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MGW #23 – How to Retain Talent

Welcome to the Mighty Good Work relaunch. The focus hasn’t changed – this is still a podcast for people who want to make work a place worthy of the time we dedicate to it and for leaders and aspiring leaders who are committed to inspiring the same.  We’ve tweaked the format, including a permanent new co-host, in the hopes of adding diversity of viewpoints, experience and topics for the benefit of our listeners.  We are excited to share version 2.0 with you and on that note, let’s get started!

In this episode we focus on shifting both the thought process surrounding, dialogue about and facilitation of people quitting their jobs. With tenure averaging 18-24 months (and dropping), if you’re thinking about why and how people leave their jobs in the right way, you have an opportunity to actually do something to retain your best and brightest longer.

Conventional wisdom is that people leave their jobs – having outgrown the role.  The latest data would tell you that people leave people, more specifically, their managers.  We contend that this is not an either/or situation, but rather people leave “bad experiences” and as such leaders must address the issue more holistically.

  • If you think about a workplace version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, successful leaders fulfill those needs by creating a sense of community, providing opportunity for development and growth and communicating the value of their employees’ contributions.
  • Recognition, appreciation and critical feedback are key to how people interpret their experience (i.e. positive or negative), growth (i.e. improvement or stagnation of work product/process) and contribution (i.e. perceived importance of), making all three critical parts of the feedback loop.
  • An oft cited reason for leaving is a lack of meaningfulness/purpose in their work.  Find ways to tangibly connect individual contributions to outcomes.
  • Strong leaders think big picture and balance methodology with results.  Do physical butts in seats matter if objectives are being met?  When is it ok to make process allowances if outcomes are achieved?  Conversely, when is it not?  
  • We all have fear based reactions at times but how we address those slips matter.  A private apology may not be sufficient, as public acknowledgment goes a long way towards demonstrating a commitment to the company’s mission and values.
  • Promotions to management positions should not be made lightly.  Tenure and the ability to perform hard skills consistently at an individual contributor level are not sufficient.  Introducing an unskilled/unsupported manager into your ecosystem can quickly lead to employee unhappiness and subsequent turnover. 
  • Contrary to conventional wisdom, people do not necessarily have to be good at specific hard skills – be it writing code, accounting or creating content – to be leaders.  Recognize the ability to communicate vision and strategy and give those folks opportunities to lead/influence. 
  • Don’t be so quick to dismiss the first-alerters – those you might chalk up to being hyper-sensitive or whiners.  They often can signal early warning signs of problems that if addressed at that point won’t manifest as bigger issues.
  • Strong leaders do not think in terms of a static employment contract, but rather on that allows for change over time.  As employees’ lives evolve, what they need from work to support those changes also evolves.  If the role or the company’s needs do not allow for that, then understanding those limitations and being prepared to gracefully facilitate that transition is key.
  • Strive for better than average tenue.  Nobody goes into a relationship with a predetermined end date in mind. You wouldn’t accept average product/service quality, sales results, etc. so investing in the things that keep your people engaged longer is just good business.  Find ways to measure and improve.

How you handle attrition factors into retention, as this communicates/models how others can expect to be treated.  While it may seem counterintuitive, a common recurring theme revolves around the exit.   

  • Depersonalize the situation.  Whether viewed as good or bad attrition, neither should it be viewed as an act of betrayal nor an opportunity to malign.  Your ability to facilitate genuine, amicable separations and relay that to your staff will strongly factor into others’ decisions to stay or go.  
  • Exit interviews – the ability to give someone a chance to be heard – are important.  Better to get the information first-hand and be able to address it head-on rather than via social media or open forums (Blind, Glassdoor, etc.). 
  • Strong leaders should view every employee exit as a way to create an ambassador of goodwill.  You never know where paths will intersect, whether as a boomerang employee, advocate, customer, or partner.  The ability to reengage with someone years later is a good litmus test of a successful exit.