The Great Retention – and how we make it happen

Lisa Lie
By Lisa Lie | 28 October 2021
Lisa Lie.

Lisa Lie, head of people and culture, Half Dome

I think it’s fair to say that we’ve been through a universal tough time in the last 18 months, that no one was ready for. And while we’re emerging from survival mode in Melbourne, we’re getting hit again with all this talk of The Great Resignation. But - we have options.

  1.   We sit here, accept it, and just brace ourselves for the full force of it. We’re tired, it’s a lot to ask to turn the tide.
  2.   We stop entertaining the talk and fear around ‘The Great Resignation’ and see it as an opportunity to take control – ‘The Great Retention’.

After experiencing the full weight of the pandemic in 2020 we made a conscious choice at Half Dome to double down at the start of 2021 and build a long-term strategy and culture around the happiness of our people. We thought we were through the worst of it, but it turns out we accidentally set ourselves up for the storm that 2021 was about to deliver.

Retention is a huge challenge for our industry, it’s traditionally asked a lot from its people with much of the reward happening in the pre-pandemic days. Without that reward, it means we’ve had to seriously rethink what we ask, how we work, and how people find reward and recognition in what they do in order to retain them.

This year, we’ve continually asked ourselves “What are we doing to keep the people we want?” and asked our team “What do you want?”

We are by no means perfect but feel like we’re heading in the right direction so, in this talent crisis climate, wanted to share what has worked.

This year, more than any other, we cared deeply about retention, invested even further in wellbeing, trialled new flexible working practices and broke ways of working to experiment with new ones, mentored and coached people so they were able to learn and practice new skills and were provided space for time out.

We’re all responsible for co-creating the culture we want and we’re not afraid of trying new things. The second and third quarters saw us trial flexible working practices that felt scary at the start, but without doubt have had the most impact on retention. They were successful because people not only co-created them but felt responsible for making this new way of working a success – and it was.

Through our internal benchmarking the trial enabled higher levels of trust, pushed us toward a more output focused way of working, enabled people to work to their own productivity rhythms, and most importantly, the team felt happier and more energised through what was arguably one of the toughest lockdown periods for Melbourne – that’s good stuff.

In the last six months, our attrition rate has fallen from being in line with the industry benchmark (23% turnover rate, reported by the MFA in September 2020), to 9%.

For those that haven’t taken this approach this year and have rightly been focused on getting themself through it, that’s ok because there’s still time to change the rhetoric. Pick one thing that could have a big impact for your team, see the progress and gain momentum. The easiest and most impactful thing you can do is just ask and show that you’ve heard.

Natural attrition is ok, letting people walk away when there was something we could have done to change things isn’t. If we can change our approach and see the opportunity of The Great Retention and the way it could modernise our industry, we can all look forward to what’s to come. Modern work requires new ways of leading, new behaviours and new ways of working. What’s not good about that?

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