A recent North American engagement survey conducted by Gallup found that 70 per cent of the work force is actively or passively disengaged. Only 41 per cent of employees clearly understand what makes their employers’ brands more unique than the competition. Combine the high costs of training and hiring, then factor in lost revenue and productivity, and it’s no wonder retention keeps business owners awake at night.

There is a high correlation between how your employees feel and what your customers think about you. What if your organization discovered that seven out of 10 customers were a potential flight risk?

A lot of companies make the mistake of focusing too much on employees walking out the door and not enough on what keeps them engaged. Understanding how to motivate people to perform at their best is the key to developing retention strategies that drive results. The most effective organizations – and ultimately the most profitable – are those that closely align the aspirations of their employees with the goals of the business.

Retention is not just about points, pizza lunches and holiday parties. High-impact programs are tied directly to a company’s overall employment value proposition, or EVP, which is the sum of all the reasons employees join, perform and stay.

An effective EVP clearly articulates the unique characteristics that make your employment offering attractive beyond the pay cheque. Elements such as culture, values, work environment, leadership and organizational behaviour are critical “selling” features that are prized by your target audience: employees and people who should be but don’t know it yet.

The best companies to work for, according to Great Place to Work, typically outperform the general market by two times and experience half the voluntary turnover of competitors. These organizations are offering employees perks such as unlimited vacation pay, concierge services, catered lunches and environmental subsidies to purchase hybrid vehicles. Sabbaticals, project work and travel opportunities are also part of the total rewards offered by some of the most admired companies.

An EVP can be an especially powerful tool for small to medium-sized organizations. Leveraged effectively, your EVP is your best strategy for competing against higher-paying competitors or “sexier” brands that may provide more financial stability. It can be even more important – and therefore attractive – to new generations, who often refuse to leave their values at the door.

So how can organizations get started on developing retention strategies that stick?

Go direct to the source: your employees. The process of eliciting your EVP is different from traditional engagement programs because it draws on employee experience, it’s not just a “pulse” against global standards. Your EVP already exists within your organization – it cannot be created, it must be discovered. Ask your employees what’s really important in their daily work experience, what keeps them happy, and what needs to be improved to make sure they stay. The information gathered will help you prioritize and plan your HR agenda in the short and long term.

Recognition plays a valuable part in retention. Once you have discovered your company’s EVP, map the core themes to your vision and values. Start by asking “how do we identify with these values?”

“What are the action statements that can be witnessed and therefore recognized and rewarded to reinforce the employee experience?”

Your ability as an organization to tell stories that provide proof of your promise is more powerful than words on walls or handbooks. Don’t claim to be something you’re not. Failing to live up to your employment promise is a sure-fire way to damage trust and ultimately results in high turnover. And in today’s market, sites such as Glassdoor.ca – a website that gives access to employee reviews of companies – make it easier than ever for employees to report their version of the truth.

What works for your organization must be exclusive to what makes you special. If keeping top talent is leading to sleepless nights, ask yourself: “Why should they stay? What are we offering that is unique that they can’t readily get somewhere else?”

To build sustainable programs that can be measured and tied to better business results, companies must think beyond traditional and often transactional retention schemes. The best organizations take time to uncover their unique EVP to develop programs that are intuitively aligned to what matters most to their employees.