Skip navigation

09 June 2009 8:16am

Employers with limited opportunities to promote ambitious employees should utilise “proxies” that will retain them for longer while developing their skills, says Retention Partners director Lisa Halloran.

There is a “promotion drought” at the moment, she points out. Twenty years of “stripping layers out of organisations” has been compounded by the current situation of “not a great deal of growth – organic or otherwise – happening in organisations”.

Despite this, “the expectation is still there that you can have your boss’s job”, she says. “People are employed with a clear objective to progress through the company.”

Employees’ expectations of linear promotion are inevitably going to be unmet, so employers should consider “promotion proxies – what you can do when you can’t promote people but they still want to have a sense that their skills are advancing and developing”.

Halloran recommends that proxies have a strong “brag factor”, so that in lieu of boasting about their new job title employees can still say to friends and family, “my organisation thinks I’m important”.

Proxies should also rely heavily on learning and development, in order to assuage employees’ need to advance or deepen their experience.

“What these initiatives are designed to do is increase employees’ skills and abilities so that they can bring more to the job whilst they’re still there, make them feel important, and therefore hopefully increase their tenure, and better position them should a promotion opportunity come up. It’s a bit of a win-win.”

The promotion proxies she recommends include:

Internal mentoring – let employees know that within your organisation everyone at C-level, for example, or everyone at the GM level is available to mentor, “as long as those people have been appropriately trained and there are guidelines around mentoring; it’s not just a coffee and a chat every month”.

The biggest consideration with mentoring is that “mentors should only be selected by the mentee”, Halloran says. “Giving someone a mentor they don’t respect – you know, if the CEO’s a bit of a tosser – that’s almost going to accelerate the decision to leave. So what we want is for employees to identify their own mentor and have very strict criteria as to what they’re going to learn and the nature and duration of that relationship.”

External mentoring – if an employee is a “rugby-tragic”, for example, and the organisation pays for Mark Ella to mentor him for one hour a month for six months, “I can absolutely guarantee [he’s] not going to resign for six months.

“There’s money available to do things like that – it’s a fairly low cost initiative.”

External coaching – an employee will “go home at night and say ‘honey you wouldn’t believe what the organisation has done for me. They’ve got me this coach three times a week and we’re looking at these particular leadership skills’ or whatever the case may be.”

Secondments – employees can take on an acting role with a supplier, customer, government agency or community sector – “it doesn’t just have to be to [a different] department”.

Secondments are increasingly rare because employers are “loathe to let a resource go”, but in some organisations – particularly in the public service – it works well, Halloran says. “People go off and work in acting roles and then come back, so in those environments it’s pretty effective.”

Projects – “it doesn’t have to be a $20 million project; it could be ‘I want three of you guys to decide how we’re going to reconfigure our customer relationships’.”

‘Public face’ duties – while their boss is away, ask an employee to step up into the role of briefing the board on the monthly results, or to go to universities and colleges to talk about a career in their field;

‘Sexy’ L&D – “it’s one thing to say ‘let’s keep you engaged by sending you off on a negotiation course, or advanced sales training’, but [it’s another] if I say to you ‘you’ve done an amazing job this year, why don’t you go to the conference in Dublin? And when you come back, I want you to take three people aside and debrief them about what you’ve learned and build a paper about how [those things] are going to change our organisation’.”

Alternatively, she suggests, the employer could pay for an employee’s MBA or other major learning and development expense.

One size fits one
Employers need to have a range of promotion proxies available, Halloran says, because “one size fits one”.

“One worker might not respond well at all to having a mentor, but they’d love to go off and do post-grad studies. There’s no point saying ‘everyone here has to have 12 hours of training a year and we don’t care what it is, or everyone here has to go through a negotiation course’. Those days are gone. People will say ‘that’s not good enough for me, I want something different’. So it’s really about saying ‘here’s a whole suite of things that we can pull out of the bag and say ‘how about this for you at this stage of your career’.”

Halloran concedes that proxies can only go “so far” before an employee says “‘well, great, but I’m very highly skilled and experienced, when do I get the boss’s job?’

“If that can’t happen that’s fine, but along the way we’ve kept the person for longer and we’ve got more from them because we’ve put more into them.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: