There was a time when we fretted about staff retention.
Like many others we adhered to the conventional wisdom that if you did everything right as an employer, then you’d have people working for you for a long time. Having people quit on you before they’ve served five years or more was an indication of bad management.
Not any more. These days we work on the basis that about 70 percent of the young professionals that we employ, most of them being fresh graduates and coming into their first jobs, will leave Maverick anywhere within 2 to five years – and this high turnover is not necessarily a bad thing. In fact we see this as something positive that will help us grow even more. let me explain.
Zul and Jojo’s “Graduation Day” – Photo from Zul’s Facebook Page
You’ve heard about the Millennials and how they have different values from the older generation. They expect quick successes, they are taken up by causes and wanting to do good for society, they have options and they know it, money isn’t always important to them so long as they can pursue the lifestyles and goals they set themselves…
Much of this is true so, as employers what can we do about it? After much experimentation and making many mistakes, I think we’ve hit on a winning formula by embracing the limited “shelf life” of our recruits – most of whom come straight from universities because it is so difficult to get good, experienced professionals in the communications industry.
What we now do is to be extremely fussy about who we hire in the first place. We look for a can-do attitude, we look for intellectual curiosity, a growth as opposed to fixed mindset, and increasingly we look for grit. The young today grow up in relatively privileged and cocooned settings. Its not their fault. Even middle class parents these days can afford and do give their children a cushy life. And growing up in modern cities, with their share of criminals, predators and perverts, also means that their lives are protected in some measure.
The result is that very often they are insulated from failure or difficult choices and their consequences. Many of them may be very urbane, fun and even witty but when they face failure or pressure they crumble, succumb to anxiety attacks or take it personally – and become a pain to work with.
So these days we make it a point to ask job applicants to tell us about their failures and how they embraced them. This sounds deceptively simple but I am amazed by the number of interviewees who cannot describe their failures, and consequently how they managed to embraced these failures. I remember recently interviewing a bright, articulate woman who had studied overseas and held several jobs but who could not bring herself to describe her professional failures. She could describe difficult times she faced but always added how she surmounted the difficulties. But she could not describe her failure that knocked her down to the extent that she had to pull herself up by the bootstraps.
Those that passed the grit test , however, generally tended to do well and suited to what we have in store for them – a fast and furious process of onboarding them with skills, experience, risk-taking and responsibility that will see them challenged but able to lead teams with great flair within one or two years. It then becomes their responsibility to onboard the fresh recruits, that we jokingly refer to as their “pets”, to become like them. And these “pets,” once they make it, will do likewise for the next generations.
And when it comes time for these Maverick-tempered professionals to leave us, we look at it as more of a graduation ceremony rather than a farewell ceremony.
Last Friday was the turn of two of the Mavericks who distinguished themselves over the past few years to leave. One of them was Zulfikar, a lifestyle journalist who joined us with a lack of confidence whether he would be able to make the transition into communications. He not only made the transition but went on to lead the team serving one of our largest and most demanding clients to the extent that they not only renewed our yearly contracts with them year after year but gave us a second account to handle earlier this year. He also managed to win the respect of his colleagues and almost everyone in the office with his mentoring and training of the new recruits, to the point that his “graduation” became a crying fest for those who felt indebted to him and would miss his leadership. But like many in his generation, Zul has an itch to scratch. His particular itch is in his feet and he wants to spend a year on a Work and Travel visa in Australia. We thought it was such a good idea that we gave him a Sabbatical – go forth and enjoy yourself and have many adventures, we said, and if you then want to come back to Indonesia and work in communications the job will still be open to you with all the privileges you earned intact.
The other Maverick to leave is Josfhine, aka Jojo. She had grit written all over he even from her first interview. She came to us unencumbered by the privileges of a well-off family, a straight As student, a volunteer in a teaching program for less privileged children and she took to the job like a duck to water. She was so good that within a year we were putting her, on light supervision from seniors, on one of our largest and most demanding accounts. And when the opportunity came — because a senior person left — she was ready to take on the leadership of the team. She did that well, managed to onboard two other team members and train them and won praise from the client’s regional boss who was not known for his praise for “agencies”. And in the meantime she also headed a second team for an IT client. Jojo is leaving us because she won a government scholarship to the London School of Economics. When we hear the news all we could do was to share her joy, be extremely proud of yet another accomplishment in life and wish her all the best.
We’ve always tried to make working at Maverick a special experience for anyone who’s joined us. “Graduation Ceremonies” are no less different. On their last day of work, their colleagues organised a special day for them, getting them dressed in traditional clothes and getting them to perform specific assignments before holding an office-wide party to say bon voyage to them.
It is touching to see the outpouring of emotion by both of them and their colleagues, reminding me of the saying that our staff have coined about our workplace: “At other places you have colleagues, but at Maverick you make friends”.
Listening to them, I couldn’t help but feel plaintive but also contented that, according to them, no matter where they go and become in life, Maverick would always have a special place in their hearts because it it is to them all at once a finishing school, a training centre, a family and a repository of largely pleasant memories. Godspeed Zul, Jojo and the generations of Mavbros and Mavchicks that will be treading in their footsteps.
Both Zul and Jojo might come back to Maverick or they might go on to other things and places. Whatever they do, however, its kind of cool to think they they will always consider themselves as Mavericks for life, like their predecessors who form a great alumni faculty to share experiences and help train the next generations of Mavericks. And thus the wheel turns.
Posted by Hock Chuan Ong