Tuesday, September 28, 2004

No Thanks to Knowledge Nomads

An article called, High Turnover, Should you Care?, was recently referenced in a Yahoo Group for Training Professionals. The article talks about "knowledge nomads" who although they switch jobs frequently are committed to their organizations for the time period that they are there. The article also suggests reframing the issue of turnover and retention. The author writes, "Rather than focus on how managers can retain workers, we have instead focused on how managers can elicit commitment and engage employees."

This of course is all nonsense. Here is a copy of my response to this article:
Praising these "nomads" because they are committed is a mistake. Employers don't benefit from committed employees if they leave just as soon as they are coming up to speed. How does it help a company if an employee feels "committed" but leaves a project hanging when he gets a better opportunity elsewhere? Short term commitment isn't the kind of commitment that produces value for a company. It takes time to learn enough about a company, its products, customers, culture, goals, etc.
By the time these nomads are just getting to the point of adding value, they are off to their next adventure. All that does for the company is draw time and money in training and replacing them and trying to keep their projects afloat in the interim.

This is what I call non-research. It doesn't matter if you call it retention or commitment or engagement. It all means the same thing. It's like HR practioners that have switched over to retention reports rather than turnover reports. It doesn't mean anything different to tell senior management that you have 75% retention instead of 25% turnover. It's all the same thing. I see this as purely a waste of energy that should be spent on creating excellent companies that employees want to work for and stay with and add value to. The rest is all just fluff.

I hope I wasn't too hard on them but I find this all very distracting.

A little further in the discussion someone suggested that employees can't feel committed to companies when companies aren't committed to employees. I tried to explain that it's not about being committed to employees it's about everyone having a common commitment to the organization.
Companies don't discard people who are doing an excellent job and adding value to the company. The only people that should be worried about being discarded are those who are either not individually performing or who as a team are not succeeding. The truth is if an employee is doing a good job, the company is MORE than committed to him.

Really, though, it's a mistake to think in these terms. We feel most committed when we feel that we ARE the company. We don't need anyone/anything to commit to us. For "it" is "us". That's like saying our hands need to be committed to our fingers. The company and the employees are one in the same.

I hope someday more people will understand this. Reduce the irritations and create a culture where employees want to work hard for the good of the company. That is the real secret to employee retention, commitment, engagement or whatever else you want to call it.

Beth C.


Blogger Aaron said...

Total. B. S.

"A little further in the discussion someone suggested that employees can't feel committed to companies when companies aren't committed to employees. I tried to explain that it's not about being committed to employees it's about everyone having a common commitment to the organization."

Your argument was rejected because it is simply an attempt to change the subject. Employees sense a feeling of employer non-committment because of:

The dot-bomb

Living through these experiences has made employees, properly, more weary of believing HR when they say that the company is "committed" to them. Words don't matter. Actions do.

If a company sees an opportunity to make the quarter in the short term by outsourcing entire functions - it will. Period. Performance levels of the individual contributors within the department has nothing do to with it whatsoever. Nobody ever said, when outsourcing their IT department to China, "gee - those programmers were pretty efficient, perhaps we should re-think our strategy". The department heads saw that they could reduce save 50 million of their 100 million IT budget by outsourcing, and promptly outsourced.

This may or may not be a bad thing. If I owned a company that was spending 100M in IT here in the US, I would outsource just like everyone else. But what I would not do is expect loyalty from my workforce, particularly the IT staffers left, after doing so.

People will act in their economic interests, just like companies do. If employees sense that their company is not loyal to them, that loyalty will NOT be returned, except by those few people who lack the skills to act in their own interests. The employment term will last as long as it is economically advantageuos to both parties. No more, no less.

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