Stayers, Leavers, and Intentions

A month ago, I attended and co-facilitated a workshop with the goal of building manager retention. While many of these leadership roles have significant experience and technical requirements, it’s striking how the challenges, barriers, and solutions for building retention cut across job levels and industries.

Notice that the workshop focused on retention – not turnover. Many people assume they are the same – that’s the first mistake. The drivers of retention are different from turnover: both should be viewed and analyzed separately. When you get down to it, both retention and turnover are about those who stay (stayers) and those who leave (leavers).

Retention = Increasing Stayers – and Changing WHAT and HOW You Think

Too often, we hear about companies trying to control turnover and reducing the many damaging, and often difficult to measure, costs that come with it. It’s the same story over and over – you hire a great person, only to see them leave before they became a key contributor. Some like to assign blame toward the hiring process itself – “It’s hard to find good people.” That’s hot garbage. Their problem isn’t finding good people, it’s keeping them. YOU set the tone for the experience they will have as a member of your team and organization, causing them to stay or eventually walk out the door. It’s one thing to get the right person in the door, but it’s another thing to provide them with ample opportunities to learn, develop, make mistakes and ask questions, and be successful.

The experience YOU provide for your employees is the bottom line that ultimately drives their decision to stay or move on to the next employer. This experience and these opportunities are the key differentiators between taking a proactive, as opposed to reactive, approach to investing in your people. If you spend all of your time thinking about how to control turnover, you’ve already lost the game by being reactive. Instead, be proactive – re-frame controlling turnover instead as earning retention and the active loyalty, commitment, and trust of your people.

A Job that Everyone Wants

While there is a degree of overlap, the assumption that the drivers of intentions to stay and intentions to leave are identical is inaccurate. The reasons people stick around are largely independent of the reasons people move to the next job. For example, Garfield may choose to stay at his job because of the great relationship he has with his supervisor and coworkers; however, Odie may stick around because of pay, benefits, and a flexible schedule. At the end of the day, you can’t buy the commitment or loyalty of your employees. What you can do, however, is provide an experience for Garfield and Odie them that is second to none within your industry. This means delivering that three characteristics that universally make a great job – one that everyone wants:

1. Meaning – It’s not rocket science that employees want to feel that their work itself is meaningful and that it’s driving some greater outcome where they get to see the end result. Employees must feel that what they are doing each day is worthwhile and providing a measurable, and sometimes immeasurable, value that matches what they see as important. A great job consistently delivers what we value.

2. Autonomy – Simply meaning the discretion and freedom we have over doing our job and executing the tasks and responsibilities tied to it. We often consider autonomy only when thinking of managers and executives, but frontline, entry-level employees need autonomy to thrive and develop. Often your strongest performers, and those with drive and a strong sense of responsibility, most value the opportunity to perform tasks using their own efforts and ideas, while of course following operational guidelines and seeking support as needed.

3. Feedback – Receiving consistent feedback on our performance and where we are headed is a solid predictor of retention and engagement across jobs. Shocking, right? Much of the time, we don’t know how we are doing unless someone takes the time to give us feedback. Providing feedback that is clear, constructive, and timely builds the commitment and loyalty we strive to attain. Even if employees learn they are falling short of expectations, feedback gives them the opportunity to improve – or potentially plan their next transition to a role where they can thrive. Managers and employees being on the same page about performance gives both the stability needed to foster commitment.

Having a lot of #2 and #3 builds trust – key to earning the commitment and loyalty of your people, which means they are more likely to stick around longer and build key business results. When you don’t have your employees’ trust, or have lost it over time, you have in fact lost. As a result, you’re going to be seeing a lot more leavers.

So, there you have it. That’s all you need to do in order to increase the number of stayers, reduce the number of leavers, and build trust in your organization. Or is it?

Driving Intentions and Loyalty: Beyond the Job

The job is part of the solution. But what about culture? More often than not, leavers depart because of their manager or leadership, as opposed to the job itself. And guess what? Leadership has control over and drives the culture of the organization, in addition to numbers 1, 2, and 3 we just discussed in the previous section. This impacts employees’ intentions to stay, leave, perform, and even refer new business.

Beyond the job itself, delivering a consistent, compelling, and positive employee experience through your culture translates to employees who: (1) Consistently perform beyond expectations; (2) Stay with your organization long-term; and (3) Recommend the organization to friends and family as a place to work and/or do business.

Loyalty is fostered when employees are treated like team members whose contributions are valued. One piece of the puzzle is having that meaningful component to the job itself, but another piece is treating employees in such a way so that they truly FEEL valued, irrespective of feelings derived from the job itself. It’s the simple principle that people are most likely to value the relationships that value them – thus creating feelings of belonging and significance across all employees in the organization. Employees will feel little, and likely zero, commitment toward their organization if they cannot see any meaning or impact to their involvement in it. This is where culture plays a major role. People want to be part of a culture that has a reputation for excellence and where they help drive that reputation and the key reasons for the organization’s existence.

What does this mean for Leadership?

A culture as the one described above requires leaders to consistently communicate and execute the mission, vision, and core values of the organization – and ensure they are understood, valued, and owned by all employees.

The bottom line is that earning loyalty requires delivering a consistent, intentional, and positive work experience where employees understand and uphold the organization’s culture and values; that they themselves feel valued; that they are able to recognize the fruits of their labor; and that they have ample opportunity to grow and develop within the organization.

Providing your people with an opportunity that delivers meaning, autonomy, and feedback in ways that build your culture, and providing them with continual opportunities to grow, develop, and thrive are all critical for earning their trust. Once that is earned, loyalty and commitment follow, and you wind up with more stayers than leavers.

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