You may think an organization with dangerous working conditions, mind-blowing stress, and thankless assignments would have trouble with retention. You would be wrong. Here’s why top secret agents stick around.
A big part of the reason for the impressive retention is because of the CIA’s mission. Case officers believe in what they do, and they like making a difference in the world. The travel opportunities, the glamour of the job, and the excitement also keep people around. But while these factors are not fully replicable in the corporate world, the CIA also utilizes a number of organizational strategies that can certainly be duplicated by private employers to keep talented and in-demand employees happy and productive.
1. Encourage frequent rotation.
High performers hate stagnant environments. Small companies in particular, though, frequently face headroom limitations that make upward mobility difficult.
However, allowing talented employees to move between departments, functions, and locations breeds a multidimensional workforce, and also helps to circulate knowledge and talent throughout your organization. It also keeps things interesting for your employees, who might otherwise begin to feel stuck.
2. Be a résumé builder.
It’s hard to beat “Clandestine Service Officer, Central Intelligence Agency” for an eyebrow-raising résumé entry.
Ironically, the best employers are often those who make it the easiest to find work elsewhere. That’s because the top employers provide the best training opportunities, the most challenging assignments, the most capable mentors, and the most diverse experiences. The better and the more challenging the job, the better it makes as an entry on a résumé.
3. Match the person, not the title, to the task.
Too often, employers recruit bright and talented individuals, but then hesitate to give them any real responsibility until they are more “seasoned” or more senior in the organization. In the meantime, the talented recruits are bored out their minds and likely to spend their ample free time surfing the Internet for a better job.
I’m not advocating that employers put untested new hires in situations where a beginner’s mistake could be costly for the organization. I do, however, believe that employees’ skills and abilities—not their seniority or job title—should determine who is best qualified for the highest-stakes assignments.
When the CIA identifies a high-profile target, careful attention is given to selecting the right officer for the job…It does not always make sense for a 55-year-old English-speaking white male electrical engineer from Wisconsin to try to recruit a twenty something female hijab-wearing Middle Eastern student who speaks only Arabic, for example—even if the 55-year-old is a highly skilled senior officer.
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