Staff retention: What I’ve learnt by falling out of love with West Ham!


I’m guessing that as you’re reading this that you’re either a fan of football or more specifically of West Ham United. I fall in to the latter camp and I’ll let you in to a secret that I’ve not told my West Ham family yet – my love for the club is diminishing.

I’ve been going to watch The Hammers since I was roughly 5 years old, so around 35 years in all. During that period, I’ve seen a huge amount of change but perhaps, not as much as within the past 3 or 4 years. We’ve moved out of our Upton Park home in to the Olympic Stadium, we have a less than inspiring manager, the team are playing with a lack of effort and the atmosphere is well, putting it politely, very different to the one I experienced at the Boleyn Ground.

To be honest, though, it’s none of those reasons that have made me lose interest. The reason I have is relateable to us all at work and perhaps it applies to you now. Frankly, I don’t feel like the club cares about me anymore.

As we move from the supporter-centred club that I remember in to a brand that’s seeking to develop in international markets 1515(I can’t believe I’m still talking about West Ham!) we no longer have the same identity that I remember. One of my fondest memories is my Dad pointing out a sign above a launderette on Green Street that read ‘Don’t Kill Your Wife, Let Us Do It’. I never really got the joke but even so, it stayed with me as being part of the experience. I’d look up at it every time I walked past. Now, the ground is found via a long walk through a shopping centre with the usual suspects plying their trade in mass-produced clothing and it just feels wrong. The ground is just part of the club though, so that can’t be the only problem.

You’re probably starting to think ‘How does this apply to staff retention?’ Well, frankly, if your staff don’t feel loved or part of the business, particularly through periods of change, they will lose interest too. You could then find yourself having to replace that previously loyal employee. You know the one. They know where everything is and which person to ask which question. They’re invaluable and can’t be easily replaced, so if you do your best to keep them ‘bought in’ to you, your team and the business and unsurprisingly, the likelihood they will leave is low.

So, how can we learn from West Ham and ensure that motivated employee in your team doesn’t end up becoming disengaged and like me, lose interest?

Communicate: Transparency is always a best practice, but it is especially beneficial during major changes in the workplace. When management don’t openly address company matters, employees will feel left in the dark. Be honest here too, don’t be like Karren Brady and say ‘We’re going to build a world-class team for a world-class stadium’ and then buy Jordan Hugill. People like to feel involved and they like to know you want them to be informed. Let them know what’s going on.

Be Authentic: Just tell the truth and be yourself. Always. Not only do employees feel trusted when they’re treated with respect, you’ll find that they are more open to change and in most cases will enjoy the challenge in front of them. To maintain authenticity isn’t too difficult – identify your core values, engage with your team and drop corporate jargon!

Remind people of their value: Often missed, this is one of the most powerful parts of leadership. If somebody does well, tell them. Don’t wait for an appraisal and keep this personal, for example ‘The work you did on that project was amazing Roberta. You really managed timescales well. We need that in the team as it keeps us all on track’. Karren Brady has referred to us as customers in recent years and not fans. As petty as this sounds, the choice of language distances those who spend a lot of time, money and emotional investment in the club. If we’d been reminded of our value a few times, that we have been the 12th man that has helped win games, I may feel differently about the club.

Make it fun! Show your dedication to your employees by giving them something to enjoy at work! It can be a team night out, a lunch together or hold your team meeting in a different environment – in the park for example. People will feel valued if you want them to enjoy work as much as you want them to perform. Don’t be like West Ham and create unnecessary rules (such as stopping supporters standing up after a goal). There’s no need to do so and it creates friction. If you do your best to ensure that your team feels valued, you’ll find they’ll be loyal to you and a close-knit, loyal team is always more productive!

So to recap, be consistent, honest, transparent, communicate and have fun whenever you can.
Think of what could happen if you don’t pay attention to your employees – there could soon be a sign above your competitor’s office reading ‘Don’t look after your team, let us do it’.

Written by Paul Miller – Senior Governance Consultant

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