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Is Fixing Your Leaders the Answer to Talent Retention?



Employer Branding, Talent Attraction, Talent Retention, Employee Value Proposition, Quiet Quitting

How important is good leadership when it comes to talent retention? Author and podcaster Joe Mull's new book argues that it essential to creating the fertile conditions to nurture a committed and content workforce. But is it enough on its own?...

“Do you believe that a boss’s job is to manage metrics, create schedules, drive productivity, acquire customers, enforce policies, and so on? Or do you believe that their job is to create the kind of employee experience that leads people to become committed?”

That’s the question coach and leadership mentor, Joe Mull asks in his new book Employalty - How to Ignite Commitment and Keep Top Talent in the New Age of Work, which argues that it is bosses and organisational leaders that are the key component in attracting and retaining talent.

Mull is the host of the Boss Better Now podcast and founder of the BossBetter Leadership Academy. He is a Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) and has been featured on Good Morning America, and in Forbes and Newsweek.

“Instead of managing schedules, tasks, and projects, the primary responsibility of bosses must be coaching, trust, and advocacy,” he argues.

“Now more than ever before, employees from all industries are rejecting unnecessary suffering at work. As such, they are rejecting, in all forms, the prospect of working for a bad boss. If you want to have any hope of attracting talent, positioning them to become psychologically committed, and enticing them to say, you must insist on better bosses.”

Leadership skills gap

Mull says his 20 years in HR and learning and development revealed to him that there was a skills gap that went as high as C-Suite executives when it came to understanding what turns people into dedicated employees.

His lightbulb moment came when he was asked on a podcast to sum up where commitment at work comes from and he struggled to define it.

“I always cringe when a speaker gets up on stage, if they're doing a leadership talk or something like that and say, ‘you know, do this one thing and it's going to transform everything’ because that's just bunk.

“It’s way more complex than that, but we must be able to boil it down into a simple framework, that’s repeatable and digestible for people. So that's how this all came to be.”

How to create employee loyalty

Mull is not an Employer Brand practitioner. What he seeks to do is help leaders improve their skills to create a positive and appealing internal culture that people will want to be part of.

His framework or diagnostic tool for creating ‘Employalty’ defines it as having three key requirements - A Great Boss that offers coaching, trust, and advocacy; Meaningful Work that offers purpose, strengths and belonging and an Ideal Job with the correct balance of compensation, workload, and flexibility.

“The compensation, workload, and flexibility that create an Ideal Job for employees is facilitated at the ground level by Great Bosses,” he writes. “If employees get to do Meaningful Work—work that gives them purpose and aligns with their strengths in an environment where they feel they belong—it’s because their boss is actively facilitating such an experience. So, you can’t skip this one. And you can’t do Great Boss in half-measures.”

“There are a handful of things that work in concert together that people need to experience at work and if we check the boxes next to most or all of them, we've got a pretty good chance of finding and keeping people.”

Mull’s theory, and it is really kind of obvious, is that a leadership that creates the right conditions within his framework will result in a culture that attracts and retains committed employees

“A lot of leaders will put a lot of time and money into getting together in a conference room and talking about what is our culture or what do we want our culture to be? And they come out with a bunch of shiny words that don't necessarily reflect the actual experiences that people have in the workplace.

“So, what I'm really going for first and foremost is what is the collection of experiences that employees need to have again and again and again, to be committed and to stay long term. And if you create those experiences again and again and again, the outcome is a culture where everybody is committed, where people stay long term, but you must have that collection of experiences to drive the culture.”

Building a compelling Employer Brand

That still doesn’t mean that the culture created will be a perfect for everyone. Our Give and Get Employer Branding tells us that it’s impossible to suit everyone. It’s quite possible to build an attractive Employer Brand but it will not be compelling to everyone.

Mull’s approach is essentially based around fixing leadership. But he concedes that it’s not always possible. At least, not without making some very hard decisions.

“I've wrestled with this for years. And my short answer is no. It's not always fixable. But that doesn't mean that that leader isn't fixable. I think most people can be taught, most people can be coached, and most people can change.  When it's not fixable is when a leader has dug a hole for themselves around reputation, culture, relationships, and history. There may be no getting themselves out of that hole.

“I worked with an organisation recently where there was a clinical manager that had a history of not being supportive, kind, or approachable with the people on the team. And what we figured out was that any improvement that this person would require and be able to demonstrate was not going to overcome the sins of the past. So, the only way to help the organisation move forward would be for her to go someplace else.

“And then the new leader coming in would have a different starting point and would be able to propel the organisation forward and that previous manager could go to another place and with lessons learned and new knowledge and skills acquired probably be a better leader. So, in both cases, the organisation and the person got fixed but it wasn't going to get fixed with that person staying in place.”

So, what does all this mean for Employer Branding? If creating a great workplace culture is just about fixing the managers, then is it necessary?

The answer is that Employer Branding isn't there just for leaders. In fact, the Employer Brand is there for everybody to find purpose, impact and belonging. In that respect, it is crucial.

They say people don't leave jobs; they leave bosses.  If your employer brand is strong, and you've got a sense of belonging, you understand what the proposition is, a good EVP and a strong culture that is well defined can be the antidote to a bad boss. Good leaders and managers are an important piece of the puzzle, but it's not the whole puzzle.

You can have a lot of well-meaning great bosses, who believe in different things, have different values, want to see different behaviours in their people, and coach in different ways. Nobody’s wrong, but nobody's cohesively aligning, and that doesn’t make for a good culture and is certainly not scalable.

What is Employalty?

What Employalty means

Employalty doesn’t mean employee loyalty. It’s employer loyalty and humanity. Employalty is the commitment employers make to a more humane, person-centered employee experience, because that’s what triggers commitment at work.

Become a Destination Workplace

Commitment and retention appear when employees get to do their Ideal Job, doing Meaningful Work, for a Great Boss. These are the three factors that lead employees to join, stay, care, and try. 

The Great Jobs Shortage

Decades of overwork, stagnant wages, and toxic environments have accelerated voluntary turnover for years. The ‘Great Resignation' isn't an event, it's an era, one that has nothing to do with quitting and everything to do with upgrading. There is no staffing shortage. There’s a great jobs shortage.

The Myth of Lazy

The idea that “no one wants to work anymore” is a tired generational trope (that’s over 100 years old!) not supported by data. Want to find and keep devoted employees? Stop treating workers as a commodity and start fixing work.

The Ideal Job 

Compensation, Workload, and Flexibility determine whether an employee believes they have their Ideal Job. Improvements for employees in these three areas spark hiring, loyalty, and effort while saving companies time and money on turnover.

Meaningful Work

Strengths, Purpose, and Belonging are a powerful recipe for creating Meaningful Work. Employees everywhere are abandoning noxious cultures of competition and tribalism while seeking out more fulfilling work.

The Great Boss

A command-and-control leadership style fails to deliver the psychological building blocks that lead to commitment. It’s Trust, Coaching, and Advocacy that turn an average manager into a Great Boss leading to less stress, more energy, higher productivity, and less burnout among employees.

Adapt or Die

The era of trying to find the best person for the job is over. At an adapt-or-die moment for businesses of all sizes, employers must now create the best job for the person. Get this right, and you create an astounding competitive advantage around hiring and retention, while reaping all the benefits and business results that dedicated employees generate.

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