Jenni Broyles: VP and GM, North America & Global Outdoor, Wrangler – Kontoor Brands, Inc.
Kathleen Ligocki: Board Director and Serial CEO
Carol Seymour: Founder and CEO – Signature Leaders
Katy Vu: CFO of North America – Bunzl
While the impacts of the Great Resignation ripple through all organizations, leaders are finding it difficult to slow the attrition rates, especially for women. Identifying and solving the reasons why employees are moving elsewhere may be as challenging as coping with the resulting vacancies. In a recent gathering of top-level Signature executives, Jenni Broyles, VP and GM for North America & Global Outdoor at Wrangler, pointed out: “Where I think we’re blowing the executive team’s mind is why people are leaving. Some are just burned out. They’re not leaving because they have another mega job. They’re just tired; they’re going to take a break… These kinds of reasons, you can’t throw money at.”
Kathleen Ligocki, Board Director and Serial CEO, underscored that the question of retention connects to much more than salary or bonuses. “How do you replenish people from an energy standpoint?” she asked. “It’s not about money in general — it’s about emotional replenishment and giving everyone the space to do that.”
These recent trends have highlighted the issue of burnout and the lack of connection employees feel to their organizations. Our Signature executives explain that their daily fire fights limit the amount of time they can spend with direct reports. And while companies are being creative and providing new perks for all employees, such as an extra week of vacation, or the third Friday of every month as a wellness day, employees are looking for more than money or perks. Employees need to know their leaders care to help them continue their personal growth, identify opportunities for their futures, invest in them, and recognize their value.
Overall, a leader’s role is to create an environment where people feel valued and engaged before they start jumping ship.
Help Individuals Grow
Does this situation sound familiar? You have one or two stand-out employees who are your go-to people for nearly anything. They learn quickly, take on new tasks willingly, have built a network of solid relationships, and understand your mission so completely that they can anticipate efficient solutions to almost any problem.
Though it’s tempting to hand these excellent team members even more duties (especially to fill in gaps created by rapid attrition), doing so may cause the kind of burnout you’re already reeling from. Leaning too heavily on one individual also doesn’t allow others to grow and stretch — which may be the essential key to help everyone stay.
“As you move beyond the sweet spot of growth and into the mastery of your field,” commented Carol Seymour, Signature Leaders CEO, “the more unsettled you become. You’re looking for the next adventure, figuring out how to expand scope and responsibility, how to create more excitement and challenge in the existing role.”
Leaders need to recognize and acknowledge this desire for growth in every team member (including themselves), and ask the important questions that get everyone where they want to go.
“I think one question should be, ‘Where do you feel like you’re being underutilized with the gift or passion that you currently have?’” Carol pointed out. “Sometimes having that answer allows you to think of a different place inside the company where that talent can be used. Then they’re doing something that they’re really excited about — one they hadn’t thought of, because they didn’t see it in their immediate work area. Tapping into other areas of the organization requires some work on your part as a leader but understanding what fuels the individual and putting them in a place for growth is a win for the individual and a win for the company.”
Describe the Future
Most of the Signature executives were finding that their attention to the daily challenges – such as finding the missing container that left China a month ago – meant more time on transactional situations. Employee feedback pointed out they were missing the big picture, the vision for where the company was going.
In a time of rapid change and emergency response, people want a clear and visible path on how the organization will move forward and how they fit in that context. They need to know their contributions are valued and they have a path for growth and opportunity.
“I think it’s really easy for me being on the senior team to constantly talk about strategy and vision, and to forget that’s not the kind of visibility or the transparency that people underneath me get,” Katy Vu, CFO of North America at Bunzl added. “[But now], we set aside an hour and just have each person share a vision of where they feel the team is going to go… They’re setting a bit of time aside to intentionally speak about things that are not transactional, and I think it’s awesome.”
As Kathleen summarized: “You need to allow time for thinking about your strategy and vision. People are hungry for it. You will always have the day-to-day emergencies, but the transactional is just not inspiring, and people can’t see where they are going.”
Invest & Tell Them Why
Involving team members strategically is one effective method to foster buy-in, but investing in them through long-term sponsorship (and explaining why) will invigorate and engage everyone for the long-term.
At Jenni’s company, Kontoor Brands, Inc., “We are super passionate about mentorship, sponsorship, and coaching. We have executive team members directly mentor throughout the organization in different functional areas. It’s even on our grading plans. In our midyear and end-of-year reviews, we ask: ‘Who were you mentoring? Who were you sponsoring? Who were you coaching, and what have you done?’ We’re being pretty intentional about grading our leaders on how well they’re doing at that.”
Providing such opportunities for sponsorship will elevate all team members involved, but taking the extra step to explain why will take everyone even further.
“Sometimes, we invest in people, and we don’t actually say why we’re investing in them,” Carol noted. “I get so many people who come through Signature programs – they’re clearly here because they’re being invested in. Yet when I say at the opening of every Signature program, ‘Do you realize how special you are? You were selected to be here. There’s only so many seats. Your company is investing in you for a reason.’ Half of the women in that room go, ‘Oh, wow. I hadn’t really thought about it that way.’
“Sometimes, simply the act of sending individuals into programs is supposed to be the message. But for leaders, the verbalization of, ‘Yes, we’re investing in you for this reason,’ is sometimes missed. That’s such a small thing that can make a big difference.”
Above All, Identify the Appropriate “Currency”
A recent (October 18, 2021) report by McKinsey & Company, found a clear disconnect between why employers think their employees are leaving and the actual reasons behind employee exits. The survey results found that employees were far more likely to prioritize relational factors, including feeling valued by their manager and organization, and having a sense of belonging. In contrast, employers were more likely to focus on transactional factors, such as inadequate compensation and work-life balance.
Though it may require time and attention to find the right form of acknowledgment for each team member, the investment you make now to find new solutions will help avoid attrition disruptions and move you and your team into the future.
“In some cases, the old stuff doesn’t work quite as well,” Kathleen acknowledged, “but we need to think about how to create belonging in what will probably be a hybrid world. How do you celebrate people and get them to belong? Because if you’re just in a transactional money war, you’re not going to win all those battles. That’s not enough for people. You’ll have to compete in the marketplace and be competitive. But this idea of appreciation and gratitude and belonging – I think these are going to be really core for our future workforce.”
Jenni Broyles encouraged further investigation to understand, “What is their currency? Is it the title? Is it the newness of doing something different? Is it ownership? What is the currency that’s going to motivate people and get them excited? Finding that on an individual level is crucial… In the past, it was a little bit more of a one-size-fits-all-box and we all operated accordingly. Nobody’s going to operate accordingly now.”
In these previously uncharted waters, your main challenge as a leader will be to help retain and foster your best talent. The playing field has changed, and it is important to consider all of these factors — growth, vision, investment, and the appropriate currency — for your people, and for yourself.