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12 Min Read

The Top 3 Factors Influencing Employee Satisfaction And Retention: An Interview With Colleen McCreary

David Mizne
David Mizne

How do you look at The Employee Lifecycle? Are you detached like a seasoned clinician who views patients in terms of mechanics, or are you involved like the newly graduated nurse who is focused on the experience of the person and the wellbeing of their body? Both have the best interests of the patient in mind, but there is a difference.

Of course we are not talking about birth, adolescence and adulthood. We are talking about hiring, development, employee satisfaction and retention. Do you consider your workforce in terms of what you can “get” out of employees and their ELTV, or are you interested in team-building and employee development to find business success through supporting people to achieve greatness?

To delve into this distinction, I sought the wisdom of Colleen McCreary, a people ops thought leader who was one of the first to terminate the annual performance review process in lieu of career focused development conversations. (You can read that interview here.)

Colleen is currently Chief People Officer at Vevo, the world’s leading all-premium music video and entertainment platform. Below, she offers employee development ideas and advice for handling the different stages of the employee lifecycle, via the lens of making people feel valued instead of merely extracting value from them.

DM: In Silicon Valley, there’s a concern about being able to hire and retain the best people. How does one win the “war on talent” in terms of both recruiting and employee retention?

CM: Going back over twenty years, I’ve never worked in the tech industry when the war for top talent wasn’t considered “on”. Even during the downturn or the dot com implosions, top talent is still considered top talent. People are always looking for it.

My biggest advice around recruiting employees involves two things: customization and hygiene. They are pretty boring, but they are the most important.

Customization is all about spending time taking the positions in your company and deliberately mapping them to the candidate you’re reaching out to. You want people to clearly visualize being in that work environment and doing the work that you have to offer them. People want to feel valued and important, yet many companies skip over this step.

Recruiting is a lot like dating. You want to put your best foot forward and make that other person feel like you’re that special match.

The hygiene side is about valuing people’s time. Show up when you say you will and get back to people as promised. Make them feel like you are the right person who’s going to take care of them over time.

I see that, especially with startups that are trying to make a name for themselves. One of the ways that they can prove they are a legitimate company is through the recruiting process, and showing that they have invested a great deal of time and effort, including all of the details around the hiring process.

To take the dating metaphor even further, now you’ve decided to get married (hire the person). There are many things you have to do that are similar to having a longer term romantic commitment with someone. That includes making them feel appreciated on a regular basis, meeting that need to feel valued and to have the other person notice what you are doing.

If you are in a relationship like that, you don’t want to be forgotten. You want that other person to put effort into continuing to recruit you over time.

Not only is employee recognition important, but employers must realize that people will change over time. Set the ground rules so that people know as they change, what the expectations are for a successful relationship to continue.

People forget that managing employee performance is a balancing act that goes beyond HR. The majority of this relational work happens between a manager and employee. HR’s role is to help facilitate the conversation and remind the manager to show employee recognition, value great efforts, and understand how to motivate their employees. If you can facilitate those conversations along the way, you will be much more successful.

Are you looking for a simple yet powerful employee recognition tool? Give High Fives a Try!

DM: What are the top 3 factors that influence employee satisfaction and retention? Is it about the workplace culture, compensation, perks, employee recognition…etc…?

CM: Employees want to feel valued. Right off the bat, they want to know if their manager cares if they show up for work or not and that the work they do matters. So few companies consider the different ways to express employee recognition. Not everyone is motivated by the same things or feel valued in the same way.

You can certainly give someone a raise (and I have yet to hear about someone who turned that down) but everyone reacts in a different way. There are people who, if you show their work to the CEO or are allowed to speak externally on panels, or open-source their projects… that has a ton of value for them.

The #1 factor impacting employee satisfaction is still to tie the work that they do every day to the big goals that the company is trying to deliver. That means that the work you show up and perform every day genuinely matters to the company.

The #2 factor: Does my employer really want to invest in me or not? “Invest” is a vague term that could be around benefits, but it’s usually around career growth and taking on new things. That’s why you hear about training a lot. I frame the conversation with my own team that a specific training is not just about their current role, but provides longer term benefits at other companies in the future.

The #3 factor: Giving people the flexibility and freedom within their jobs, and giving them some autonomy and control over when and how they get to work on projects. The work/life balance question is a bad question to ask people. The question that truly boosts employee satisfaction really should be about perceived control of time. It’s important for people to have a say in what they are doing but also how they get it done.

There is an assumption that people are paid commensurate to the market they are in and the level of responsibility that they have. I say compensation doesn’t matter until someone feels stupid. That’s when they feel like the company is taking advantage of them, paying them unfairly, or the amount of money they are giving up for a job significantly impacts their lifestyle and family. But I don’t usually see compensation or perks in the top 3.

DM: Absolutely! What I have seen in employee satisfaction surveys by The Society for Human Resource Management and elsewhere, involves clearly communicating goals, employee recognition…etc…

CM: Yes, those aspects are important too. 15Five is great for setting up the conversation to be able to understand what’s behind employee motivation. So many managers don’t think to ask, What would make you feel most valued? What can I do for you that would make you feel like you have more control over your work?

There are some companies whose products only ship at Christmas. There’s a huge amount of pressure because everything is dependent on these external forces and deadlines over which the employees have zero control. Being able to facilitate these conversations about control can make a huge difference.

When we first rolled out 15Five here at Vevo, I heard people say that it was the first time their manager knew all the things they were working on. That was universal and continuous. There was never a forum to talk about it. There were many week to week tasks that weren’t big enough to make the list for the purpose of demonstrating performance. Or there were tasks that were not strategic or important enough to bring up in a one on one meeting. But people spend time on those things that don’t ever get recognized.

DM: We agree with the thought of helping people succeed not just at their current job, but even for when they move on. Some believe that is setting up for turnover, others say that level of support increases job retention rates. What have you found?

CM: I am transparent with people about their path at the company and the skills that they need to move forward, and I am willing to invest in that development. That always pays dividends.

My job as a direct manager is to get somebody to their next job. I take that very seriously and I build up the trust and honesty with my team so that they trust me enough to share that their next step isn’t necessarily at the current company. My job is still to set them up to do well, and ideally the trainings will still be adding value at the company. People then tend to be loyal to their manager and the organization far beyond how they would have been.

Getting comfortable with the fact that an employee will leave just takes time. Many managers haven’t built the muscles to understand that providing support beyond the current company will help the organization.

Maybe it’s the Silicon Valley in me, but I just don’t worry about it. People are going to leave and our job is to put them in a position where they are giving the most they can to your organization in the time that you have them.

David Mizne is Content Manager at 15Five, lightweight performance management software that includes continuous feedback, objective (OKR) tracking, peer recognition, 1-on-1s, and reviews. David’s articles on talent management have appeared in The Next Web, TalentCulture, and Follow him @davidmizne.

Image Credit: Unsplash