ET-002: Dr. Merrylue Martin – The Human Factor: Breaking the Code
ET-002: Dr. Merrylue Martin – The Human Factor: Breaking the Code
by Wayne Brown on August 2, 2022
by Wayne Brown on August 2, 2022
Episode Notes: A conversation with Dr Merrylue Martin
Are you a Leader? Whether leading a team or an organization, talent retention will likely be occupying plenty of time in your thinking at present, and for good reason. The Great Resignation, The Great Talent Reshuffle, The Great Reset, Hybrid Workplaces and just trying to cope with the degree of uncertainty at present are enough to keep you awake at most nights.
Help is at hand. Join me for the conversation I have with Dr Merrylue Martin a foremost expert in this area of people retention. As she is fond of saying;
PEOPLE ARE PEOPLE FIRST AND EMPLOYEES SECOND!
Today’s Guest: DR MERRYLUE MARTIN
A celebrated leadership strategist specializing in Talent Retention. As a Fortune 50 senior executive, management consultant and business owner, she has extensive experience in delivering real world processes that engage and retain top performers.
In addition to earning her doctorate in Organizational Leadership, Merrylue is a graduate from the prestigious Women’s Leadership program at Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania.
Dr Merrylue Martin’s book – The Big Quit Survival Guide:
- If you are looking for a practical hands-on book to get you moving in the right direction immediately, then this is the book for you.
- If you are after a book that offers you scripts and exercises to follow and implement, then this is the book for you.
- If you are wanting a book that allows you to skim through as a first pass and still pick up on the key take-aways (through chapter summaries) then this is the book for you.
What You’ll Learn
Dr Martin has an engaging story to share and numerous insights on how to retain talent.
The book offers a downloadable 72-page Survival Toolkit that enables you to take the Survival Tactics from the book and put them into action.
– The “I QUIT” explosion
– Identifying Mental Health challenges including burnout
– the 3-R’s Balancing Act
Final words of wisdom from Merrylue: I think what’s most helpful, there are no shortcuts to employee retention. The most efficient route to keep valued workers is connecting with them one individual at a time, monitor that balance of the requirements, those rewards and the respect. And because human beings, as we’ve said it all along, they’re going to be people first and our employee second, so we must choose to deal with that variable first. And it’s amazing how much work can get done and how much pleasant that environment can be to get that work done when we look at that guideline.
0:00:04.4 Wayne Brown: Hello, I’m Wayne Brown, and welcome to the launch of our show, the ET Project. We’re delighted to be delivering this podcast for executive talents all over the world, whom we’re affectionately referring to as Team ET.
0:00:22.7 WB: In today’s episode, we have a remarkable guest, Dr. Merrylue Martin. Dr. Martin is an author, speaker, facilitator and coach, a celebrated leadership strategist, specializing in talent retention. As a Fortune 50 senior executive, a management consultant and business owner, she’s got extensive experience in delivering real world processes that engage and retain top performers.
0:00:51.4 WB: In addition to earning her doctorate in organizational leadership, Merrylue is a graduate of the prestigious Women’s Leadership Program at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania. Merrylue’s decades of research have resulted in practices that directly drive an employee’s decision to stay or leave an organization. She’s leveraged that work in her recent best-selling book, The Big Quit Survival Guide, which gives leaders practical ideas and tools to win the talent war.
0:01:24.0 WB: And when not working with people leaders, Merrylue enjoys dabbling in her art studio and attending concerts and musical theater. She and her husband James enjoy being Gram and Gramps to twin girls and a baby boy. Her primary message employers wanting to attract and keep employees in this great new workplace is people are people first and your employees second. We can’t solve a human being issue with an organizational solution.
0:02:00.1 WB: So, with that, I welcome you all to listen as Merrylue and I discuss the human factor, breaking the code to attract and keep the best employees.
0:02:12.5 Speaker: Welcome to the ET Project, a podcast for those executive talents determined to release their true potential and create an impact. Join our veteran coach and mentor Wayne Brown as we unpack an exciting future together.
0:02:30.3 WB: Dr. Merrylue Martin, welcome, great to have you as a guest on our show. I’m extremely excited. We’ve been having some fun conversation in the background or in the back room while we’ve been preparing for today’s discussion, and I’d love to hear something that the audience might not know about you. Any fun facts that you have that you would like to share?
