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How To Attract And Retain Top Talent Through The Employee Life Cycle

In 2022, it is predicted that human resources will spend 25% more time on talent acquisition than in 2021, according to the 2022 HR Trends Report by McLean and Company.

So if you are already feeling the pressure of finding top talent this year—and it’s certainly something we’re going through currently—it probably doesn’t help to know that your competitors are beefing up their talent acquisition efforts too.

What can you do to stand out from the crowd of talent-hungry organizations out there? And, once you have attracted and hired your ideal candidate, how can you keep them satisfied, engaged, and loyal?

The McLean and Company report recommends that companies “make the employee and candidate experience a priority to address a number of HR challenges in 2022, including employee attraction and retention”. 

So that answers what you should do, but how can you do that? And this is where the employee life cycle comes in.

We'll cover:

Let's dive in.

What Is The Employee Life Cycle?

A great way to approach talent management in your organization is to view your employee’s journey through the lens of the employee life cycle model.

Sometimes referred to as the employee journey, the employee life cycle covers six stages of interaction between your employee and your organization:

The employee life cycle.

It’s useful for honing in on different parts of your employee experience, even before they’ve spoken to a hiring manager.

In this article, I will explain (with help from a few friends) each stage and provide tips, resources, and examples for how to create a positive employee and candidate experience to attract the best talent and improve employee retention in your organization.

What will success look like?

If you put in the time and effort to support your employees in each of the six employee life cycle stages, you will get:

  • Higher productivity from your workforce
  • Lower employee turnover
  • Reduction in recruitment costs
  • A strong employer brand.

Sound good? Let’s go.

Employee life cycle stages

Stage 1: Attraction—What do they perceive about you?

In this stage, you’re crafting your employer brand image to convince potential employees that your organization is a great place to work. 

Sounds like marketing? Yes, it is. But, like all good marketing, it starts at home, with the product, or, in this case, what you genuinely offer as an employer.

If your current employees feel that your organization is a great place to work, you will already have the advantage of good word-of-mouth advertising as they will recommend your company to friends and family.

Not sure if they would? Ask them. Set up a pulse survey or similar asking “1-10, how likely are you to recommend X Company to a friend or family?”

If the results are underwhelming, it’s time to explore deeper and work on your brand. Talent expert Mariya Hristrova’s Employer Branding: Where To Start And How To Keep It Authentic is a great resource for this. 

Related Read: An Easy Guide To Employee Surveys (With Questions)

Appeal to people’s need for purpose and belonging

If your products or services don’t appear to satisfy people’s needs, they won’t buy them. Likewise, if your workplace doesn’t promise to satisfy a potential job seeker’s needs, they won’t want to work with you.

Talented, self-motivated individuals want to do work that feels meaningful to them, and they want to do it in an environment where they feel like they belong.

So on your website, your company should have a simple and clear slogan that captures what you do and the impact you want to make in the world.

The careers page should also describe the culture within the organization. If your purpose and culture resonate with people, you will be on their radar when they start looking for jobs.

Feeling hesitant about communicating your culture to the public? Then maybe it’s time for improvements. Read our article, Company Culture: Why It Matters And How To Improve Your Own, to learn how your company can improve its culture.

Raise your brand awareness naturally

You can sell your company without actually “selling it” when you share your time and expertise in speaking engagements. It’s partly why CEOs are keen on appearing on TED talks and at universities.

If you’d like to help our community and raise your brand awareness, ask me how to become an upcoming guest on our show.

Stage 2: Recruitment–Will we get along?

The recruitment stage is when you’re actively hunting talent in the market and taking them through your recruitment process.

An amazing resource on the hiring process I refer back to often is Joel Peterson’s podcast How To Approach Hiring & Recruitment When You Don’t Have HR.

Here are a couple key takeaways from that episode to help you find the best fit for your organization.

Related Read: 10 Best Pre-Employment Testing Software for Evaluating Potential Staff

Define your mission, vision and values in the job description

Before you post the job and ask for referrals from your coworkers and network, get clear on your company’s mission, vision, and values, then articulate those in any job postings. 

That way you will better attract candidates who have the interests and passions that align with your organization.

Also, in addition to listing out the required experience, skills, and competencies, ensure that you include the expectations and accountabilities of the position so that candidates know what they are in for, and that there will be no surprises once they accept the job and start working in the role.

Create a great candidate experience

In Joel Peterson’s podcast, he tells us about the time his recruitment firm was called in to help an Australian client that was having zero luck hiring anyone.

Well, it turns out that during interviews, the hiring manager at that company would make his own chair higher and the candidate’s chair lower because he wanted to see how the candidate would react in a “high pressure” situation. No wonder nobody accepted the job!

Recruitment is about people, so treat candidates like real people.

