Retaining Top Talent, Part 4 of The Ultimate Guide to People

Mar 29, 2018 | The ONE Thing | 0 comments

So you’ve recruited, onboarded and managed your employees. Now it’s time to protect your investment.

Some industries have regular employee turnover rates of 30 to 40 percent. We don’t want you to follow that trend. However, our goal isn’t to help you get to a zero percent churn rate either. It’s important to give the people who don’t fit or aren’t working out an exit. If your business is a garden, in order for it to flourish, the weeds have to be culled out. The goal is to have a retention rate that keeps your business growing.

In a Harvard Business Review article  human resources and retention, Josh Bersin explains that “employees are assets that offer more value to their companies over time.” When a company loses an employee, it’s also losing the knowledge, skills, trust and team dynamics they’ve helped create.

Some may think that losing an employee isn’t a problem we should be concerned about. But that’s a costly mistake. Stakeholders can lose anywhere from 6 to 24 months of their ex-employee’s salary. For someone making $50,000 a year, the cost of losing an employee ranges between $25,000 and $100,000.

It’s not just about the money, time is lost as well. Think about all of the man hours required to find, hire, onboard and train replacement talent. That’s a lot of lost productivity. In fact, Bersin says it can take a new employee up to two years “to reach the same level of productivity as an existing staff member.”

Moreover, it’s important to consider how frequent turnover impacts the morale of your organization. There’s no telling how each employee impacts the culture of your organization, and their loss may lead to the loss of even more talent.

If you have retention problems, then it’s time to turn a corner. Put the following protocols into place and lower your churn rate. You’ll have a happier, more productive – and certainly more successful – work force on your hands.

Why People Quit

There are a ton of common misunderstandings out there on why people quit their jobs. Ever hear the adage “People don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses?” While quips like these might ring true, they don’t always paint the whole picture.

A team at Facebook worked with Adam Grant to understand why employees leave their jobs. While employees were more likely to leave if their manager was bad, the most people who left their jobs were actually happy with their boss. What they weren’t happy with was their work. The biggest factor in play here was actually whether or not an employee felt like their strengths were being used and if they felt like they were growing within their careers.

If we want our employees to stay, we need to provide them with opportunities that play to their strengths. We need to help them grow.

Signs of Stagnation

Churn happens in all seasons of your business. However, it is more likely to occur at specific times in both your business’ lifecycle and in the ups and downs of your employees’ lives. In times of economic stress, internal tension, or organizational upheaval, you may have more employees feeling like they need to abandon ship because they’re not sailing anywhere.

According to Jean Martin, executive director of CEB’s Human Resource practice, employee churn happens when employees’ expectations don’t meet their reality. The dreaded realization of not being where they hoped to be or failing to measure up to their peers can be devastating.

Brian Kropp, an HR practice leader, says it’s easy to predict when these thoughts arise:

“Work anniversaries (whether of joining the company or of moving into one’s current role) are natural times for reflection, and job-hunting activity jumps by 6% and 9%, respectively, at those points. But other data reveals factors that have nothing directly to do with work. For instance, birthdays—particularly midlife milestones such as turning 40 or 50—can prompt employees to assess their careers and take action if they’re unhappy with the results. (Job hunting jumps 12% just before birthdays.) Large social gatherings of peers, such as class reunions, can also be catalysts—they’re natural occasions for people to measure their progress relative to others’. (Job hunting jumps 16% after reunions.) Kropp says, “The big realization is that it’s not just what happens at work—it’s what happens in someone’s personal life that determines when he or she decides to look for a new job.”

When these big events occur, it’s important to jump ahead of things and frame the conversation in a positive light.

Your employees should feel empowered, trusted and needed. And above all, they should understand their trajectory and how you play a role in their path for achievement. Below, we’ll walk you through all of the steps to making that happen.

Retention 101

In this section we’ll cover the four essentials for retaining your beloved employees:

  1. Taking on The Two E’s
  2. Recognizing Achievement
  3. Conducting Surveys
  4. Holding Exit Interviews


  1. Taking on The Two E’s

When tackling your turnover, remember the Two E’s: Engagement and Education. When employees are engaged and continue their education, their potential feels limitless. They’re more productive, valuable and motivated to their job, and do it well. And that makes them more likely to stick around.

Engaging Employees

When employees are engaged in their work, special things happen. (The problem is that, according to Gallup, only 15% of employees are actually engaged.)