0:02:52.2 Merrylue Martin: I would indeed, Wayne, and thank you so much, it’s a pleasure to be here and to be part of speaking with you today. A fun fact is something that is not on my resume, I am actually a script writer who write scripts for groups who produce puppet shows. So my target audience is the 5 to 8-year-old crowd, which I have to say are some of my toughest critics yet. And these shows help to teach kids in an entertaining format, making good lessons of life and really choosing to do certain behaviors that will help you than more hurt you when you’re 7 years old, and it’s really been fun. They’re posted globally, so groups that do produce these shows can access all of these scripts, so it’s been a very fun outlet for me to enjoy.
0:03:47.8 WB: That’s incredible. Do you need to also do any study with being a puppeteer or a puppet master, or whatever the correct terminology is?
0:03:56.5 MM: Yes, puppet master, absolutely, that’s where I started. I was asked to help produce a puppet show, and a particular group were having a little bit of difficulty with the content, and I said, well, you know, I’ve been a curriculum designer, trainer my entire life, I don’t know how well I’ll do with a puppet show, but give me a shot. But I did, yeah, absolutely, no formal training other than just practice and learning by trial and error, making mistakes, but it’s been a lot of fun.
0:04:31.5 WB: I have what I like to call a signature question, which is essentially around, well, as you know, our audience, executive talents, and so the question is essentially around your career and any highlights or anything you would like to share with the audience about your own career and perhaps some challenges that you encountered over the years?
0:04:57.4 MM: Yes, absolutely, thank you. I have had the honor, Wayne, of reporting to some great leaders throughout my professional career, and at the same time, I have also had the honor of reporting to leaders who had no business being in leadership, and I’m going to explain that. Most of those leaders in that group were not psychologically skilled or nor prepared, to even lead themselves, let alone a team of people. And the challenges I’ve had is to watch these people in these roles who are struggling in a position that they should never have been placed in.
0:05:40.9 MM: But I would say it was an honor from a learning and development for my own growth to report to them, because I experienced first-hand that destructive impact that they had, and I vowed early on in my career that I would never treat any of my own employees that way. I had a senior vice president I was reporting to whose lack of people leadership skills was so extreme that this person actually had to resort one day saying to me, as one of her vice presidents, you just need to do what I’m telling you to do, and in the process don’t you ever forget that I am your boss. I thought, wow, that’s just tragic, because this person, that’s all they could deploy, that’s all they could come up with.
0:06:34.3 MM: But one of my highlights of the career saga I have been on for many decades has been to work with companies and great leaders who, number one, invest in the training and development of their people. It’s really a delight when I’ve been in cultures where people leadership is so highly valued, and leaders at all levels, therefore, are set up for success, that they’re just not put into these roles, and we’re not doing them any favors, you know, Wayne, by tapping them on a shoulder because they’re a great individual contributor and saying, you were so good at doing your job. Guess what? We’re gonna promote you on Monday and you’re gonna lead 12 people. That’s setting this person up from being a hero as an individual contributor to a zero as a leader.
0:07:27.8 MM: And what’s so sad today, and I know we’re gonna get into some of the specifics around this Big Quit, we call it, the great resignation, so many people that are leaving, the one group that’s leaving the fastest right now are these mid-level, even to senior level leaders. They have been caught in the middle for these last two years, here they’ve been trying to care for, be empathetic, do all the things to help nurture their frontline people, trying to just get them through this cataclysmic change, but they’re getting a lot of pressure from their leader, we don’t have time to be empathetic, we don’t know have… We’ve got to make goals, we have to do this, you’ve got to get more and more and more out of these people. And these poor mid-level leaders are imploding and walking away.
0:08:20.5 MM: And I know we’re gonna talk a little bit later perhaps about the burnout issue and such. So a highlight for me has been working with companies who get leadership training, who understand that, and another example too, companies, another highlight for me personally is working with a company who really promoted idea generation and taking risks, not only promoted it verbally, but did what they said they promoted. I was hired early on to take a leadership trainer position early in my career, and I was granted full creativity to design, work with my stakeholders, align our resources, whatever it was we needed to do to meet business goals.
0:09:11.5 MM: I had full rein. Oh, my goodness, Wayne, it was like someone just handed me an empty sketch pad and a brand new box of 164 crayons. And boy, you talk about wanting to produce and feeling fulfilled and having a purpose. I loved that role, and ended up getting promoted to something else very quickly and taking on more responsibility, but those are some of the highlights that I would say along my career that I have really appreciated, but bottom line, I wouldn’t trade any of those experiences, the bitter or the sweet, they’ve all worked together to make me more relatable to people today and have served me well in shaping the leader that I am today.