When I interview a candidate, I start with putting their resume to the side. I ask them to tell me about themself—their interests, goals, and values, and what success looks like to them. 

Through engaging in meaningful conversations, both the candidate and I can better discover if they’d be a good fit for the role and company.

To find out more on how to create a better candidate experience, read The Key To Focused, Engaging Interviews and Maintaining A Great Candidate Experience While Scaling.

Stage 3: Onboarding—Where are we going and how will we get there?

Studies show that organizations with a strong onboarding process improve new hire retention by 82% and productivity by over 70%. So the onboarding stage is crucial but, unfortunately, often overlooked by employers. 

Depending on the role, the employee onboarding process can take up to ninety days. During this time, you need to help the new employee adjust by providing all the necessary information, setups, and training to perform their role. 

Some tips to help nail onboarding:

Talk about the goals, expectations and individual preferences

In our podcast, How To Grow Fast In A Sustainable Way (with Manuj Aggarwal from TetraNoodle), Manuj stresses the importance of having clear goals and action plans in order to drive employee success. 

This resonated with me because, when I meet with a new employee, I make sure to review the job description and explain how the role feeds into the overall goals of the organization.

In addition to setting goals and expectations, the manager and employee should also share about their work and communication styles. Ask questions such as: What is your most productive time of the day? When do you prefer to have meetings? How do you like to receive feedback?

A 30 60 90 Day Plan is a great tool for making action plans and setting goals during the onboarding stage.

Welcome new employees to calm, not chaos

People are nervous enough when starting a new position, so their first day shouldn’t feel like a game show where they’re trying to unlock doors or crack the code to their laptop! 

Sounds basic but, before the new employee starts, get organized and ensure managers and team members are available to meet them. 

Onboarding actually starts before someone’s joined in the preboarding phase, the time between when someone’s accepted and their first day.

Other useful resources for onboarding:

Stage 4: Development–Help them help you

At the development stage, your company is supporting the employee through learning and professional development that will help them to succeed in their current role and open up the doors for career growth within the organization.

It almost goes without saying that providing the right conditions for professional development will increase employee engagement and retention. It’s a vast topic, and well worth further reading, but I’ll cover some of the main aspects.

Coach your team

In a recent chat with my friend and former colleague, Tamara Wilson, a Senior HR Business Partner, and Program Manager, she advised me that going from a manager to a coach is one of the most effective ways to develop your team.

Coaching, in essence, is when you focus on helping team members find solutions to their own problems and unlock hidden potential. It’s more indirect than straight feedback and can provide a greater sense of ownership and empowerment. 

Some powerful coaching questions:

  • How do you think it went?
  • What could have been done differently?
  • What are you hoping to achieve and by when?
  • What resources do you need?
  • Who can help you with that?

Try using some of these coaching questions in your conversations with your staff to help better understand what they want from their careers. Then you can work together to set goals on how to succeed.

Related Read: People Management Tips For New And Experienced Managers

Offer non-linear development opportunities

In their book Help them Grow or Watch Them Go Beverly Kaye and Julie Winkle Giulioni give the snakes and ladders treatment to the traditional career ladder so that it now looks like a lattice—we go up, sideways, backward, etc.

So, instead of focusing on traditional upward progression through promotion, try to support employees to explore career options within the organization and find mentors that might be outside of their current departments.

For more on how to help employees plan out their careers, read Alana Farris’s article, Putting Employees In The Driver’s Seat Of Career Development.

Create hands-on learning opportunities

The 70 20 10 Rule is useful to help managers and employees to structure their development path. 

The rule is based on research that found that 70 percent of what we know comes from hands-on experience, 20 percent from social learning, and 10 percent from formal learning.

Therefore managers need to build in lots of on-the-job training and provide challenging work assignments that relate back to the employee’s development goals.

It's something that Tamara Wilson covers in her excellent article How To Create A Learning and Development Strategy In 7 Steps.

Stage 5: Retention–Meeting modern-worker demands

It is estimated that turnover can cost between 30%-150% of the employee’s salary, and research presented in the 2022 State of HR report by intelliHR reveals that “36% of HR professionals say employee engagement and performance are a top priority.”

Continuing to provide interesting and challenging work for your high performers is a given when it comes to keeping them engaged. 

But the culture, quality of interpersonal relationships, flexibility, and other workplace perks play a tremendous role in motivating employees to stay and to do their best each day. 

Again, this is a vast topic, but here are a couple of my most used strategies to retain talent.

Check their energy

If you’ve ever had a meeting with me (and please, reach out if you’d like one), you’ll know what I like to ask at the beginning.

“Word and number?”

A word to describe how they’re feeling and a number that represents their energy levels.

Why do I ask this? Well, I genuinely care about how people are doing.

If a staff member is consistently reporting a low energy number, the employee and I can talk about it during our one-on-one meetings. It’s a useful tool to open up conversations about what challenges the employee is facing both at work and personally.

