Retention; A Panacea? - A February 2001 Version

Context: This is a digitised version of the print article which I wrote for the TQM Newsletter of Century Rayon, my first employer. This was published as Volume 1 in Feb 2001 by the then B.K Birla Group company.

In today's dynamic business environment, Retention is perhaps one thought that is foremost in the minds of HR Managers in any organisation. In this article, an attempt is being made to analyse some aspects relating to retention of employees with special reference to manufacturing organisations.

At the outset, I would like to state that what follows is not, as the title may seem to suggest an elixir to this pressing problem, but some thoughts which naturally are consequent to exposure to environmental stimuli, to be precise.

Understanding the Manufacturing Psyche  

Manufacturing setups are the offshoots of the Licence / permit raj, which is under threat with the advent of liberalisation. Needless to say, traditional job enablers like Job Security and Location are still believed to be the Job motivators in such organisations. It is here that we require a paradigm shift.
The Neo graduates consider job content, reputation of the company, learning offered by the job as well as the company, opportunities for growth and Compensation itself to be the motivators than the traditional life time employment / Secure job concept on which the manufacturing organisations thrived. This rather radical difference in the thought process develops into another generation gap for the fresh recruits of these manufacturing companies where majority of the employees are in the 45-48 year age group.

Neo Recruit Psyche

Let us devote some time to understand the aspirations of the fresh recruits. A thorough understanding of these will go a long way in developing strategies towards retention.
Job Content has become the most important motivating factor for the young generation. The hierarchies in a traditional organisation and the resultant lead-time before decisions taken are implemented makes a heavy toll on the job content itself. This can lead to frustration.

Action plan

This is where the proactive measures from HR managers are called for. Efforts should be made to:

  • Set clear career paths for the recruits based on role based competencies rather than grade based competencies 
  • Take specific measures to make the job itself appealing to the employees; like empowering them and making them feel that their contribution is sizable. 
  • Setting clear career goals which align with the organisational goals. These naturally are specific to companies. 
  • Efforts aimed at enhancing the self image of new recruits. Eg. Inserting a photograph of newly recruited employees in the company magazine with a brief personal profile can be a start. 
  • On a more personal level, a mentor can be identified for each individual to provide guidance, facilitation and inputs to the new employee. Selection of the mentor can be done preferably after a month's stay with the organisation so that it allows the employee to develop a personal chemistry with the mentor rather than the HR dept assigning one for each employee. However this is also very specific. 
The new recruit tries to make himself more capable of better employment; i.e the more a person feels that he is 'employable' elsewhere by amassing competencies in the present employment, the more likely is he / she to stay on. A clear understanding of this can be used to the present organisations advantage. Here, if the individual can be given responsibilities, which go above the traditional methods of work, and which are more in line with the contemporary practices in his selected field so that the person feels the he is contributing towards bringing change to the organisation, it can be a great motivator. 

It is to be noted that the environment in which the person has grown up, (the post liberalisation era) itself has given him / her so many insights into managing change and this can be tapped by the company which itself is struggling to cope against the dynamic business environment and required radical changes. Hence there is convergence of the individual and organisational goals in a way. 

Recognition is another factor, which the new recruits crave for.  Joining an organisation is like being thrown into an ocean and expecting to see the person to swim. Mind you, the person may already be a good 'fresh-water' swimmer, but an ocean has its own surprises.  Any feat well accomplished must be given adequate publicity within the organisation.  These boost the self-image of the person, which in turn makes him strive harder.  Indirectly, it acts as an "ice-breaker" in the social circles by making other colleagues have something to relate the person with.  Often in the brick and mortar (Geek jargon) organisations, new recruits are faced with the reality shock (stepping out into that rat race of corporate world) and coping with the senior colleagues simultaneously.  Imagine yourself working with people whose experience in that particular company alone is higher than your age.  To have such people reporting to the later (on confirmation of the job), is a still tougher proposition.  Now, it is here that the job content, responsibilities and all those finer things that the new recruit considers important to his career can become a casualty.  More often than not, the supervisor is not receptive to the new ideas that the person brings in, not because the idea or proposition is inferior but due to the supervisor's resistance to change from the way the department has been functioning.  It is here that the HR role player has to step in.  The new recruit has himself a lot to gain from the experience of the superiors and the superiors in turn can add vigour to their own career goals with some valuable inputs, surprisingly enough, from the new recruit. 

To make this crystal clear, lets take the case of computer skills / training. We cannot deny that this has become of primary importance for enhancing job roles today.  It is a tough proposition for the trainers to guide his people who are not computer literate, into the ever-changing world of computers.  Now the new recruit is already equipped with this very kind of training by virtue of his being brought up in the new economy and also during his curriculum (Graduate / Post Graduate).  Such people can impact the required training even to superiors who will whole heartedly accept both the training method and the trainer.  This indirectly builds an informal relationship between the two parties, which will affect the superior-subordinate relations in other areas of work also.  I have seen (In Century Rayon itself) that such 'interventions' are more effective than a formal training program.  If access to computer is provided and such trainers are identified for each department, the goal can be met with ease.  Conversely, the new recruit can take important tips from his superiors on the cultural feelers of the company, the attitude of the colleagues and any other special information which is of vital importance to on the job performance / contribution, and which will help in overcoming the 'surprises of the ocean' referred to earlier. 

Besides such activities, specific programs aimed at improving the ability to pick up and expand new ideas (on an informal level) of supervisors can go a long way in making them more acceptable to new recruits.  This when coupled with a customised mentoring program can create a Win-Win situation for the organisation and the newbie. 

I am sure that such Win-Win situations can be identified in such other areas of work as well.  Such proactive measures will make the job more enjoyable to all the employees and will go a long way in building a sense of belongingness in the employees. Such bonds, I am sure can stand strong for a considerable length of time. 

Anish Aravind
Officer, HRD 
Century Rayon, Shahad (1990-2002)


I came upon the print version this article yesterday while doing a cleanup of documents which I had kept from my corporate stints starting from June 1999. I realised that this version had been written much before I started blogging / tweeting my thoughts. That happened very slowly from 2006 onwards - almost 5 years after I wrote this one and another piece on 'Mindsets' for the TQM Magazine. 

For the new entrants and HR students reading this - I wish to update that, the 3.5 year stint at Century Rayon formed the foundation for my Human Resources career. I have personally benefitted from many Win-Wins which when coupled with Serendipity helped me become more connected to possibilities that existed for enabling business results with people.  You may connect to career path across 5 companies via my Linkedin profile. 

After over 16 years working for a salary, serendipity got me down a different path- that of an HR entrepreneur, from January 2015. I have blogged about some snippets of that exciting journey last year. 


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