0:10:04.5 WB: Yeah, and that’s very important. So you mentioned leadership training, the freedom to express yourself, to create ideas, which are both essential for all employees in this world that we live in today, right, I mean, it’s so critical. The environment of being safe to fail rather than fail safe is so critical in our world at the moment, so yeah, thank you for that. I’d love to now transition into the book itself. It’s called The Big Quit Survival Guide, and it’s a great read. I went through it myself page by page, just to make sure I understood all the juicy content, and there’s a lot of great content, I have to say. It’s a fantastic book, I’d highly recommend it to everybody. And it’s been very successful from what I see and read about, so congratulations.
0:11:02.1 MM: Thank you. Yes, and thank you for that. Yeah, and the impetus behind writing this book, as you know, Wayne, employee retention isn’t new. I mean, from the beginning of when the very first job offer was accepted, employers have always sought out ways to ensure that their best people stayed. The research I completed several years ago now for my doctoral degree in organizational leadership focused on what it was organizations were doing and/or not doing that impacted an employee’s decision to leave or stay.
0:11:42.2 MM: And I approached this work with a hypothesis around human behavior and its relationship to work, and discovered that it was overwhelmingly validated. What’s interesting, though, many… Fast forward many years, with the onset of the global pandemic, I was instantly watching my research brought to life as if it was on a Imax 75 foot tall screen in Dolby Surround Sound. Yeah, every time I just shared a casual dinner conversation or business conversation about my insights as to why people were leaving in the unprecedented numbers, it ended with a reaction of, oh my gosh, you have to put this in a book. You have to write a book. How soon can you write this book? How soon can I get a copy of this book?
0:12:39.1 MM: So this collective rally cry of you must write this book ended up in the reason I wrote the book. What’s interesting in most organizations today, they have a pretty good sense that they need to start doing things differently if they’re gonna want to attract and keep good people. In this current environment, as you said, what people leaders are struggling with, though, is the lack of the tactical help on exactly how do I do this, which is the second reason why I wrote the Big Quit Survival Guide. We’re not giving leaders the real grassroots help they’re looking for by telling them things like, well, in order to attract and keep great employees, you need to first take the time to build a strong validational culture based on transparency and authenticated trust. I mean, what the heck does that even mean?
0:13:44.7 WB: Sure, sure.
0:13:45.7 MM: I’m a trained… Yeah, I’m a trained professional and I’m not sure I could execute that from reading a book, so… Well, I just didn’t want to give leaders advice that says, it’s important to get to know your people well. Well, duh, we know that, but what does that mean? Do I ask them about their weekend? Do I make sure I incorporate time for small talk in our one-on-ones, do I ask them about their personal life and how does all that play into my need to know if they’re gonna leave or stay around, which is what I really wanted to get a handle on. So with the onset of the pandemic and the need to help people leaders with the real world field tools, those were the two catalysts for me to write the Big Quit Survival Guide.
0:14:35.9 MM: The message I would say too, if I could just sum up quickly as to why the book, is to I want people leaders to take away a very sombering thought. This is no longer our grandfathers’ workplace, where this old-style, as we called it, years gone by, many decades gone by, of command and control, or being able to manage people by fear, that is not going to keep good people. And I designed the format of the book for quick answers that a leader can do instead, if they’ve been used to leading people in the old way.
0:15:19.9 MM: As you mentioned, at the end of each chapter, there is a section called Take 5, and it’s a bullet summary of what the key points are, so if you… Like you did, and thank you for that, reading through the whole book, that’s a great foundation, if you don’t initially have time, you can go right to the end of every chapter and get those five nuggets. But what’s even more exciting for me, Wayne, is to offer our people leaders what I call the survival kit. At the end of each chapter as well is a series of team activities they can use, assessments they can personally take or give to their team to test some things about retention, there’s checklists, there’s even scripts on how to talk with your employees in ways to determine their engagement levels.
0:16:19.0 MM: Also in the book, there is a code, that can be used on my website. The website is bigquitsurvivalguide.com, so it’s www…
0:16:31.8 WB: We’ll link to that, yes.
0:16:35.8 MM: Where leaders can go and they can download the survival kit and print out an unlimited access in an 8.5 x 11 printable format of all these tools. And here’s an example of a tool. Instead of telling a leader, just make sure your employee has a great first day, because that sets the stage, they can print out an actual checklist of all the suggested activities to make sure you do, so that first day is great, whether that employee is on site or whether that employee is a hybrid employee or a remote employee working from home, there there’s two different checklist there to make sure. So I try to take all the guess work out of being the people leader that employees need us to be right now, and help these leaders to access all this kind of information on demand.
0:17:35.5 WB: It’s excellent, I downloaded it. So it’s 72 pages, so it’s a book in itself, so it’s a fantastic tool, and it references back to the book, as you said, the survival tactics at the end of the chapter, so it’s extremely usable and makes life very easy for the leader and trying to do what they should do.
