When Do You Start Thinking About Retention?

It’s that time of the year when companies start thinking about retention. Bonuses are being paid, merit increases are happening, and promotions are announced. And, for those that track attrition rates, many see a spike in the next couple of months. If you are just now starting to worry about your employees leaving, then you’re already too late. Those just waiting for their bonus have been checked out for awhile and have been interviewing ever since.
Part of the problem of retention strategies is that we think of them as a program or HR “flavor of the month” projects. These should not be considered a once or twice a year event. Good retention strategies aren’t reactionary and they shouldn’t be treated like a program. They should be the fabric of every culture. And, it’s really not a strategy, it’s a principle. Retention principles are pretty simple. They rely on trust between the employee and their people manager and others in the organization.
One typical retention strategy is the exit interview. While there is some good information to gather from exit interviews, this process puts a focus on people who have already chosen to leave the organization. In many cases, data gathered may not be valid because exiting employees may not be willing to share their true reasons for leaving the organization. Or, when there is some negative feedback, many leaders are quick to dismiss as they feel the employee was probably disgruntled.
Building strong retention principles take time. Imagine taking the questions and conversations we have with our exiting employees and asking them those same questions before they leave. These are typically called “stay interviews.” Again, I view these similar to the exit interviews. They are programs designed to stop attrition. I love the concept of the stay interview and I think these should be done all the time. We may we run into the same validity question, but e may have some time to uncover some misunderstandings before it’s too late. 
Imagine having a such a trusting relationship with your employees that you could have honest dialogue around questions like this:
  • What are the frustrating parts of your job that make you want to return those 8 LinkedIn InMails you receive weekly from the competition?
  • How often do those frustrating times occur?
  • What parts of your job make you excited to want to come to work?
  • When do you feel valued? What does that look like?

I have a vision of the ideal employee/employer situation. An employee and her people manager would be able to have open honest dialogue about career aspirations. They would have frequent conversations about the challenges of the role and what keeps them engaged. They’d be able to agree on where the company can take them and what are some of the limits. And, when the time comes for an employee to move on, or they feel they can no longer grow, both would amicably agree and work on helping get to the next best opportunity. That opportunity could be within or outside of the organization. We shouldn’t expect every employee to want to retire from our organization. But we should expect that when they are here, they are growing, feeling valued, and are able to show up as their best selves.

I realize this seems like a “pie in the sky” vision. This is tough to accomplish, though, when we use phrases like, “war for talent” and treat the recruiting process like a battle. Or, we don’t treat employees with respect or celebrate their accomplishments when they do decide to leave. We treat employees as numbers on an org chart and expect them to only play one role. Employees expect their employers to map everything out for them. This is a two-way street. Both need to work together to identify what works best for the employee and the employer. Employees need to take ownership of their career and work with their employer to see how they can make this happen. If these visions don’t align, then maybe it’s time to move on. And, that’s o.k.
Each organization needs to define what retention is to them. How long is long enough and how long do you expect your employees to stay? Based on your industry or the type of work you do, what is an acceptable attrition rate? This will be unique to each organization. Find out what that is and embrace it. Make sure your employees are leaving and staying for all the right reasons.
So, when do you start thinking about retention? Day one.
Originally posted on the John P. Hudson Blog.
The SHRM Blog does not accept solicitation for guest posts.

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