October 14, 2011

Retaining Great People

Here’s a short interview I did with VITV in May 2011.  The topic was “Retaining Great People.”

Main points:

  • Think of the people who work for you as your most important customers
  • The most important product you sell is called “Working in Your Company” — make it valuable
  • Always treat well the people who choose to leave your company

Transcript below.


Anchor: Many companies in Vietnam are increasingly concerned about high
quality labor shortage. It is hard to attract talented people, but it is
even harder to keep them. In the Business Talk this week, VITV reporter had
a conversation with Chris Harvey, CEO of online recruitment site
VietnamWorks. He will share with us some handy tips on quality human
resource management, especially talent retention.

Ha: Thank you for your time with us today. Before talking on talent
management, I have a small question for you. What is the
definition of talent and a talented employee?

Chris: To me, talent is the ability to get results and get things
done. That’s it. It’s that simple. A talented employee is
somebody who has the skills to do their job, but they also have,
which even more important than skills, they have an attitude, a
good attitude, and they are passionate about their work. If
someone has a good attitude and they’re passionate about their
work, I can teach them the skills that they need.

Ha: You know talented employees tend to have a high turnover rate
nowadays. In your opinion, what makes them leave their current
job? Are they looking for other opportunities, or they get head

Chris: I have a very simple answer, and the answer is this. As a
manager, provide more value to your people than anyone else.
Working in your company is a product. This is how I think about
it. Working in our company is a product that I sell. The people
that work in the company buy my product. The only reason people
leave is because they get more value from another product, from
another company. Talented people have a lot of options, and
talented people have choices, and yes, they do get head hunted.

So, at the end of the day, you can’t force people to stay with
you. You have to make them want to stay with you, and the only
way to do that is to provide more value. A salary is a very
important part of value, but there’s more than just salary in
value. Value, to an employee, can be salary of course, but
opportunity for training. Are they learning? Are they growing?
Talented people love to learn and grow. So are you helping them
learn and grow? Do they feel like they can never get to the next
level in your company? Or do they feel like there’s a
possibility they can get to the next level, because they’ve seen
other people be promoted? That’s important too. Other important
things are the working environment. Do they enjoy coming to work
every day? Do you have a fun environment?

Ha: You’ve just given us some suggestions for companies to retain talent.
So, could you just tell us some specific examples of your
customers about talent retention?

Chris: I think about our people that work in the company as customers.
How can I provide great value to them, besides salary? We have
to do a competitive salary for sure. But here’s an example. For
the managers that report to me, I like to take care of my
managers very well. They’re very important. They have their own
teams, and I achieve results through them. So, one example of
value that I try to add to my people is teaching and training. I
realize that a lot of people here have not received business
education. So what I started was an MBA class for our managers.
I call it “My MBA class.” I got my MBA in the U.S. I download
cases from Harvard Business School. Then it’s a class that we do
every two weeks. We review cases about strategy, about
marketing, about pricing, and things like that. They find it
very valuable. In fact, I’ve had a few people tell me they value
it so much, it makes it hard for them to go to another company,
and I’m very proud of that.

Ha: You know corporate culture and work-life balance are buzz words these
days, and people care a lot about it. Could you please share
with us your experiences in Vietnam?

Chris: Okay. So number one culture and number two work-life balance.
Culture is hard to define, but I define it as a feeling. What’s
the feeling you get when you walk into a company? You have an
experience. I have an experience. You get a feeling for what
it’s like to work there. That’s culture. Are people friendly?
Are people open? Is it fun to come to work? Does the boss know
everybody’s name? Those are some elements of culture. But I
encourage, again, bosses to think about working at their company
as a product. Culture’s part of that. How can they make it more
fun and attractive to work at the company? So that’s culture.

Two, work-life balance, this is a big buzz word. I believe work-
life balance is something that is an individual choice for
everybody. Some people like to work a lot. Some people don’t
like to work a lot. What I encourage our people to do is to work
hard while they’re at work, get their things done, and then go
home and not worry about it. Because I believe that if we have
good time management and people are focusing on the right
things, then they can get all their things done and then go home
in time. But I will say that I do demand a lot from my people,
and sometimes they do have to stay late.

Ha: Let’s say a talented employee at your company really wants to leave
his job, but you really want to keep him. How should you treat

Chris: Well, the first question I’m going to ask myself is, “Have I
been providing enough value to him?” If I have done my best to
provide value to him, but I just can’t provide enough value,
more value than somebody else, I’ll accept it. Then I’ll say,
“Okay. I got it.” Or, if I think I can do a better job, I can
say, “What if I can do this for you? What if I can do that for
you?” If he still wants to leave, I accept it and I embrace it.
If he’s moving higher in his career, I like to make a positive
example of him and tell others, “Wow, look at Mr. Nam. He’s
moving up to a really great new job. And you know why he’s been
able to do that? Because of the training and experience he got

So, instead of treating it negatively, I make it work for me and
make it positive instead. We always organize a small farewell
party, and the reason is this. One, I think it’s the right thing
to do. But, two, remember, as a leader, everyone in your
organization is watching you all the time. If you treat someone
who leaves badly, they’re thinking, “Well, he might treat me
badly. Maybe he doesn’t really like me. Maybe he doesn’t really
value me.” How you treat others sets the example for everybody.
So that’s very important to treat people well when they leave.

Ha: Once again, thank you very much for your time with us today.