0:18:00.4 MM: Exactly.
0:18:00.9 WB: You take the guess work out of it for them, which is great. One of the themes, or the central theme that I took away, at least, I might be wrong, so please correct me, but one of the central themes that I took out of the book was this notion of people first, and leading people rather than leading employees. And I think the expression you use is, people are people first and employees second. I think this is a great concept, and I’d love for you to explore that further for our listeners, if you don’t mind.
0:18:37.9 MM: Thank you, absolutely. As a researcher, I’ve always started with the most basic variable in the equation that I’m trying to solve, I’m always looking for that one variable that I’m hoping will remain constant and not subjected to change. So upon looking at the issue of employee retention, I began my work by looking at the basic premise that every employee will always be a human being first, at least until emotional robots become part of the mainstream. That’s a whole other topic and another show, I’m sure.
0:19:16.0 WB: Absolutely, yeah.
0:19:18.9 MM: But for now, for the most part, we are hiring human beings. So being a human being is that greatest leveler for every one of us, that’s what we all have in common. And any other descriptor we may choose as part of our identity is going to be a distant second. The reason why this is so important for leaders to grasp is the fact that we are employing humans, and on the surface, that may appear as a big yeah, well, duh, but here’s the key. Like it or not, agree with it or not, we all come pre-wired as human beings with conditions that are gonna drive this behavior, and I think Maslow, Abraham Maslow, called it out best with the human needs, things like we’re all born with a need for physiological care, right, air, food, water, etcetera. We have a need for safety, huge right now, that could be emotional safety, physical safety, psychological safety. We have a need for belonging and self-esteem.
0:20:21.2 MM: So here’s the trick, though. As an employer, I have two choices if I’m hiring human beings. I can either work within those basic needs that people have as human beings or I can choose to ignore them. And ignoring them has worked in some regard for many, many, many decades. As we go back and look at this old command-and-control, and my way or the highway, or you’re fired, and people stuck it out, however, the pandemic literally changed all that overnight, and this need for safety and psychological well-being, emotional well-being, all of a sudden shot to the forefront. And from all the indications I’m seeing, it’s not going away. And what’s interesting, Wayne, is the book came out in March, and it did well initially as its debut. I would say in the last month, it has literally exploded, and what I think is happening is leaders were hesitant and I think somewhat in denial about the cataclysmic shift that has taken place in the workplace.
0:21:43.7 MM: I think people thought it would go back, we would have everybody come back. We’re seeing now, it is not the case. People are not coming back, we continue to see numbers leaving in droves, we are trying to entice people back into the office. It’s almost like a giant game of chicken, if you will, when we’re in a stand-off, is who’s gonna win this war. And right now, the employees are still winning the upper hand, and here’s why. I think it’s important to understand what’s going on here so we know tactically how to get in front of this. An employee’s pursuit right now of mental health and well-being, as I said, has superseded their drive for position, for title, even material gain, and those are the very things employers were willing to offer, that’s what they knew to offer.
0:22:42.2 MM: But now we’re finding out those outside motivators are not working as much, and employers are struggling, what do we do, what do we replace these with. And again, it’s so simple to look at people from a human being aspect. Here’s what’s different, and this is why this is such a cataclysmic shift in working with employees. Employees are no longer going to use work as a primary validation or identifier of who they are as a person, like our parents did, much like our grandparents did. In those days, if you got a good job and a stable job, you were deemed to be a successful person, and you stayed with that job 40 years, you got a good pension, you stuck it out, much to perhaps the lack of mental well-being, you didn’t care, it was more important to provide that stability and have that identity.
0:23:49.7 MM: But now today, these new employees or employees in general who have even worked at a job for years, are seeing their work no longer as the end-all or be-all of who they are as a person. Work is now just a slice in their self-designed pie. They are curating for themselves aspects of the life that they want to live. That’s the over-arching driver, and work, rather than being at the center of that pie, is now merely a slice, and they’re willing to sacrifice the well-being of an overall life that they want versus the end-all be-all as a job to say who I am. So I think we need to embrace that.
0:24:42.3 WB: Yeah, it’s a fundamental shifting from where we were maybe a decade ago to now. The whole perspective that the younger generation, maybe not even the younger generation, it’s the workforce as a whole, has reevaluated how they view their life.
