s dime! To bring this back to the HR world, employee’s at this stage of their careers are my greatest flight risk and require the most aggressive retention strategy.
The Reality Sets In Again Phase – Year 20+
This phase reminds me of professional athletes towards the end of their careers. You still have nights of brilliance, you are extremely dependable, but you are more than likely an important support piece for the team, not the star to be built around. Now don’t take this the wrong way – people at this stage of their relationships and career a very valuable. The reality is however, if you were to leave either, you’re probably only marketable to a very specific set of potential employers or partners. I think it’s important to acknowledge people who have made long-standing contributions, but a certain reality sets in. After 20+ years at a company are you really going to leave? Probably not. Doesn’t mean the person isn’t important and making a meaningful contribution, it just means that choice is limited. From an HR point of view, it is important to retain but it shouldn’t be the only focus of your strategy.