Tackling the ‘wobble’ – the key to retaining good people

November 14, 2017

Despite the title, this is not about fighting the flab.


Instead, let’s look at another important wobble which occurs at key times of the year. The one where people feel dissatisfied with their lot at work and start to look around for other jobs – or at the very least feel their commitment waver.

After holidays, people’s thoughts can drift, so it’s crucial that leaders think about how to reengage and refocus their employees. For those of us interested in employee engagement, post holidays are ‘red flag’ times of the year, when we need to be especially attuned to what people are thinking.


Post-holiday blues

It’s not massively surprising – we have probably all felt this wobble to some degree at different times in our careers. Some will have reflected on their lot over a break, and decided to move on. Others will find the change of pace returning to work a challenge and more still will just need time to get back into the flow. Given this, leaders can play a key role in reducing the wobble and accelerating the rate at which people become match fit again.

The first task is to refocus people, remind them where the organisation is headed, recap on strategic messages and review successes so far. This can take place at several levels – the CEO in some organisations sends out a video message and/or stages a series of town hall meetings to reiterate priorities and give an overview of the challenges and aims for the coming year. This can often be supported by a reminder of the big successes of the previous year – those crucial reasons to believe which help people see that progress is being made. This helps establish a sense of momentum and continuity and provides a useful context for local discussions.


Positive conversations

These local conversations are crucial. Most leaders make a team meeting a priority in the first week back so they can rekindle the team’s spirit, highlight what its members need to do to play their part and restate objectives. Such a session helps everyone get up to speed quickly. More informally, an early team session serves as a great opportunity to spot issues and concerns and give people an opportunity to be listened.  Sometimes, just having the conversation can be enough to reassure people – often when people have doubts or questions, being heard can go a long way to help people deal with them.

A quick half hour informal one to one discussion with no rigid agenda can also help highlight issues and remind people that they are valued and an important part of the team.  For some with big teams, it’s a heavy investment of time, but one that many find invaluable. Our experience is that one to ones can be the jewel in a leader’s communication crown, but because they are so resource hungry, they must be used sparingly.


Casual reinforcement

Informal communication – casual conversations in corridors, around the coffee or water machines and at meals – is also a vital communication tool in the leader’s kitbag at any time of the year..  Being visible, available and interested helps build trust between leaders and their teams and enables them to keep a finger on the pulse of the organisation. When people are freshly back from what can be a long time away, it can also help highlight issues and give people a chance to ask questions and raise issues.

It can be hard to get informal communication right for some leaders as it can feel slightly forced and unnatural to start a conversation. Those who do it well ask questions about what people are making of what is going on, what issues they are facing and how they feel about the coming year.  The balance is much more on asking questions and listening than attempting to push messages at people. If leaders start to collar people to recite a lot of key messages, it won’t be long before their teams work out ways of avoiding them.


About the author

Matt Stephens is the author of Revolution in a Heartbeat and founder of Quest, a consultancy that aims to help businesses achieve their goals through inspiring leadership, developing culture and building engagement.

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