0:25:03.4 MM: That’s absolutely correct, yes. The pandemic didn’t create the issue, the pandemic just uncovered all the issues that have been pented up for many, many years. It was the accelerator, it wasn’t the initiator. And what excites me too, Wayne, is when the dust does settle, and it will, this new workplace is going to be so much better and so much stronger. It’s going to be so much more psychologically safe and emotionally safe for employees, and as a result, employers are going to see tremendous gains in productivity and collaboration and bottom line results when they’re working with people who are feeling fulfilled and rewarded. And it’s just getting through this and helping some organizations understand this. We can’t change the human being factor.
0:26:06.0 WB: Yeah, very, very interesting. Very true. The book has so many great snippets, if you like, of wisdom. Unfortunately, we don’t have the time to cover everything, so I’ve selected three. This is my editor’s, if you like. The three I’d like to cover, which I think will probably be of interest to our listeners, the first one is the I Quit explosion. The second is around this whole topic of mental health, and I really feel this is a major topic for leaders to come to terms with. And then the third one is somehow one of the primary pieces of your book, which is the three-hour balance scale. So I wonder if we could kick off maybe with the I Quit explosion and then we’ll move on to the other two.
0:27:00.3 MM: Yes, indeed. What we’ve been experiencing these past few years in terms of staffing shortages, I think has been the perfect storm for brewing up a recipe for what I call the I Quit explosion. It goes something like this. You take one part of pented up frustrations of having to work with a commanding boss, you add two parts of feeling like you have no say or control over your work environment, mix in a gallon of an acute awareness that life is indeed fragile, thank you, pandemic, and add a taste of flexibility working from home can provide. So you mix all that together, and guess what, bam, you have got an I Quit explosion. And that’s what we saw, and now we’re picking up the pieces and we’re figuring out what this is gonna look going forward.
0:27:57.9 MM: And to your second point, yes, this whole aspect of mental wellness and burnout is the underpinning of what so much has driven this I Quit explosion, and we need to help leaders first of all be aware and watch for their people’s well-being. There’s an old saying, I’m sure you know, you’ve heard of it, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure, and we definitely can apply that here. Some of the things that I help leaders just look for, as you watch any indications that there is a sense of lack of well-being or burnout, are just looking at your employees’ behaviors, things like expressing their feelings of, I’m exhausted, I’m tired.
0:28:47.8 MM: Even the physical sign, the body language on a Zoom call, all of that leaders should be keyed into, and looking at any changes, an increase in illness, days off for multiple types of illness that you normally don’t see in an employee. It could be an indicator. Another thing to watch for would be an increased sensitivity, almost an irritability when constructive feedback is delivered. There’s just no margin for any tolerance anymore, and these people are just not able to embrace even well-meaning feedback. Increases in… Or decrease in the passion for the work that they’re doing. So there’s so many, and I have a whole chapter, as you said, on burnout and mental wellness.
0:29:48.1 MM: But one very important aspect to managing this whole entity of burnout and wellness, as you were saying, is make sure that you’re not the leader who is fanning those burnout flames. And what I mean by that, for example, if a leader is not willing to take a vacation, or when they take a vacation, they’re not totally unplugged, they’re still sending emails on vacation, all of those behaviors, believe it or not, have a mental well-being impact on their people, because if the leader doesn’t even really take time away, neither will their people. They may, but they’re gonna have this concern for, I shouldn’t be doing this, or even though I’m away, I still need to be on. There’s this negative concern that’s kind of nagging at them.
0:30:52.1 MM: My favorite example of this is a leader who sends email in the middle of the night. Now, I get many companies are global and we’re all crossing time zones, but we want to be careful of some of that, because if a leader is sending an email in the middle of the night, and you know they happen to be in the same time zone you are in, but what they add is a very passive-aggressive message to this email that will say something like, Don’t feel compelled to reply right away, sorry, it’s in the middle of the night, or I know you’re at charge or whatever. Well, I’m sorry, but the damage is done, it’s too late, it arrives in that employee’s mailbox, and they now have this nagging sense of, okay, I’ve gotta be checking email all the time, in case I get something on an off day that’s very, very important.
0:31:49.4 MM: So we just don’t want to be the leader that’s fanning these flames and creating so much of what we hope can get better. So bottom line, your employees are gonna model the behavior they see you demonstrate.
0:32:09.7 WB: So the fear of having a workaholic leader, guilty as charged, I have to say, and it’s… Through my career. I was just visualizing while you were mentioning sending emails midnight, I’ve had managers and leaders myself who would send me an email at 3:00 AM in the morning, and I understand exactly what you’re saying, the pressure that that creates is… It’s not a visible thing at the moment, but it does work on you internally and psychologically, it has this… It grinds at you. And I’m coaching a lady at the moment who… We’re talking about this exact topic. So it’s alive and well, unfortunately, and I think it’s probably growing, if anything, as we get leaner and leaner and the expectation for us to continually produce more with less. People are just doing whatever they can to be able to make ends meet, and unfortunately, that’s probably sending the wrong signal, just as you said.
