Dear Coach

Our company competes in a very aggressive market and our product is knowledge-based. Over the past two years we have been losing key people at a rate three times greater than previously and our senior management doesn't seem to notice or even care. Part of the reason for our losses is because compensation levels are barely competitive and part is because we're not investing in our people - training, coaching, recognition, etc. I've just lost three good people in less than two months; what can I do to get the executive group to wake up and smell the coffee?

Response:

Let me start with the assumption that you've already discussed this concern with your immediate supervisor and also with HR, if you have people devoted to this function. This is the 'first line' of response - and more than 90 percent of issues are usually resolved at this level - given that there is motive and power to act!

Simply stated, it's not enough to talk about these issues; direct action is required and this doesn't always follow verbal or even written complaints. We all tend to embrace the status quo because everything is more comfortable at this level. This can, and does, include top management - those with the real power to resolve the kind of issues you're facing.

It's well accepted these days that we all operate from two minds, the rational mind and the emotional mind. Action may result from rational considerations; it always seems to follow emotional awareness, and it generally works best when rational and emotional minds are synchronised.

Since the rational mind is the one most prone to error, let's start there. Our behaviours are directly influenced by the quantity and quality of information we're exposed to; such information, made up of a constant stream of data, acts both as a framework and also as a stimulus.

We can deliberately expose ourselves to these data streams or we can unconsciously ignore them, and then we behave accordingly. Those we accept will help us to set priorities, form judgements, define value and truth, and arouse/engage our emotions - good and otherwise.

Our initial task then is to check that the relevant data streams are actually present, recognized, accurate and timely. What you are responding to may not be the same as that which is accessed by your executive team; they may be receiving a generalized, diluted, or reframed package which they'll view quite differently.

So you should first confirm the quantity and quality of information available to your executive. Do they have all the right facts and are they in proper context? As facts are introduced to the executive data stream will they withstand the act of translation without distortion? Your supervisor and/or HR can help you here.

A more important question - is the specific responsive action clearly indicated up front? In journalism the principle is to place the lead point in the opening sentence of the article, not to bury it where it's difficult to detect. There needs to be an indisputable 'call to action' that is obvious to all and it has to be 'right up front!'.

Now we need to ignite the required action and this means an appeal to the emotional mind, albeit in a form that's compatible with the rational information we've referenced above. The question that arises now is how to accomplish this safely yet effectively. The most powerful strategy I know is to use a story! Stories have always had a strong impact on people since they're usually the earliest and most memorable learning device we experience. They engage our imagination and help us to identify with consequences at a personal and meaningful level. They also encourage us to focus within broader fields of awareness.

Your presentation of the rational information could be crafted to recognize what is already known and accepted while introducing the specific issue that concerns you. As an example, you might say: "We need to adopt a fresh strategy to retain our valued people. Overall, we're experiencing a voluntary turnover rate which compares quite favourably with others in the industry, and that's good news. What is less obvious though, and this is the bad news, is that we've lost more of our high potential and key people than we can afford. Due to some successful poaching initiatives, three of our best team members have left us in recent weeks."

You now continue with your story which could sound like this:

"Two months ago we lost Shirley, one of our best Analysts. We've heard that she was offered 20% more in salary plus a signing bonus by our closest competitor. Since her departure, we've interviewed more than thirty qualified candidates and we've made three employment offers. No one has accepted the position at the salary we're able to offer. In the meantime we're currently paying excessive overtime rates just to get the work done; Shirley is just one example - there are others."

Note the call to action up-front and the acceptance of the current general fact (turnover rates overall) which together frame the issue yet avoid invoking a defensive posture among your listeners. Next, you change the focus of the data stream and translate it to the emotional level with the personal story about Shirley. Your 'clinching argument' is the economic one which links back to the rational without sacrificing the emotional call.

This approach doesn't allow for political agendas, of course, and the situation may be far more complex than presented, but the approach strategy will still apply.

I hope this helps.