Strategies for Managing Retention and Productivity

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By © Phyllis Weiss Haserot - Taking into account the results of two multi-year studies by The Gallup Organization regarding what employees need from their workplaces, below are specific suggested strategies and tactics for successful management of professionals for retention.

There are several ways to help people feel more involved and in control:

  • Strategically tell young professionals and executives what is expected of them and then allow them to create their own way to solve a problem. This means giving guidance but avoiding micro-managing. It means providing challenge for bright, active minds.
  • Recognize individual talents and employ them to their fullest potential, rather than stifling them or engaging them in things that underutilize their talents. Less challenging work should be delegated, as should work better suited to someone else.
  • Make people feel that their opinion counts by listening and trying to involve them at some level in decisions that will directly affect the firm environment and their future.
  • Convey a consistent organizational mission and sense of direction that enables individuals to see themselves as an integral and contributing part of the whole. Give them a role in shaping the future of their practice group or business unit and the firm.

Los Angeles based Latham & Watkins, for example, has maintained a tradition of associate involvement in firm management. The Associates Committee provides input regarding partnership decisions and associate compensation. New York based, Cleary Gottlieb, Steen and Hamilton has made selection of associates on a wide variety of committees a prestigious and coveted badge of recognition.

Young professionals rate interesting work and the chance to learn more as the most compelling reasons for them to stay at their firm. They also want to feel that the firm, or, at least, specific influential individuals within the firm, encourage their development.

Some firms are following the lead of corporations in establishing "universities." These learning experiences are cited by associates, managers and staff as important elements in making their firm a better place to work -- and to stay. The trick is to provide them learning when they can see a near-term use for it, i.e."just-in-time training", and to make those experiences engaging. The best firm universities provide courses beyond professional and technical skills and include soft skills and include practice and group management as well as business development.

Related comments regarding the importance of learning and growth opportunities and its relation to satisfaction and retention from the Gallup studies were: "There is someone at work who encourages my development" and "This last year, I have had opportunities at work to learn and grow."

One comment from the Gallup studies that hits home with professionals is",My colleagues are committed to doing quality work." People want to be surrounded by co-workers who are committed to carrying out the firm’s mission and individual projects’ goals. Beyond that, they want a frequent reading on how they are doing. Regular progress reports that help professionals see where their best talents are, how they can grow in the organization, and where they stand in regard to the goals are highly valued. A person who can say "In the past week I have received praise or recognition for doing good work" is a prime candidate for a long-term commitment to the firm -- or at least to the individuals extending the praise. The keys to retaining employees are: communicating what the future can bring; making people feel they are valued; and thanking them for a job well done. "If you recognize people and make them feel they are contributing, they feel they have ownership in the company", said Knapp.

Said an intern in an international law firm",It is incredibly important to me to be myself and to be respected as myself . . . within a group of people who are great." The respect refers to both what an individual contributes professionally and respect for one’s personal life.

An important statement related to retention from the Gallup studies: "My supervisor (or other influential) seems to care about me as a person" and gets involved in my growth and success. A reminder of the importance of collegiality and opportunities for building supportive relationships in the workplace is the feeling that "I have a good friend at work", which helps people deal with continuing and unavoidable change at work.

Referring again to findings on successful companies that promote employee loyalty, the Radford Surveys conclude that these companies emphasize professional growth, continuous learning and the freedom to innovate. Their cultural values include respect, trust, openness, integrity, achievement, teamwork, flexibility, innovation, customer focus and commitment to work/life balance.

None of the strategies described in this article are revolutionary. What is revolutionary is for firms to pay attention to these human desires and motivations in both good and poor economic times and make positive accommodations an integral part of firm culture.

© Phyllis Weiss Haserot, 2005. All rights reserved.
Practice Development Counsel
Consulting/Coach to the Next Generation
Creator of *Coach-for-the-Coach* and *The Flexible Firm*

Phyllis Weiss Haserot, Practice Development Counsel
Consulting/Coach to the Next Generation
Author of "The Rainmaking Machine: Marketing Planning, Strategy and Management"

Voice: 212-593-1549
Fax: 212-980-7940
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