0:33:23.1 MM: Yes, you’re absolutely right. What’s interesting, Wayne, I just read this morning an interesting article that many companies are looking into the possibility now of shutting down the entire company at varying points throughout the year. And it feels like on a major holiday, Christmas Day or something, no one’s checking email, and it’s okay not to do so, right, and even those who are, you’re thinking, Oh, my goodness, what is wrong with you. I love that idea, to consider where that… Every company, of course, can’t deploy that. But think about that, what a wonderful opportunity. I know of a friend here in Indianapolis, she works for the sports team here, the Indianapolis Colts, and she said the whole office was closed the week of the Fourth of July weekend, and I thought, gee, that’s great. That gives the right message.
0:34:23.1 MM: The other thing, too, when we see a leader taking the position of mentally caring for themselves and truly taking time away, that’s a great help to your people. Again, model what you want your people to do.
0:34:41.2 WB: We don’t have the time, but it would be interesting to discuss what do you do if you’re a leader within a company whose leader is sending the wrong signal, how do you address that.
0:34:53.8 MM: Oh, such a great question. Yes, and if I could just sidebar very quickly, we did a lot of research a few years ago with leaders who scored very poorly on the interpersonal feedback of the people they were leading. And we looked at that group independently and we did interviews and surveys and asked why do you think you scored so poorly on your interpersonal skills with people leadership. We had two themes. One, I don’t have time to be nice. That was interesting to me, and the last time I checked, respect was free, but we’ll leave it at that. But number two, to your point, Wayne, the reason they said was, I’m just modeling the behavior I get from my leader, and there you go.
0:35:42.4 MM: Now, let’s take it right back to that human factor. Leaders are people too. Leaders also need the safety, so they’re gonna align with the behavior who could have power over them to make sure their job is safe and they can stay out of the line of fire. Do you see how it just goes back to human beings are reacting in a way that makes sense for them.
0:36:06.4 WB: People are people first.
0:36:08.4 MM: There you go. I’ve heard that somewhere.
0:36:10.6 WB: But I… I think that it’s ringing in my mind at the moment. So I guess that leaves us with the final point on the three Rs, and the whole balance scale, so I’d love to hear more about that.
0:36:25.7 MM: Here is where the rubber really meets the road, if we’re gonna truly give some tactical tools to help leaders get a handle on this retention. Bottom line, anyone who accepts a job is going to balance what I call three Rs in their decision to stay or leave that job. So to picture this, think of a teeter-totter, you know that childhood toy in the park where one kid’s on one end and the other kid’s on the other, and they’re going up and down and back and forth. So picture a teeter-totter or picture a scale where you have two holders and a fulcrum in between.
0:37:05.3 MM: Now, the first R that comes into view on this scale sits on one side, and I call that the requirements. These are all the things that I have to do to succeed at this job. They can be direct requirements and all you have to do is read the job description, if it’s a good job description. They can be anything directly related to what I’m getting paid to do. Those are direct requirements. There are, however, indirect requirements that are unique to each employee, and where they’re more personally related. So for example, many companies are requiring their employees to come back now into the office maybe three days a week, five days a week, whatever it might be.
0:37:50.5 MM: And that employee who’s been working remotely for two years now has an hour commute. That requirement bucket just got a little heavier on that scale. But what’s interesting, you look at maybe a trade-off, they can’t go to their child’s music recital now, because that’s when the required team meeting takes place. So these are all the requirements, either directly or indirectly, that I have to do to succeed and keep this job.
0:38:22.2 MM: Now, on the opposite side of this scale sits the second R, I call these the rewards. These are your tangibles, Wayne, these are things that you can pick up off the table and put in your pocket, like our paychecks, there might be a bonus sign-on, there might be a 401k, there could be stock options, there could be a benefits package and health insurance, there might be a payment of college tuition, whatever it is, companies are figuring what they want to offer here and get creative, and those are all the things that are literally the transaction. Now, let’s stop there. So far, we’ve got requirements on one side, we’ve got rewards on the other. Hopefully, right now that scale’s balanced, right. I’m putting out a lot of stuff, but I’m getting back stuff as well.
0:39:17.1 MM: Okay, problem is, we can’t stop there. Why? Let’s say it together. People are people first. And that third R is going to come in, it sits right next to those rewards, and that’s called the respect. To what degree do I feel appreciated while I’m doing this job, to what degree do I feel valued. I have autonomy, I’m showing up, I have my fulfillment, I’m doing great work, and these values are aligned with me feeling good, all that stuff. Even what we’re seeing to date, in some cases, that respect weight can even make up for a lack of rewards.
