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Improving People Engagement and Retention - In an Agile World

One factor that limits our ability as an organization/project to have a consistent and predictable velocity is the instability of our team members. We are in an industry, where employee stability is a major issue. This brings to my mind a bigger question, as to why organizations are not able to retain their best employees. It is important to remember that your best employee is the person who desires to leave; underperformers do not leave.

Employee retention refers to the ability of an organization to retain its employees. Employee retention can be represented statistically. A retention rate of 80% usually indicates that an organization kept 80% of its employees in a given period.

In addition to performing exit interviews to learn why employees are leaving, consider asking longer-tenured employees why they stay. 

Ask questions such as: 

  • Why did you come to work here? 
  • Why have you stayed? 
  • What would make you leave? 
  • What are your non-negotiable issues? 
  • What about your team members, your scrum master? 
  • What would you change or improve?

Then use that information to strengthen your employee-retention strategies. Communicate your business mission and the current project vision. Creating ownership towards the organization’s goals is one way to keep employees mentally and emotionally tied to your company.

In a recent research/survey done by Coleman Parkes and the Workforce Institute at Kronos, it was identified that more than half (59%) of respondents believe that chief executive officers (CEOs) are focused on the numbers, rather than their employees. ‘The £60bn question report’, interviewed 500 people including business/operations managers, HR professionals, and employees amongst a cross-section of UK-based organisations.

Engagement as a retention factor

An organization that engages its employees will be more successful and profitable than one that does not. Organizations of today need employees who are psychologically connected to their work, especially in an economy of service and information industries.

Engagement is not the same as motivation. Engagement is when employees are experiencing job satisfaction from a shared understanding of organizational goals that result in enhanced productivity or service levels. Motivation sits on a solid foundation of engagement. It is about firing up employees to achieve specific goals such as sales targets or meeting the defined and agreed service levels.

Employee engagement is not a tick-box exercise. It demands a holistic approach to create the conditions that foster engagement. In some cases, that may mean driving a sea change in corporate culture. In an ideal world employees should be presented with a balance between the demands made of them and the resources they can access to meet those demands. Resources may be physical, such as having a laptop for mobile working, but just as often resources may be social or even emotional, in the form of support from colleagues and management. This type of support may look like a ‘nice to have’ but organizations derive much of their performance from it.

Just as importantly, engagement cannot be imposed on employees. There needs to be a commitment to employee engagement at a senior level, and organizations need to recognize that Scrum masters and Product Owners that provide support also need to be supported.

Achieving engagement can have a dramatic motivational effect, resulting in low levels of cynicism and excellent performance. Employees demonstrate the best job performance in challenging, yet resourceful work environments. With engagement, a high workload can be a positive motivator rather than a negative issue.

Low engagement can be seen through factors such as high absenteeism and staff turnover, as well as poor staff satisfaction levels as expressed in anonymous qualitative surveys. A poll survey found that engagement levels could be predicted by sickness absence, with more highly engaged employees taking an average of 2.7 days off sick per year, compared to disengaged employees taking an average of 6.2 days per year.

On a very honest side, I would have to say, that in my large, expanded career, not a single organization has ever conducted with me or with others (that I know), a STAY interview, is this unheard of? Is that so difficult? Why do we react and try to retain an employee when they put in their papers? All of a sudden, we wake up. Can’t we have an alarm system in place to spot these elements and be proactive? We have also failed to apply the basic principle that Risk Mitigation is always cheaper than issue resolution. Put in simple terms, 'Prevention is better than Cure'.

I would hold Scrum Master accountable for this retention to some extent. Are we having the right environment for the team member to flourish, grow and contribute to the success of the product and to self?

Having get-togethers, parties, and celebrations are important and add value, but cannot replace the employee engagement part.

I am not sure if in my lifetime of career, I would see this change coming in. We are heavily engaged in target meetings without understanding the basic rule that it is the people who would help us meet the target.

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