Retaining Talent in a Virtual World: It Starts With Really Knowing Who Your Employees Are

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Over the past year, employees everywhere have had to rapidly adjust to the demands of a virtual workplace. Of all the challenges employers have faced while transitioning from in-person to remote work — and potentially back again soon — one of the most glaring has been determining how to make smart and informed decisions related to talent development and employee support.

In a KPMG survey conducted in August of 2020, CEOs named talent risk — the risk involved in attracting and retaining the talent necessary to compete — as the largest threat to their companies. This was a marked change from pre-pandemic employment report, in which talent risk ranked 12th on the list of business threats.

Talent risk is more critical now because of the expansion of virtual work opportunities. Employees who were once limited to jobs in their immediate geographical areas can now work from the comfort of their own homes for companies hundreds or thousands of miles away. That means employers have a lot more competition when it comes to attracting and retaining the best talent.

Thoughtfully investing in employees in a way that promotes both retention and development is no small feat, especially during a turbulent time. Employers must take proactive steps to maintain work environments that support their team members if they hope to hang onto their best workers in the coming months.

To Keep Your Talent, Your Must First Know Your Talent

Employees want to know that their contributions to the company are seen and appreciated. Instead, many workers feel like little more than cogs in the machine, especially in a virtual or hybrid workplace, which can be far more impersonal than an in-person office. Executive leaders need to make a concerted effort to engage with their employees in a meaningful manner in order to show employees they are valued no matter where they work from.

How can leadership accomplish this? Here are the key steps to supporting your employees and making smart decisions regarding talent development:

1. Scientifically Validated Assessment Tools Can Help

Investing in the right assessment tool can help a company gain objective insights into employee development and engagement. With a scientifically validated assessment, you can identify your employees’ strengths, weaknesses, risks, and passions. Armed with this information, you can better understand where your employees stand now and how you can best support them in their career growth moving forward.

Not only will this information help you build and develop stronger teams, but it can also ensure your talent development budget yields a higher ROI. The right assessment tool will give you clear insight into the best development opportunities to spend on.

2. Know and Understand Your Team’s Strengths and Weaknesses

Once an assessment has been administered, you can dive into the details of everyone’s strengths, weaknesses, communication styles, risk factors, drivers, and reward needs. Understanding your team’s assessment results will help you support your workers as they seek to deliver meaningful value to your company.

For instance, if Team Member A scored high on creativity but low on detail orientation, you now know to assign Team Member A duties and responsibilities with these results in mind. A task that requires big-picture thinking and brainstorming will be the perfect environment for A to shine, while the execution portion of the project may be delegated to another team member who demonstrates a stronger detail orientation. When you know and understand your team’s strengths and weaknesses and tailor job responsibilities to these factors, employees experience increased self-confidence and job satisfaction. Employees tend to be more engaged — and more likely to stick around — when their roles complement their strengths, minimize their weaknesses, and allow them to shine.

3. Personalize Growth Goals and Career Development Plans for Your Team

Employees want to be confident that they are part of a work environment conducive to their professional growth. In addition to helping you tailor their existing roles, understanding your team’s assessment results will help you personalize ongoing talent development initiatives to their individual professional goals. One size does not fit all when it comes to employee development, and your team members will be most engaged by development plans that meet their individual needs and career goals. Assessment data presents you with a strong basis for making sound decisions regarding your team’s talent development.

As an example of this step in action, let’s consider Team Member B, who scored high in a personality-based risk factor of perfectionistic traits. This risk suggests B can be too detailed, controlling,  inflexible, and averse to change, particularly under stressful situations. To support B, you can use their assessment results to tailor specific development actions that B can benefit from. In this case, selecting actions that help B let go of their tendencies to micromanage may be ideal for B’s long-term professional development.

4. Support Your Employees

The past year has challenged everyone physically, mentally, and emotionally. Compassion for your employees should be at the forefront of any employee development strategy.

Retaining devoted and skilled employees requires a mutual sense of security. Your employees have closely watched your executive team’s response to every twist and turn brought on by the pandemic. They already know whether they trust your ability to make decisions that benefit the company on a macro level. Now, it is time to zero in on the micro-level decisions impacting your team.

So, are you equipped to succeed? Assessment data and personalized coaching plans can serve as essential tools in building trust with your employees. When you understand each team member’s strengths, weaknesses, passions, and risk factors, you can offer more personalized support as they take on new projects and development opportunities. It is this personalized support that makes all the difference when it comes to employee retention.

Nancy E. Parsons is CEO and president of CDR Companies, LLC.

By Nancy E. Parsons