0:40:08.7 MM: So many people since the pandemic, especially, are willing to take a salary reduction and waive other tangible perks for an increase in their mental well-being. That’s why we’re seeing so many people, 76% actually, are wanting a remote flexibility of where I’m going to work option and not willing to sign up for something that’s less than that, so we’re seeing a lot of that. So bottom line there, if all these three Rs are in balance, meaning that the rewards and the respect I’m getting back meet or maybe exceed the requirements I’m putting out, I’m gonna stay. It’s as simple as that. If not, I’m gonna leave.
0:40:55.0 MM: But here’s where it gets tricky. There are some interesting variations. Let’s say the rewards by themselves are balancing out the requirements, right. But on paper, that may look good, but again, with human beings, that respect weight has to come into play. So this employee’s a flight risk, and here’s their thinking: I’m working hard, I’m getting back the tangibles that I need out of this job, but with that respect weight so low, their thinking is, I honestly hate it here. I hate this job. I don’t want to go to work. I get the Sunday scaries every night of the week, I don’t want to go into the office and put up with X, whatever that might be.
0:41:48.6 MM: But here’s the reason that they rationalize it: Where am I gonna go and make this kind of money? Where am I gonna go and get the health insurance I need for my children? So they’re a flight risk. Are they engaged? No. They’re putting up with it, and we need to concern ourselves with that. Now, we could flip it, look at the other way. Let’s say you’re a small start-up company, a non-profit, a government sector, a small business owner, you’re not gonna have deep pockets to fill up that reward bucket, there aren’t stock options, a company car, all these things.
0:42:29.1 MM: Well, you see where this is going. Can we compensate now by raising the heaviness of that respect bucket, and can we get people to stay. The short answer’s yes, however, they’re still a flight risk, because here’s what that employee’s thinking: Alright, I’m not gonna get wealthy here, I see that, I may have to keep my job as a coffee barista on the weekends to make my car payment. But you know what? These people treat me like gold. I love being here. Oh, my goodness, the people I work with, the things I get to do. They let me just try and I’m thriving here. And for the first time I want to come to work. Now, they’re a flight risk, though, because all it takes is someone to come in with a reward bucket that can match that request.
0:43:21.0 MM: And then lastly, you get this classic issue we’re seeing way too often, and you can imagine what it is, the requirements are so heavy and they continue to get heavier and heavier, the rewards are not keeping pace and the respect doesn’t even register, and we wonder why people are leaving in droves. So that’s essentially how it works, but there’s one more aspect to this that gets very, very interesting, and this is where I really help leaders figure this out. All of these rewards, requirements, the respect, they all can be individually, and that’s the operative word, individually calibrated to create balance, because each employee is going to be unique in how much weight they’re gonna assign to anything in any of those buckets.
0:44:20.8 MM: So for example, the thought of a one-hour commute for some people, that would be a fate worse than death: You want me to what? Not gonna happen. So they’re gonna chalk that into a heavy requirement category. Somebody else might say, hey, I’m fine with that, because you know what, for the first time I can listen to an entire podcast without being interrupted. I love that quiet time in the car. I’m learning Mandarin, I’m good with that. So if I don’t know who I’m talking with and which employee is gonna define what aspect of that job is a requirement or a reward, I’m gonna miss the boat trying to keep any one of them.
0:45:08.8 MM: And here’s a great example. Let’s look at that respect. People define respect very differently. Say you report to me, Wayne, first week or so, we’re sitting down and I’m gonna have what I call a three R conversation with you. We’re gonna talk about respect, and I’ll say, Wayne, apart from being human and civil, we’re certainly not going to swear at each other and bully each other, and we’re gonna be decent human beings, but apart from that, what kind of behaviors specifically as we work together would you define as being respectful? Help me, walk me through that.
0:45:45.9 MM: And in the Big Quit Survival Guide, I even give the leader the scripts to say and have this very conversation, you don’t have to make it up and write it down. So you might say something to me like, well, Merrylue, I’m a little new to the industry, a great opportunity, but if I could just be assured to get maybe five minutes on your calendar every morning, I just want to check in, I may not need it, but just knowing you’re there and being available and giving me some good feedback early on, that would be so respectful for me to have some of your time like that.
