Ann Vezina, In My Experience: Talent Retention Best Practices

With record low unemployment, aging baby boomers entering retirement years, and the fast-paced deployment of new technologies leaving many with obsolete skills, the war for talent continues to intensify amidst one of the hottest job markets in decades.

In fact, The Conference Board reports that 62% of CEOs – 3 out of every 5 – cite attraction and retention of top talent among their top 3 internal concerns. Further, 43% of CEOs cite lack of talent and skills as a barrier to future innovation, making it the biggest obstacle to overcome in the next 5 years.1

There are many actions leaders and businesses can take to have a greater impact on attracting, retaining and developing their talent pool. In my experience, it boils down to three key principles.

#1 - Keep people engaged.
Employees who are engaged and thriving are 50% less likely to look for a job with a different organization.2

  • Provide opportunity for growth and development.
  • Give employees a voice, a seat at the table and implement an approach for continuous feedback. Conduct site visits and hold roundtables at all levels. Implement employee surveys. Listen and be responsive.
  • Empower employees to define and implement change.
  • Encourage experimentation and accept failure as a means to success.
  • Look at everything that impacts employees from their point of view. Do they feel valued and respected?
  • Seek ways to improve productivity. Fix what’s cumbersome and bothersome, making the work more fluid and enjoyable.
  • Seek ways to add flexibility wherever possible. Consider work from home, scheduling or flex hours, pets at work, etc.
  • Encourage fun and connection. Perhaps an hour out of each day for a creative activity. Or one day a month for community involvement.
  • Promote wellness. This might be a benefit program, a lifestyle, a daily way of working.


#2 - Commit to training and development.
94% of employees would stay at a company longer if it invested in their careers.3 

  • Be willing to invest in your employees – they are your most valuable assets. Hiring and training to replace skilled employees who have opted to leave is costly and time-consuming. Make the business case.
  • Identify immediate and short-term skills needed. Project skills needed for the future. Accept that you might miss one or two, and be nimble to re-evaluate and re-address your skill needs going forward.
  • Evaluate options for how best to train and develop your workforce, including internal programs, external sourcing, online education, classroom training, etc.
  • Keep it flexible and evaluate progress real time to accelerate what is working and to change what is not.


#3 - Inspire and develop future leaders.
47%, or nearly half of direct reports of uninspiring leaders (those who rank at or below the 10th percentile in their ability to inspire and motivate others) actively think about quitting.4

  • Nurture and cultivate strong leadership skills early on.
  • Align development plans with career progression and ensure skills are being adequately developed for the next position.
  • Focus on key areas including self-awareness, change/risk management, precise and clear communication, and inspiring and motivating others.
  • Similar to employee engagement, give leaders a say in their development.
  • Ensure your vision, mission, and values are clearly understood, modeled, and lived by all. This will also strengthen your corporate culture.


As Corporate VP of Human Resources for Xerox Business Services, I was in the position to improve employee engagement, increase retention, and enhance the employee experience. Our first challenge was to improve retention. Our second challenge was to address a just-in-time (JIT) or “ready now” need for leaders at all levels.

The vast majority of our 100,000 employees were in entry-level positions where we recognized we needed to provide a foundational level of training. We were also experiencing very high turnover at the team leader, supervisor, and operations management levels. Reducing turnover and improving succession through this particular career progression represented the biggest positive retention impact for the company as it impacted the largest number of people.

We determined the what – training and development throughout all levels of the organization. Next came evaluating the how. Critical considerations included capability, scale, cost, and flexibility. We established several important pillars.

Personalization – We were looking for something that a diverse group of employees and leaders could use to personalize their development plan. Given the breadth and depth of our talent pool, we knew a robust set of “courses” was important.

Consistency - We needed “tracks” to ensure we maintained consistency in the training of particular verticals or segments – a new supervisor for example. The traditional university model appeared to be a good fit with core classes aligned to a major and minor(s) tailored to a specific set of skills.

Ownership - We wanted our people to be excited about participating in this new program versus feeling it was a requirement. The program needed to be fun so we brought in the use of gamification.

Broad Application - We needed a global platform that could seamlessly serve over 100,000 employees in hundreds of sites worldwide.

Students As Experts – A future vision was to provide the ability for participants to be certified as “experts” by either authoring a new class or attaining a designated level of expertise in a specific skill thereby creating a network of mentors available to others during their development.


So how did we bring this all together at Xerox Business Services?

Enter Xerox Services University.

Xerox Services University was one of several major initiatives implemented to improve retention and to develop JIT leaders. To align and rally the organization behind this massive initiative, we undertook several key steps.

Funding – Through an extensive cost/benefit analysis, we sold senior executive leadership on the need to fund and support the initiative.

Engaged Development - We engaged multiple levels of employees and categories of employees in the development of the program. We also supported our Learning Services team to outsource those technology aspects where we did not have internal expertise, such as some of the gamification.

Communication – Aggressive communication and promotion of the program and its benefits was instrumental to our success through the initial launch and ongoing. Implementing a multi-dimensional approach maximized awareness, interest, and motivation across all levels of the company.

Metrics – We identified and held ourselves accountable to the metrics.


After 12 months in development, Xerox Services University was launched, the first of its kind learning environment for Xerox employees worldwide. During its first year, the new program engaged over 2,000 users registered across 20 countries, completing over 3,000 courses.

In addition to driving the numbers, we also established success measures and benchmarks that tied to our original goals of improving retention and developing JIT leaders. Short-term success benchmarks included critical skill development; expanded products and service knowledge; and, continuous increases in voluntary usage. Mid- and long-term success measures included global retention with an emphasis on leadership retention; increases in the JIT talent pool for supervisors and above as measured through annual succession planning; and increases in employee satisfaction. Given the difficulty in attributing retention to a single driver, we focused on a decrease in “challenge and development” in exit surveys.

Having successfully led our organization through this very extensive initiative, I’d offer the following advice:

Learn to discern what’s truly essential to attracting talent and driving retention. There will be a number of things that are important, however you can’t pursue them all equally. Spend the time upfront to determine what is essential vs. what is important and prioritize.

Invest in your leaders and in your workforce. Personal and professional development drives engagement. Engagement drives retention.

Resist the impulse to develop a solution. Instead, spend time seeking opinions, asking questions, and collaborating with others to define and frame the answer.

Make some big bets, but be prepared to be wrong. Create a culture that embraces failure as being essential to moving forward.

Measure and adapt. Hold the organization accountable to the metrics. Celebrate success. Remain flexible and responsive to adjust and change through the process.

Successfully engaging, developing, and inspiring your organization will energize your workforce, drive talent retention, and create an internal pipeline of qualified leaders - all of which are instrumental not only to winning the war for talent, but also in achieving a highly-skilled, agile, responsive organization that will drive sustainable results for your business.


1 C-Suite Challenge 2019: The Future-Ready Organization. The Conference Board.

2 Well-Being Enhances Benefits of Employee Engagement. Gallup Online. Oct. 27, 2015.

3 2018 Workforce Learning Report. LinkedIn Learning.

4 The Shocking Statistics Behind Uninspiring Leaders. Forbes Online. Nov. 20, 2018.


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Ann Vezina is an ECC Executive Partner based in Lexington, Kentucky, USA. Prior to ECC, Ann was a seasoned executive in the Business Services Industry with over 30 years of experience in IT, Business Process Outsourcing (BPO), company integration, and global expansion. She currently serves as a Board Director for SYNNEX Corporation where she was also appointed to the Company’s Audit Committee. Ann received her BS in Business Administration from Central Michigan University.