In the last few years, many organisations have gone through massive changes, often involving the difficult processes of staff redundancies, mergers and acquisitions. Retaining key employees and keeping them motivated and engaged with the organisation is a massive challenge.

As an HR practitioner, I know how difficult a task this is, so I was very interested when I spoke to my friend Claire the other day. Claire works for a global financial organisation. Over the last 5 years she has witnessed more than 15 rounds of redundancies (of which 4 affected her and her team directly); seen her total compensation cut by more than 30% while consistently working 14 hour days; her overdue promotion case turned down and endured ear bashings from people accusing “her kind” of the world’s troubles at every single dinner party she has been to. If there is a disaffected employee, that’s her! 

I met her for dinner last Thursday, right after this “event” (said in a slightly sarcastic and disbelieving tone) that she and some other people who had been turned down for promotion had been invited to. I was expecting her to be dismissive and slightly annoyed but instead I met with a bright eyed 30 something professional woman who looked hopeful about her future career in the organisation. With my HR practitioner hat on (and knowing Claire…) I thought: how did they do it??

 “It’s not the presentations, it’s who was presenting: I mean, this guy is the head of more than 6,000 people and he was there!” – Leadership engagement is key to getting the message across. Employees know how precious the CEOs time is, it means a lot that he chooses to invest it in them. The leadership team should make talent retention one of their priorities in times of change.

 “Apparently I was selected by HR and senior management” – Claire has consistently been a high performer. The fact that she had been selected by HR and the management team re-enforced her believe in the performance process and the fact that this is being noticed by the organisation, not just her direct manager. This worked for Claire but organisations have different approaches when it comes to selecting employees for their talent programmes. Nomination by senior management had a positive effect in this case, but it is also important to consider how being “left out” can affect other employees. The 2010 Capgemini and CIPD report, The Talent Perspective, is an interesting read, looking at Talent Management initiatives fro m the receiving end, the talent.  

“They shared with us details of the global strategy” – sharing the future plans for the organisation and getting employees involved in making it happen (as part of transformation programmes and other change initiatives) is a good way to provide enhanced development opportunities for your top talent and make them a part of the future.

There was no mention of reward, nobody guaranteed that Claire’s salary will be “back to normal” in the next year or that her promotion case will go through, but they convinced her enough to stick around. In the last year, she has been head hunted twice and even went through two rounds of interviewing before deciding not to take the job. So it’s not as if she doesn’t have other choices.

The event was clearly targeted at motivating their top talent and renewing the organisation’s commitment to employees. This seems to respond directly to some of the employee challenges experienced by organisations going through several rounds of organisational change, what is known as the survivor syndrome (2009 IRS employment survey – How does survivor syndrome affect employees?).

In times of change, retaining the talent that has seen you through the difficult times and understands both the old and new business will be key to maintaining organisational performance.  With a leadership team likely to change as part of organisational restructuring, this talent can and must be identified across all levels of the organisation, not just the senior levels.

When budgets are tight and there is little room for manoeuvre, taking a fresh look at your talent management and employee engagement programmes can go a long way in motivating and ultimately retaining your talent in changing times.