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Retain Your Star Project Managers

Does your organization have what it takes to keep your best project talent? Learn how to keep your star players — and what you can learn if you lose some.

29 March 2011

During the recession, even your best project managers may have been scared to venture out into the great unknown. But as economy starts to tick upward, they may no longer be content doing the same old tasks for the same old salary.

Dangling the promise of higher salaries, bigger bonuses and better career paths, rivals can poach your best people.

Some companies are taking action to protect their ranks. To boost morale and hang on to key employees, tech giant Google offered a 10 percent across-the-board pay raise to its staff of nearly 25,000 in January.

It’s not all about money, though.

Organizations must also establish a project management career path aligned with their strategic goals, says Muhammad A. B. Ilyas, PMI-SP, PMP, PgMP, CEO and principal consultant at Lifelong, Kuwait City, Kuwait.

Organizations can then empower their project managers to take on added responsibilities — and reward outstanding performance along the way, says Mr. Illyas, a director of technical presentations and site visits for PMI’s Arabian Gulf Chapter.

“Project managers enjoy challenge and complexity. A stifling culture that lets its people plateau and become stale will quickly lose the star talent,” says Joanne Ernst, owner, Catalyst Coaching, North Yorkshire, England. “Organizations will be more likely to retain talent when they mentor and coach effectively.”

Project leaders should avoid parent-child dynamics, she adds, and focus on helping employees grow to their full potential.

“The companies that are growing exponentially are the ones that are nurturing the talent within the organization,” says Ms. Ernst. “Allow and encourage people to work to their strengths, and you will be amazed what they achieve and what loyalty they will have.”

And a little recognition from on high never hurts either.

“Some of our top-notch project managers actually get asked by our CEO and senior executive team to lead assignments for projects they didn’t even know they were being considered for,” says Jan Walstrom, chief learning officer at engineering and construction powerhouse CH2M Hill, Englewood, Colorado, USA.

Organizations should seek out what motivates each project manager and understand his or her strengths and goals and then tailor rewards accordingly, adds Ms. Ernst.

“What is non-negotiable is that your approach is transparent and consistent,” she says. “A lack of fairness is the quickest way to kill motivation and engagement and turn loyalty right back to a transactional time-for-money relationship.”

“You have to be true to the company culture, and then work on retaining those who fit the culture,” Ms. Walstrom adds.

No matter how hard it tries, no organization can save all of its best talent. Employee turnover can, however, serve as a powerful learning tool.

“If you lose the project manager, don’t lose the opportunity to learn what is going wrong within your company and department,” says Alceu Fernandes Filho, PMP, owner, Atendmax Assessoria and Consultoria, São Leopoldo, RS, Brazil.

Organizations should foster feedback, respect and support to their employees, he says.

When a credible and strong project manager chooses to leave a company, organizations should consider re-evaluating its engagement, retention efforts and company culture, says Ms. Walstrom, who also serves as senior vice president of program and project management at CH2M Hill.

“We may need to consider a person leaving as a wake-up call as a management team,” she says. “There are always people who may be motivated by compensation and titles — they will take that offer and leave. We need to look at our engagement drivers. Do we really feel we’re a place that folks who want to make a difference and who fit the company culture want to work?”

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