How can big organisations compete for talent against agile startups?

Strategies for attracting and retaining top talent

Retaining talent is a key priority for every single organisation. But when you’ve been the incumbent company for decades and the market suddenly opens up, how can you compete against the wave of agile startups going after both your market share, and your people?

This is the challenge that telecom provider Dhiraagu was up against when they asked Let’s Talk Talent (LTT) to help them improve talent retention. The organisation was keen to prevent entrants in the market from poaching their workforce, whilst also maintaining their focus on keeping their position as a market leader.

Here’s how we’ve helped them put employee retention at the forefront of their business strategy.

The employee retention challenge faced by complex organisations

Dhiraagu is located in the Maldives, and had the monopoly on telecommunication for several decades.

Its workforce is wonderfully diverse, ranging from the leadership team to customer advisors, and includes a large number of technical experts working on the ground. This means that not all employees are office-based. Staff also come from the many islands that form part of the Maldives, and bring with them a diverse mix of nationalities and cultures from surrounding countries, as well as different ways of working.

As the market opened up to competitors, new entrants began fighting for a piece of the pie. Dhiraagu had to quickly pivot and implement a strategic change, becoming more commercially focused, whilst working hard to retain its distinctive internal culture – one of its greatest assets for employee retention.

A priority on strategic leadership

After a short internal audit to gather input and get a clear view of the challenges faced by the organisation, we sat down with the C-suite to determine their big exam question. Faced with several challenges all at once, we wanted to ensure we were targeting the issue that, when solved, would have the biggest impact on the business’s employee retention rates.

The team’s focus was clear from the get-go. They wanted to equip leaders on the ground so they could step up and take ownership of operationalising the company’s business strategy by leading their teams effectively. This would reduce pressure on the C-suite, freeing them up to focus on how to remain competitive in the market.

This strategy was made up of several components. For each leader to take charge of and own their part of the business plan, Dhiraagu needed to give them the tools they needed to hone their leadership skills and provide their teams with the best employee experience possible.

Our approach: Operationalising the business’s strategy

Our objective coming in was to create a platform for exceptional leadership.

We identified three areas of focus, each of which was a key success factor in our leadership development plan:

  • Supporting the leadership team as they gained a greater understanding of themselves and others
  • Aligning the team with the business strategy
  • Helping leaders generate motivation and engagement amongst staff

We proposed a 6-month leadership programme aimed at giving leaders the tools and guidance needed to address each of the above. This programme was designed to combine in-person events and virtual workshops, coaching sessions, learning interviews, and additional resources.

Up-skilling Dhiraahu’s leaders

Before the programme started, we asked participants to take a psychometric assessment in order to gather data on their current leadership style. The chosen assessments were focused on emotional intelligence (EI), as EI has a significant impact on a team’s motivation and engagement levels.

We wanted to make a point of including soft skills as part of our leadership training. This is why we gathered benchmarking data on the team members’ communication style.

A workbook was also provided to all company leaders, which highlighted the participants’ ongoing development journey over the coming months. A learning space was created, where all materials used throughout the project would be collated.

First area of focus for the leadership programme: self-awareness

Using the psychometric assessment data, we were able to get started right away by helping participants understand their own motivational drivers. This was incredibly useful in providing leaders with some level of self-awareness, so they could better understand themselves, what energises or triggers them, and the impact of their actions and decisions on their staff.

We provided leaders with some decision-making and problem-solving training to improve their sense of self-reliance and give them the tools to confidently lead their teams and own their area of the business strategy.

However, we also understood that there are always moments when a little bit of guidance is needed. This is why we established a support network for the leadership team. This was to be a community of practice for leaders on their journey towards becoming more autonomous, and created opportunities for inspiration and guidance throughout the programme, and beyond.

Second area of focus: business strategy as a leadership skill

It was important to ensure each department leader had a good understanding of the business’s strategy and the ways to effectively implement it.

We began by organising a Q&A session, during which the CEO presented the new company plans, which brought the future to life in a much more interesting way than a simple email ever could. Employees had the opportunity to ask questions, which provided everyone with a holistic view of the current market.

But to truly equip leadership with the required knowledge to lead their teams on the ground, we also needed to bring in an outside perspective. We recorded a podcast with an industry expert from a challenger Telco company going through the latest trends and best practices, exploring what other companies are doing differently, and the challenges brought on by the current market conditions. This particular resource sparked inspiration and piqued people’s curiosity. This enthusiasm then trickled down to the team members.

Third area of focus: effectively leading a team

It’s no secret that managers have the biggest impact on staff retention levels. After all, people don’t leave bad jobs, they leave bad bosses! Therefore, whenever retaining staff is a key area of focus for an organisation, up-skilling their managerial staff should be on the to-do list.

We spent time planning course content and coaching sessions structured around people management. This included how to have courageous conversations and give effective feedback, as well as how to implement change effectively. Performance management was also a topic featured on our leadership development plan.

Tracking leadership effectiveness through staff retention

No development programme would be complete without a way to measure ROI.

Throughout every stage of the development and coaching journey, we baked in key measurements that would allow us to track the initiative’s progress and course correct along the way if required. This included a variety of HR metrics, from quantitative data (such as nuanced conversations during coaching sessions and regular check-ins with the Dhiraagu project team), to qualitative data.


We are now halfway through the roll-out of our leadership development programme, but we can already see the impact of our efforts on staff retention and engagement rates.

The business was able to really drive home its commercial strategy and, what’s more, they were able to generate enthusiasm and motivation from team leaders and employees.

Whatever the issue faced by your leadership and management team, we develop bespoke solutions to fit your needs. We start by working with you to establish the lay of the land, then create a plan of action that takes your main challenges, opportunities and organisational context into account.

As we like to say, life is too short for beige, so don’t hesitate to book a call with us for custom recommendations that drive results.

You can also visit our leadership performance and assessment service page for some additional resources, including our free downloadable HR strategy whitepaper.

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