Engagement or Retention?

I posted an article this week on LinkedIn about generations at work.  The article asserted that we should prepare ourselves for the inevitability of shorter longevity of Generation Y employees in organizations, and that a smart strategy is to maximize Gen Y’s contribution during their employment and prepare them to be organizational ambassadors when they move on to their next roles.

I fundamentally agree with this strategy. I find that too often, managers coach others based solely on the organization’s agenda, rather than creating a win-win for both the organizational system and the individual.  While the individual is part of the system, they are also motivated by intrinsic drivers that impact their choices and actions.  Seeing employees as people with goals and ambitions, and then helping them make progress toward those career objectives is a surefire way to create strong engagement and commitment in the present.  The question becomes, what is the organizations objective:  engagement or retention?  There are those who would argue both…but I’m not convinced that argument fits this new world we live in. Maybe we need inflow of new ideas and energy more than we realize.  What if having high turnover actually becomes a desirable state?  Something to think about.  I believe the fulcrum is career planning.

Expecting team members to career plan in the narrow-box called “traditional career-ladder next step” is short sighted.  This archaic view of the world creates empty career plans that don’t create energy and transformation. Team members are afraid to speak of what they really want their future to look like for fear that it will have a negative impact on the present. So in organizations everywhere, managers and team members go through the motions of putting together plans that don’t reflect the fullness of the passion and energy that wants to be unleashed on the workplace.  These surface conversations can’t become open and vulnerable because the system isn’t set up that way.

Managers often operate from the position of protecting future workflows, which translates to ensuring that human resources are available and ready to be deployed as needed.  The measurement stick believes that if employee engagement goes up, attrition rates will come down, and we all think this is a good thing.  But what if it isn’t?   I raise the question: is this world view still legitimate?

I had lunch with a dear friend yesterday who shared with me her coaching work, and specific examples of highly educated and successful people that wanted to move mid-career into a new industry or field.  She spoke to how difficult it was because they were seen as outsiders in these new fields, despite being highly experienced in others.  We have trained ourselves to walk a very narrow line, in a very big new world. We don’t see the benefit of an outside perspective.  But what might we gain, if we cross the lines and blur the edges?

What possibilities does a new discipline bring to the tired and well-trodden view?

I have brought you more questions than answers.  I hope the Gen Ys help us discover how to let go more easily of the status quo, and I hope we can teach them how to stay grounded enough to know what needs to be held onto.

If you like this blog, I think you will like my book The Cycle of Transformation. Available now!
Deb Siverson is a seasoned executive coach, certified as a PCC through the International Coach Federation. If you want to schedule time to discuss how you or your organization can increase engagement by having a different conversation at work, contact us now.