Last year, more than 47 million American workers left their jobs as the pandemic accelerated a trend taking place for the past decade.
Like so many other industries, government affairs saw its share of turnover in The Great Resignation. We hear the complaints regularly. Losing personnel puts real strain on teams, eliminating expertise, increasing workloads and forcing managers into a perpetual cycle of emergency hiring. It can be very tough on morale—and on productivity.
Yet, as the post-pandemic workforce evolves, there is a way to fight back. You can reengineer your team with resilience and agility in mind, adjusting practices, procedures and hiring to suit a more dynamic workplace. The result will be a stronger team that can carry out its mission effectively, even short staffed. To learn more, read on.
Improve Practices and Procedures
In a world of increased turnover, there is much your team can do to offset the impact of any one loss. The goal is to create systems that are easy to learn and operate and to make sure that critical capabilities never depend on the skills of just one person. Here are some ideas:
- Evaluate Your Technology. Systems can present a bottleneck when jobs turn over and expertise leaves the building. That means it is more important than ever to have technology that is easy to use and to learn. Advocacy software, legislative tracking and intelligence tools should be intuitive, with an interface that mirrors other modern systems in our lives. Just as most people can look at the app for Doordash and Airbnb and know how to use it, you want systems in place that can be learned easily by new team members. If you are using antiquated technology that depends on complex workarounds and manual work, start thinking about making a change in the next budget cycle.
- Increase Technical Support. In a world of higher turnover, your vendors can help provide stability. Quality vendors include robust service and training as part of your contract, but some also allow you to buy enhanced support. This type of additional help can be extremely valuable on a team with high turnover. It can help you get people up to speed quickly and ensure you don’t lose valuable skills when people leave. Professional services can also sometimes help to bridge a gap between vacancies. These types of additional support are easy to procure and can be implemented quickly. They are almost always worth the investment.
- Develop Plain-Language Documentation. Have your team members document how they carry out critical elements of your program. It maintains continuity amid turnover. For example, you should have documentation on how to carry out a basic advocacy campaign, including which templates to employ and which lists to use. When turnover happens, you’ll have a set of instructions for new team members.
- Embrace Regular Training. Busy schedules tend to relegate training to something that only takes place when absolutely needed. But on a team with high turnover, regular training increases versatility. Training everyone to use your advocacy software, for example, and giving them enough practical experience to make the training stick means your team’s capabilities won’t falter when people leave.
Get Serious About Recruiting
Of course, the real solution to turnover is to practice quality hiring, finding candidates with the right skills who truly fit into your organization’s culture—and then implementing measures to keep them.
One place to start is to eliminate emergency hiring. Veteran managers know that there are times when you simply have to fill a position, and you often reach for whomever is available. The problem with that type of hiring is that it can perpetuate the problem. Someone chosen quickly from a hastily-constructed list is less likely to have the skills and personality to become a long-term colleague.
A far better strategy is to start recruiting. Every hiring manager can develop a farm team of prospects, people who have promise and that may fit into your organization someday. Some may be experienced colleagues that you met at a previous job or at a conference. Some may be former interns. The idea is that, even when you don’t have openings to fill, you are cultivating talented people. A manager with a ready list of contacts will always be in a better position to make a quality hire when the openings do arise.
To develop such a list requires a skill that is native to government affairs: networking. Simply track the people who catch your eye and keep in touch. As the world returns to in-person events, conferences are a great way to look for talent. Hiring sites and even Linkedin can also provide a steady stream of prospects. With a few emails, coffees and lunches each quarter, you can create an “always on” hiring system and fill positions with hand-picked candidates far more easily.
Embrace Better Hiring Practices
While recruiting takes some time to develop, there are more immediate solutions that can result in better candidates and, ultimately, lower turnover.
- Improve Interviews. If you are still using the same 40-minute job interview with questions about strengths and weaknesses, rewrite your script and get more creative. Base your questions on scenarios designed to make candidates think and analyze, and to give them a taste of the job. One strategy for teams who have moved back to the office is to have candidates shadow you for half a day and spend time with different team members. Another is to have them answer a question in writing. Both will give you a far greater sense of the person you are considering.
- Be More Transparent. Writing a thorough and exciting job posting that truly describes the position can help a great deal. Don’t just list the required qualifications. Go deeper and explain why the job is important and enticing. Look at it from the candidate’s perspective and explain why joining your team is an exciting prospect. Also, consider releasing salary information. About 80% of job seekers are more likely to apply for a position when they know the compensation, according to a survey by Talroo, a job advertising platform. “Recruiters should include payment information in their job title or description to see higher application numbers,” the company said.
- Offer Increased Flexibility. While pay is still the top factor in determining when candidates accept a job, 53% say flexibility matters, according to the survey. One in five say they have a child or someone else at home impacting their job search. In the wake of the pandemic, offering remote options and flexible working hours can avoid forcing a choice between work and family, increasing your pool of candidates and giving you a better shot at retention.
- Present a Path. Many of the best people working in government affairs are ambitious and it helps to explain that there can be a future with your organization beyond the current position. Point to examples of people who have been promoted and taken on more advanced roles. Show candidates and employees that they don’t have to leave in order to advance.