Elana Sonnenberg, managing director of YellowTreeHub, shares her insight into essential strategies to ensure your staff are ready to give it all for your company

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Engagement can be defined as the propensity of an employee to go ‘over and above’ the call of duty. What causes an employee to want to give more of himself to his job and the organisation, that part that could be called ‘discretionary effort’? It has been linked to overall satisfaction levels and general happiness with one’s job, which also drives one’s intent to stay.

To have a chance for future success, companies need to be able to engage the following questions: What gives meaning to people? What value do people get from their job? What does success mean to any individual?

In order to create increased human capacity and leadership capability to take their business into the future, its essential that businesses a shift of focus from delivering pure technical and functional training to programmes and interventions focussed on the development of leadership competencies such as self-awareness and personal effectiveness (for instance, mindfulness programmes) with an intent to drive outcomes of increased and improved leadership efficacy. One of the outcomes of improved leadership efficacy is the generally positive impact it has on employee retention and, in most instances, morale.

I suspect that one of the unintended effects of such programmes is, however, that more self-aware employees become more self-empowered and, therefore, more inclined to take action against their unhappiness and dissatisfaction – for instance, leaving jobs that they are not happy or fulfilled in, or leaving teams in which they feel suppressed or underutilised. Ultimately, they will leave businesses where they cannot develop their full potential and talent.

Business, therefore, has a calculation to make with regards to the retention of staff. The calculation will sound like this: what is the right amount of self-empowerment and self-awareness that we can ‘allow’ or ‘hold’ without losing our competitive advantage and return on investment through the seemingly inevitable talent leak caused by empowerment?

The tension that is created by empowered employees (and the effect of their power on work-relationships and businesses that are focused on and have to drive strategy and profitability) will create chaos once that transformation point is reached, beyond which the business cannot control the probable outcome. This tipping point will be the divide between having control over the employee and losing the control.

So, ultimately, organisations probably seek some kind of a control-balance over people. The talent leak could, therefore, be seen to be one of the measures of the amount of self-empowerment and individualism in action. There might not be a solution to this for big business, or an alternative model for employment might have to be discovered and the narrative around retention and talent loss might have to change.

Self-empowered individuals make choices that have no price tag (soul not for sale), yet organisations often think of the employment relationship in monetary terms only. What do you offer people who are not willing to ‘sell their souls’ to a business? Is there anything to offer? If not, what type of talent are employed by big business? How do you keep your specialists who are focussed on mastering their trade and want to do so at all costs?

A reality that big business will progressively have to come to terms with is that once a person realises and consolidates their personal power (and claims their right to self-determination and healthy self-empowerment), this state of empowerment challenges the ‘tribe’ which constitutes big business culture.

What is required is a new methodology which addresses each employee (person) as unique and individual. What is of value to people has changed and will be changing more radically in the future. The relationship that a person has with her job - or career – is ultimately a power relationship.

Power here relates to one’s sense of agency and ownership. An individual who has consolidated his personal power will not be inclined to negotiate away their ownership and agency and it will determine strongly the degree to which the individual will be willing and motivated to contract with an organisation.

Organisations tend generally to have monocultures where there is not much space for individualism and a healthy degree of willingness to morph with the culture/personality of the organisation is required for success in one’s job or career.

Generally this type of organisational culture requires of people to conform to a certain set of rules and policies and a ‘way of doing things here’. In fact, organisations probably spend more and more energy and attention ensuring a good match between prospective employees and the organisation’s culture, values and personality. It, therefore, goes something like this: the organisation perpetuates its established culture and power systems through very rigorous selection and induction practises. It keeps the pattern as the pattern will keep the power and behaviour of people in check. The question around retention becomes interesting viewed through the lens of a mono-culture and, hence, business needs to ask itself whether it wants to continue nurturing its mono-culture, or create a different type of tribe based on other and differing values, measurements and measurement systems which could make it more attractive to more people.

There is nothing mystical about the fact that skills scarcity carries a premium, and so ‘in demand skills’ will be highly mobile. People who become masters in what they do and who want to build and craft their skill will be impatient and highly intolerant of stagnation by virtue of their focus on mastery. It would be prudent to identify the ‘to keep’ specialists and to establish on a one-by-one basis what their needs and dreams are and how the business can accommodate or facilitate their development of mastery. Work against stagnation.

Another lens is that in a probabilistic universe such as ours, it makes sense to move to places where there are more jobs and opportunities. High potential people, talented people and highly driven individuals, will progressively become more impatient and mobile and move to places and organisations where there are opportunities. How does a big business harness this potential? Think technology… think decentralisation.

New narratives around collaboration and shared ownership will need to emerge to have appeal for and engage the younger generation in the economy.

I am of the view that the ‘talent leak’ that big corporations are experiencing are linked to the shift in power from the organisation (centralised) to the individual (decentralised). The intent to have a mutually beneficial relationship lies in understanding that the inherent requirement of organisations to own and centralise power will need to be renegotiated. This renegotiation will have to take place in a different place, a different context and a different understanding of how power is constructed in the new economy.

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