0:46:22.8 MM: Now, here’s the mistake I can make as a leader. I’m thinking, Okay, I need to check in five minutes every morning with all my people. And then I have another employee who I just asked that same question, right, you see where this is going, this employee says, Merrylue, the reason I left my last job is because that leader was so micro-managing me, I wanted to die. Look, give me my marching orders, we’ll check in when we can and then let me fly. And so we’re totally missing what respect means to our people, how they’re gonna define a reward. There’s a whole section on that, and then even a requirement.
0:47:03.8 MM: So I really am a huge fan, if we’re gonna get to the root of what’s going to get someone to stay and why they’re staying, that three R conversation is golden, and I use it continuously throughout the tenure of that person, so I really get what’s going on and we can course correct, as need be.
0:47:26.3 WB: Excellent, so it’s at one level, we’re talking the motivation of a person, whether it’s extrinsic or intrinsic, and being able to identify at an individual level that degree of expectation, if you like, or even need, that they have. In your case, we call it respect, right?
0:47:49.4 MM: Exactly.
0:47:49.5 WB: Yeah, which is extremely fascinating, and it puts a different light on the team development and the whole leadership approach to dealing with your team and treating them as individuals, not treating all within the same… Or painting all with the same brush.
0:48:07.9 MM: Yes, you nailed something very important there, Wayne. Employee retention is only gonna happen with one unique human being at a time, and just in the way I’ve briefly, very briefly, described. And the mistake that companies keep making is we keep trying to solve for a very unique personalized issue with an organizational-wide solution. And we’re missing the mark. I’m almost laughing in a way as I watch companies trying to offer more bagels and a ping-pong table and craft brews to get them to come back in the office, and I’m thinking, my goodness, this didn’t work 10 years ago. What makes you think it’s gonna work now in this whole new environment work. So yes, you’re absolutely right.
0:49:10.3 WB: I’m looking at the time and we’re very much over time, which that’s fantastic. It’s been a great conversation, and I really appreciate the topics that we’ve touched on here. What are you working on at the moment, just digressing a little bit from the book, but are you working on anything of interest at present?
0:49:32.9 MM: I am, and I’m very excited about these possibilities, and it goes back to working in those cultures who highly value leadership development. I am working with a global organization right now who has decided to take the book and literally over an eight-month period create a cohort of all their new front-line leaders, folks who are coming into these positions as first-time leaders, and we’re going to be delivering a series of podcasts and workshops and coaching conversations all around the book, and I thought, what a wonderful way to help someone to arm them with this arsenal coming just right into their first leadership position. So very excited to be working on that.
0:50:28.1 WB: Incredible. Where would people find you if they want to do some further research on your book, etcetera, where’s the best place to go?
0:50:37.7 MM: The best place to go would be directly to the website, again, that’s bigquitsurvival.com. There’s lots of free resources there, I do a monthly blog with helpful guidelines, it’s not just marketing materials. Again, my premise is to get into the hands of leaders real helpful information, so certainly the blogs there will be very helpful, as well as free resources that can be downloaded. In addition, the book is available on Amazon, you just would search Bit Quit Survival Guide, it’s available in three formats, as a paperback, an e-book or an audio format as well, so those who do have that one-hour commute and enjoy listening to audio books can use that there.
0:51:27.4 MM: I’m also very active on LinkedIn, I post a number of things there regularly as well. So I would say the primary areas there would be those three links. Merrylue, the spelling is a bit unique, to say the least, it is M-E-R-R-Y-L-U-E, all one word. So sometimes people have a little bit of difficulty if you’re just searching for me, there is a unique spelling there, so I would say those are the primary areas.
0:52:00.1 WB: Great, thank you for that. We’ll put all these links in the bottom of the show notes so you can find them there as well. Great, final takeaways, any final words of wisdom from somebody who has so much?
0:52:15.8 MM: Well, final words of wisdom. I think that’s most helpful, there are no shortcuts to employee retention. The most efficient route to keep valued workers is connecting with them one individual at a time, monitor that balance of the requirements, those rewards and the respect. And because human beings, as we’ve said it all along, they’re going to be people first and our employee second, so we must choose to deal with that variable first. And it’s amazing how much work can get done and how much pleasant that environment can be to get that work done when we look at that guideline.
0:53:03.1 WB: Dr. Merrylue Martin, it’s been an absolute pleasure. Thank you ever so much. And I look forward to connecting again.
0:53:11.4 MM: Absolutely, thank you so much, Wayne. It’s truly been my pleasure and I just love the opportunity that we get to connect. Thank you.
0:53:18.9 WB: Right, thank you very much.
0:53:24.2 Speaker: Thank you for joining us on the ET Project, a show for executive talent development. Until next time, check out our site for free videos, e-books, webinars and blogs at coaching4companies.com.