If you are looking for a simple and easy-to-use wellness app that your team could use, take a look at CheckingIn.

Make life easier

For me, I don’t believe in the term “work-life balance”. I see life as a blend of everything that is important, for example, career, family, friends, community, hobbies, etc. 

So schedule flexibility can be very effective in retaining top talent because it makes life easier and reduces stress.

In fact, in a recent survey by OnBuy, flexibility came 1st of 30 in desired office work perks

At People Management People, we recently got rid of set work hours. That means as long as we meet our goals, maintain high performance, and show up to meetings and events, it doesn’t matter how many hours we work per week or when we work them.

If your company requires staff to be on-site during set business hours, you can still make life easier for them by ways such as paying for meal kits to be delivered to their home or workplace. 

Or you could provide employees with housekeeping services in order to free up time on their days off.

Support initiatives that matter to them

People work better when there’s a meaning attached, so encourage employees to choose and lead special initiatives that are close to their hearts. 

Allow them to use work time to coordinate fundraising and volunteer activities for charities and organizations that matter to them so that the workplace is not just a paycheck, but a means for improving the communities that the employees care about.

Say “I Appreciate YOU” 

Your employer can give you more money, and you’d happily take it, but if they don't tell you that they appreciate you, you probably won’t stay.

I remember a time when someone at work said to me, “I appreciate you.” The “you” in that statement stood out to me because it made me feel valued and seen as a human being.

So if you really want to express to someone your gratitude for the efforts and sacrifices they make each day to drive results for your company, try replacing “it” with “you” and say, “I appreciate you.”

Stage 6: Offboarding–It doesn’t have to be goodbye

When someone leaves, it doesn’t have to be the end and it’s a great opportunity to gather useful feedback.

Whether someone is retiring, found a new role, or has personal reasons, this stage is the opportunity for you to receive honest feedback on how the company could improve the employee experience for existing and future new hires. 

It is also a chance to leave a good last impression on the departing employee. Maybe they’ll come back!

Some tips for offboarding:

Ask the 5 Whys to get to the root cause

I mentioned honest feedback and that’s always hard to get. But here’s a little trick to use in an exit interview (or any interview or meeting for that matter). 

Simply asking someone “Why are you leaving?” might result in a surface answer such as, “I found another job.” But the 5 Whys technique of asking a series of questions about a problem can help you get to the root cause.

This is what the 5 Whys process might look like to get to the heart of why the employee is leaving.

  1. Question: Why are you leaving?

Answer: I found a new job.

  1. Question: Why did you find a new job?

Answer: I wasn’t happy here.

  1. Question: Why were you feeling unhappy here?

Answer: I didn’t feel supported in my role.

  1. Question: Why didn’t you feel supported?

Answer: Because I was constantly overworked and expected to take on way too much responsibility.

  1. Question: Why were you so overworked?

Answer: Because nobody else on my team knew how to handle the projects so I always had to take the lead or fix everyone else’s mistakes.

From this example, we can see that the root cause of the employee leaving is that there was a lack of skills and knowledge within the team to assist and share the workload. 

Therefore, the organization will need to improve on employee training and hire more competent team members to the department.

To know more about what you should ask in an exit interview, check out 8 Exit Interview Questions that You Should Ask.

Stay Connected

Keep your attitude positive and thank the departing employee for all their hard work and contributions. Ask to keep in touch and make efforts to periodically check in with them to see how their career is going. 

If your company maintains a positive relationship with the ex-employee, you can let them know about future opportunities or ask them if they know anybody suitable for the job.

Like colleges, some companies even invest in alumni networks to further support people throughout their careers.

Related Read: How To Nail Your Employee Offboarding: 10 Steps For Success + Free Template

Using the Employee Life Cycle

I hope that, if you’ve gotten this far, you now think a little differently about what goes into crafting a great employee experience.

Odds are your organization will excel at some elements, but there will inevitably be room for improvement in others.

Perhaps a next step would be getting some feedback from employees about how they feel about the onboarding process or learning and development opportunities.

Collecting and acting upon regular feedback is key to improving the employee experience and is closely tied to a people operations way of structuring (pioneered by Google and other forward-thinking organizations).

I wish you luck in your endeavors and feel free to reach out with any questions or suggestions.

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By Tim Reitsma

Tim is the co-founder and General Manager of People Managing People, an online publication focused on building a better world of work. He is experienced with people & culture, leadership, business strategy and operations with a focus on building great teams who are excited about their craft and their organization. With over 15 years of leadership experience, Tim has always been guided by his core values: faith, family, curiosity, and fun. He is a coach, mentor, speaker, advisor, and an active volunteer in his community. Tim loves spending time outdoors with his wife and two kids as well as mountain biking in the north shore mountains.

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