Best Employers 2016: How they hang on to their best employees

Getting a top-performing worker to stick around means having a plan that starts even before the first job interview

 
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Chubb Insurance workers talking
High-potential employees at Chubb Insurance are paired with senior mentors to develop their careers. (Darren Calabrese)

Retaining your top talent is a bit like baking a cake—there are a lot of necessary ingredients, says Patti Ewen. As senior vice president of human resources at Chubb Insurance Company of Canada, Ewen oversees a 430-member workforce that boasts a 96% to 98% employee retention rate for high-performance hires—one of the industry’s highest.

It starts off with a hiring process that looks for junior employees with the potential to move up the ladder. Chubb often finds new hires through internships or contracts to make sure they are a good fit. Then, it explicitly asks managers to groom the entry-level employees for more senior positions. “We want them to progress because when you have a whole bunch of people who can’t progress out of their jobs, that’s when you get into environments that aren’t highly engaged,” says Ewen.

At the Toronto office of law firm Bennett Jones, retention also starts with the hiring process. The company uses techniques developed by U.S.-based hiring expert Brad Smart, including extraordinarily detailed career histories and hours-long job interviews designed to draw out candidates’ real characters. “We find throughout the process, [candidates are] just way more truthful about the duties that they held, their successes and failures, the experience they gained,” says CAO Siobhan Walsh.

Bennett Jones’ Toronto office has grown from about 40 lawyers in 1999 to more than 180 today, while maintaining top rankings in employee engagement and suffering “very little” turnover, says Walsh. The firm runs professional development programs on everything from legal topics like international tax law and corporate bankruptcy to “soft skills” like persuasive speaking . It also works on fostering an environment where creativity is celebrated. “If you don’t take risks, you’re not going to grow and you’re not going to learn,” says Walsh. “We’ve got to create an environment where people feel safe and can try things out.”

There’s also one-on-one coaching on career progression, an approach mirrored at Chubb, where high-potential employees are paired with senior leaders who provide mentorship and sponsor them to advance. Each employee has a career “map” that sets out a clear future with the company. Not only does the mentorship process keep the junior employees motivated, it builds commitment to their success at higher levels. “Everyone shares this core mission of trying to keep these key people,” says Ewen.

That sense of ownership also works at investment firm Edward Jones, where 17% of those employees have been there more than 15 years (noteworthy in a company that’s been open in Canada only since 1994). It also provides ongoing mentorship, while eschewing the typical annual performance review process. Instead, feedback, coaching and performance-based rewards are offered three times per year. “It really helps people stay focused,” says general partner Ola Wall, who’s in charge of human resources.

Keeping employees happy also means supporting their growth outside the office. Chubb backs employees who want to volunteer, offering time to do everything from helping out at their child’s school to spending weeks away with Habitat for Humanity. Most employees work long hours, says Chubb president and CEO Ellen Moore. “But they feel it’s a partnership with Chubb…We value the things they value.” The bottom line for each company is buy-in and support for human resources from the top. “You’re able to attract top talent,” says Ewen. “You get them, you keep them, everybody’s fired up, everybody’s having fun, nobody’s leaving.”

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