Beyond Retention

FRONTLINE – Simon Kent talks engagement practice with Jacky Cohen, VP people & culture at Topia.

Standard thinking would argue that a successful recruiter is one whose placements stay at the companies where they are positioned. A successful recruitment exercise results in an individual finding themselves in the ideal position with an ideal company – or at least with a business who appreciates, uses and encourages their talents. However, according to Jacky Cohen, VP people & culture at GM business Topia, retention may not be such a good measure of recruitment success after all.

“The workforce is changing and people are looking at their careers in a different way – they have more fluidly,” she says. “People used to stay with a company for all their lives and they don’t do that any more.” The issue here is a balance between a potentially ‘disengaged’ workforce – one which may not be locked in with their employer organisation and the fact that individual workers may now feel they are more engaged with their own careers. What they want to do is undoubtedly more important than what a business might expect them to do or offer to them.

“If someone leaves they’re not necessarily more disengaged,” argues Cohen. “If anything they’re more engaged with their career, so managers and recruiters need to have conversations about what people’s roles are and what keeps them engaged while they’re with the business.” After all, possibly the worst scenario would be to have employees within the organisation who are disengaged and therefore not being as productive as they could be.

Business partners

Cohen argues, therefore that the best recruiters, are those who place the right people at the right time, and clearly do not if it is not the right time. “The strongest recruiters are truly business partners,” says Cohen. “They understand what it takes to do a role, they try to understand what engages people and therefore know if it is the right time to put someone into a company or if it isn’t.”

Generating engagement within an employee requires the ability to be flexible and sensitive as an employer. Topia itself is a relatively new, small, and global business. In some ways this could mean the business is restricted in what it can offer potential candidates. Yet Cohen notes, the elements they can offer are turned to their advantage: “We don’t have structured career paths,” she says, “but that opens more space for more people to do what appeals to them. They’re not boxed in and can see when they have impact in the company.”

Making this work means ensuring line managers, HR and support staff all communicate and work together so everyone is aware of what they can do within the business. Senior leaders and people managers need to be having the right conversations at the right time. One of the perks of working for Topia, for example, is the chance to work around the world. However, the value of this will only be realised if the business matches the opportunity with the candidate at the right time.

For such a young company it may seem a little pre-emptive to employ someone with such a focus on engagement, but Cohen notes that the company wants to get this part of their people equation right from he start so as they grow, the employee experience is always positive. While the company’s employee engagement survey undoubtedly gives the business information about its people, Cohen is keen to note that everything ultimately ties back to measuring the key results for the business – this is, after all, where the impact of every employee’s work needs to be seen.

“Retention is not the right tool or metric,” Cohen asserts. “It’s always important because you want people to be happy staying at a company but by the time you get to the point where someone wants to leave it’s already too late.”