Why ‘talent walks’ and how workplace collaboration can change that

Unhappy staff leave their employers. The more talented your employee is, the more likely they will migrate to your competition if they are not fully engaged at work. Talent loss is a serious risk to business. Now, there are many strategies that can mitigate that risk. Sometimes they can be cost prohibitive. A common strategy is to provide performance bonuses. It’s a simple strategy which can work in specific circumstances, but it is a far from sustainable solution for an enterprise wanting to retain talent that is going to be invested in the business when circumstances change. In the long run, performance bonuses can make things worse by masking underlying issues.

What is often missed is the high value of deploying proven aspects of soft skills such as collaboration. As it turns out, collaboration is like rocket fuel for employee engagement. Research has shown that employees who collaborate are far more likely to be completely engaged. As one Deloitte study showed, employees who have opportunities to collaborate are 30% happier and 20% more satisfied with their workplace. To be fair, collaboration is not the full answer to employee engagement, but it is vital component and a fairly effective strategy that can’t be ignored.

High performing companies are more likely than their less stellar peers to value, recognise and reward collaborative behaviour.” – Rick Smith, Carly Switzer and Elizabeth Craig

Given mounting evidence of the positive impact of collaboration, the fact that employees expect to work in a collaborative culture and the relatively diverse ways in which collaboration can be implemented as strategy in a workplace, why then are businesses still struggling to get it right? Employee engagement correlates strongly with profit and competitiveness. It makes sense to get competitiveness fine-tuned. 

Worth noting is the simple fact that collaboration is a skill that needs strategy behind it. Businesses tend to invest easily into collaboration tools; assuming that intuitive tools that help people share documents and connect easier will inevitably translate into a collaboration outcome. What is often missing are strategic measures and evaluations that are embedded in employee performance. In other words, how is collaboration measured and rewarded in the workplace?

employees who have opportunities to collaborate are 30% happier and 20% more satisfied with their workplace

Rewards structures are in the main old school; built around individual performance. Routinely, individual employees are asked to collaborate but there are little to no real agreed measures on how individual employee collaboration effort is recognised as being collaboration in its true sense, and more importantly how it is rewarded. What escapes the attention of many managers is the fact that collaboration is a skill that some employees are better at than others. It is also a skill that adds serious value to the bottom line of the business. And yet, when employees sense that those skills are not valued, they then also feel that they themselves are not valued as employees. That can signal a lack of recognition which can in turn trigger a negative feedback loop, leading to disengagement, loss of productivity and loss of good talent; all easily fixable issues that do not require an extraordinary amount of strategic ingenuity. 

But it does require an increase in the threshold of accountability for managers. Managers who lose talent because they fail to properly manage poor engagement levels (in simple terms losing money), need to be better trained and supported, and given an opportunity to improve. This too can be achieved effectively as there are many managers who are good at recognising collaboration and can act as peer support to those without that kind of experience. 

The key point is to be strategically minded when it comes to teams and performance rewards. Studies have shown that most productive companies share similar approaches whereby they discourage lone wolf/star performers and reward teams. In the long run, groups of collaborative employees will outcompete any group of non-collaborators. The choice is simple.