Employee Retention

How to Retain Staff

Written by: Coach Online – Al Rodway

There is a simple answer … Don’t !  And, yes, I’m serious !

I think this is one of the most important aspects of high performance I’ve ever written about.  I constantly hear businesses talking about the importance of retaining staff and how to do so.  If you have read my articles over the years you will have read that if you ask the wrong question you will get the wrong answer.  This is classic that!  The wrong question is How to retain staff?  The first right question is Should retaining staff be an objective?  The answer to the second question is No and so the first question largely goes away.

At the tip of the iceberg is that there are many people in business who are in the wrong job or with the wrong business or in the wrong industry.  No business should be strategizing to retain them.  Wouldn’t that be obvious?  If recruitment and selection in Australian business was perfect this situation would not arise as often, if at all.  But it is far from perfect, with people often applying for a job and getting through quite superficial selection processes to land the job and away things go.

More importantly though is the concept of keeping the ‘right’ people, the quality people, for the long term, if not forever, for the sake of the business’s success (and avoiding the hefty cost of replacing them).  Without claiming that is selfish of the business, it will limit the scope of development allowed for each person.  Think about that … are the actions of the business (role development, training, experiences offered, expectations, opportunities, etc.) likely to be the same if retention is the purpose compared to if full on development is the focus?  No, they are not the same.  There are many times when the business will hesitate to do or not do something in case they lose the person .. “don’t do that, they might leave”.  When this is the framework for development it is, at best, limited and, at worst, contradictory to high performance.

It is far better to say to every person joining a business that we fully expect them to leave at some stage. If a 35 year old joins a business, is it reasonable to hold out and expect them to stay for the next 30 years (or whatever)?  That’s ridiculous and it is counter productive.  How could any business hold out to any individual that they will gain maximum development and opportunities by staying with the one business for the rest of their career?  The development is limited to one business and the people within plus whatever else the very same business can expose the person to.  There are some businesses in the world that are so pure in how they treat their own people, how they want to develop them, that they actively encourage the concept of finite time with them and then move on.  They are proud of the development they can provide to their people and then watch as those people succeed elsewhere, partly because of what has been provided prior.  The whole playing field changes when this (opposite) approach is taken.  It becomes one of pure development without restriction, without fear of loss, without hesitation of doing what is best for every person.  People love that and will give of their best for the time they are with the business as a result, partly in appreciation.

I can hear you saying ‘but what if they leave quickly?’ ‘but what if they go to the opposition?’ ‘but what if they are difficult to replace?’.  All good questions with powerful answers.  If they leave quickly and have been given every opportunity to develop, their performance is likely to have been solid and there is likely to be a good reason why they have exited quickly.  If they go to the opposition, so what?  Your business will be known as one that is totally committed to people development not holding onto them.  Your business won’t die because a good person has gone to the opposition.  It probably won’t even suffer because the next person you bring in will be just as good if not better.  The exited person’s contribution to the opposition may improve their performance but that’s business isn’t it … competition.  Suck it up.  They may or may not be difficult to replace depending on a number of factors.  But if you are known for people development you are not likely to experience much difficulty.

I have seen so many actions and decisions of businesses that are all about keeping someone in the business.  They just don’t work for the person nor the business.  All decisions and strategies have to be about holistic development and performance, not keeping someone from leaving.  It’s even worse when money is thrown at people to keep them.  Everyone needs money to live but if it’s the reason someone stays with you then be prepared to keep handing it out, to that person and to others.  Wonderful culture (what people do and don’t do) will entice quality people to a business much more than dollars will … and that’s from every study that’s ever been done on the subject.

Go further … make it known to people that, not only do you expect them to leave at some stage but that you will help them.  Before they even start with you, tell them that.  So when the time comes for them to leave they won’t duck off during work hours for interviews and call in sick, behind your back, they will actually tell you they are looking around.  If that sounds bizarre to you, it is bizarre to me that people do the former!  Fancy having someone in your business who goes behind your back to look at other options.  It is the business’s fault that happens because we set the unwritten rule that it is ok to do that.  If you take the approach I am advocating then not only will you know that they are looking around, you will know earlier that they intend to leave rather than the ‘I’m resigning. I’ve got another job.  I’m giving you the required 4 weeks notice (or whatever)”.  How does the latter help a business?  Further, they may or may not leave anyway.   Far better for someone to tell you when they are considering leaving … and they usually take months before they go .. it is then much easier to plan out their exit and replace them.  They may even return to you years down the line having developed themselves further … we should welcome that but not expect it.

If all of this sounds crazy to you, you have been completely sucked into the paradigm of how things work in recruiting, high performance management and retaining staff.  What is the biggest issue businesses face?  Sourcing, attracting and generating high performance in people.  The facts are on my side of the debate.  The traditional ways don’t work because the problem still exists after centuries of facing the problem.  Change the paradigm !  Tell people you expect them to leave at some stage, that you will help them to leave, that you will deal well with it when they indicate they might or are leaving, that they will always be welcome back, and that your whole focus will be on their amazing and total development for the whole time they are with you.  You could even go further and put up front that when they leave you would appreciate their help to replace themselves.

Reread the article if you’re still not convinced.

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