In-house Issues: Retain to Maintain and Sustain

I recently wrote a piece for the Cella “Creative Execs” blog making the case for documenting institutional knowledge. I went on to admonish any in-house team that put itself at risk by having an individual become so valuable to the group due to their institutional knowledge that he or she could not be fired without disrupting the team’s performance.

I now find myself working to have certain members of my team promoted to guard against their departure because of, truth be told, the vast amount of institutional knowledge they possess. I want to be clear that I’m not waffling here. The unique, even idiosyncratic information they possess about clients, policies and processes specific to the team’s business is well documented but, and I consider this a big but, there are understandings of corporate bureaucratic nuances, client relationships and credibility equity that can never be captured and would be lost with these individuals’ departures.

There are no absolutes when it comes to the value that team members bring to an in-house department. The obvious things to consider when taking actions to keep a team member happy and on board include, as previously noted, their institutional knowledge, client relationships. In addition, though, their technical and design expertise as well as their attitude, their influence on the morale of the team and the support that they provide you should also be taken into account. Another key consideration is the amount of money it would take to replace them in recruiting fees, higher salaries, the time it would take from new hires’ productivity to school them up and the time from team members’ schedules it would take for them to train new staff.

Once valuable players have been identified, there are a number of options to choose from to ensure their retention. A raise is the most obvious (but often the most difficult to gain approval for) tactic to keep star contributors from flying the coop. Other possibilities include increased vacation days, flex time, work from home opportunities, a bonus, special training programs, increased authority and increased autonomy. The last suggestion may be the most important of the lot. In “Drive”, Dan Pink’s excellent book on workplace motivation, providing workers the opportunity to independently manage their time and make decisions is singled out as the most powerful driver of employee satisfaction.

Retaining key staff is a balancing act and important strategy that takes time and effort to master but one that will serve all in-house managers and their teams well to put into practice.