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How high-touch people management can be a powerful tool in talent retention

By Emma Durkin, Head of Human Capital at Altron Karabina

Johannesburg, 14 Dec 2021
Read time 5min 00sec

Retaining skills is one of the most challenging tasks for businesses all over the world as they try to find ways to cope with the talent tsunami, a phenomenon where people are resigning en masse as lockdowns around the world end in search of new opportunities that either pay more or allow greater flexibility.

It’s hardly a surprise that the talent tsunami is being spoken about far more because employee anxiety, depression, financial stress and family pressures have seldom been more prevalent. South African companies face the added battle of trying to hold onto talent as the gig economy and remote working have made our shores a happy hunting ground for international companies looking to acquire talent – it’s affordable skills for them and an alluring exchange rate deal for South Africans. 

It’s not impossible to hold onto talent and become an employer of choice. It starts with appreciating that skills, or talent – whatever you choose to call your employees – are people. Once you appreciate that nuance, it becomes apparent that people management and engagement is crucial to becoming an employer of choice and retaining staff.

Over the years, Altron Karabina has developed a high-touch approach to people management that has done more than just become a differentiator, it has provided a blueprint for building an engaged workforce. As validation, we continue to experience re-hires, where A-team players have returned to the business after stints elsewhere and cited the high-touch people management approach as one of the reasons for their return.

And so, as the country broadly, and the IT industry specifically, battles the talent tsunami and does everything it can to keep talent on these shores – it is prudent to share the fundamentals of a high-tough people management approach so that all of us invested in our economy can win the skills retention battle together.

High-touch people management

Building towards this approach was an organic process to deal with two prevalent issues in the environment we operate in. Traditionally, in consulting or professional services there is a lot of disengagement. This is what we call a “shadow culture” – where an employee becomes more embedded in the culture of the client’s business.

The second challenge arises when a subject matter expert is elevated to the position of line manager. Without making broad generalisations unnecessarily, a technology or other discipline expert does not necessarily find it natural to be a people manager. It’s important to find a balance between functional knowledge and EQ, or softer management skills.

Hiring a specialised people manager as a business partner to the line manager is how this can be achieved. These are high-touch people who are very much a part of the business. They don’t replace line managers. Instead, they work closely with them to make the employee experience as smooth as possible – they are part of the career journey by taking part in day-to-day management. By partnering with line managers, the business partnership results in a high EQ, dual management style – the one brings subject matter expertise and the other brings people management to the fore.

People managers are often described as HR. These are not “typical” HR people, but highly skilled managers with a minimum of an undergraduate degree in either counselling or industrial psychology, and frontline experience in dealing with people. A people manager candidate likes people. People, and their complexities, are an active interest in the lives of people managers.

Whenever someone joins the organisation, they are allocated a people manager. A line manager could be dealing with different people managers for different employees. These managers will look after the “people behind the talent” from the day they join until the day they leave.

They provide a safe space for employees. Often, admitting one cannot cope or is possibly depressed could be interpreted as a career-limiting move. Now, the employee has an avenue where this is not the case. At Altron Karabina, we are clear that a people manager is not a therapist, but rather a career partner. By upskilling people managers with a mental health first aid programme, all our people managers are equipped to deal with crises that arise and point the employee in the direction of whichever intervention is required.

These are commercially aware people and an asset to the business. They care for their assigned employees and they care for the business. The philosophy is that the sooner an intervention happens, the sooner one gets a happy employee back, which benefits them and their families, but also the business. This is very important as employee mental wellness is under the spotlight globally, with stressors increasing and driving people towards breaking point.

To make the most of a high-touch people management approach, the business needs to have a finger on the pulse. Anonymous employee surveys or dipstick measurements provide a clear picture of whether the high-touch approach is working. These are great tools, and from our experience, the positive impact in terms of employee engagement is almost instant.

Finally, the secret ingredient to a high-touch approach lies in bringing the right people managers into a business. This is an investment in people who love people, but also understand how their role benefits a business, because a high-touch approach is an authentic way to resist the talent tsunami and hold onto talent in a skills-scare world. 

Editorial contacts
Lesley Rencontre (010) 140 3720 lesley@duomarketing.co.za
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