Weekly 411 meetings are a great way to engage your employees. It shows that you’re there for them. It also helps you to keep your employees accountable to hitting personal and professional goals. The best way to engage your employees is to find out what matters to them and to help them achieve it.

Establishing a mentorship program could be a great opportunity to provide much needed engagement, support, and accountability all while creating a more cohesive workforce. You can catalyze this process through the 411 meetings. These meetings are basically a template for mentorship as they offer a specific time to reflect on successes and failures.

As mentioned previously, interviewing your employees regularly and often is an important part of retention. Schedule them far in advance and be serious about making it a priority. Have a regular cadence, like meeting every Monday morning. When you sit down you’re your employees to talk about their goals, progress, and roadblocks, take the time to dig in to how they are feeling. Here at The ONE Thing, when we have our weekly meetings, we always sit down and discuss our personal projects and struggles first before we launch into talk about the business. This really opens everyone up to get vulnerable and real and can often reveal a lot about how that employee is doing emotionally. Have an employee whose mother is ill? Ask her how it is going and what she is struggling with. Have another employee who is helping a friend with a side-hustle? Ask about lessons-learned and their surprises along the way.

Employee engagement comes down to the relationships your employees build while at work. Remember Julius Caesar’s struggle we spoke about in our recruiting post? That’s exactly the type of culture we do not want to build. When Gallup measures employee engagement, they ask people whether or not they have a best friend at work. Whether or not an employee has a friend at work is a good indicator of whether or not they’re engaged in their work. And overall, they make for better employees.

In a survey conducted by O.C. Tanner, a global employee recognition company, researchers found that 72 percent of employees with a best friend at work are satisfied with their jobs, compared to only half of those who don’t. Only half of those who don’t are satisfied.  Moreover, they’re more productive. Employees with best friends were more likely to feel like they could take on greater challenges compared to those who didn’t.

One way to encourage relationships within your office is to make it a fun place to be. Work can become mundane. If you’ve seen NBC’s The Office, you’ve seen how boring work leads to dispirited employees, dull days and in the case of Jim and Dwight – pranking.

Nearly two decades of research has found that when workplaces make fun a priority, their employees become happier and feel more satisfied. Play in the workplace is important because it invites excitement, laughter, and the ability to be goofy. It also allows creative freedom and a jolt to the immune system. Bring play to your office by providing time for your team to bond.

Educating Employees

Studies show that when you allow, encourage and provide opportunities for your employees to be lifelong learners, they will feel happier. When they acquire new skills, their self-esteem will get a boost which will help keep them motivated and curious. Provide trainings, seminars of interest and schedule stimulating speakers. If you have the means, provide a stipend for your employees to take part in outside learning opportunities to improve their skills.


2. Recognizing Achievements

Establishing an employee recognition program is a great way to show your employees just how much you care for them.

Here at Keller Williams, named by Forbes as the happiest place to work in 2018, we view our employee recognition program as a crucial piece to our success. We have a monthly “all-hands” meeting where we recognize the efforts of both teams and individuals alike. CEO John Davis speaks in front of the entire company, acknowledging individual’s efforts with a “brick” that adds to the company’s symbolic “wall of value” that they can display on their desk for everyone to see. All employees are also allowed to contribute to a practice called “bucket fills” where anyone can stand up and call out a team or individual for doing something great. We all love these sessions because we get a chance to both give and receive gratitude.

The practice is backed up by good science, too. It’s proven that “even employees who haven’t been dubbed high potentials work harder in a place where good things happen to those who deserve them.” So, when employees see everyone else getting recognized and thanked for their participation, they will want to take part in the celebration as well.

However, not every employee likes to be publically acknowledged. Different people have different personalities and may find the idea of being recognized for their work in front of their peers as off-putting. When you’re engaging your employees during your 411 meetings, make a point to ask them how they’d like to be recognized and take note.

  1. Conducting Surveys

If you are regularly using a 411, GPS and are goal-setting with your employees, then you should have a good feel for the pulse of that employee’s experiences within the organization. However, you won’t always be sure how your employees are feeling. Sometimes it’s not the best place to formally gauge the psyche of your employees and their experience at work.

That’s where survey’s come into play.

Surveys are a great method of measuring the emotions in your workplace, and they can happen in one of two ways: Anonymously or Named.

There are pros and cons for both sides of the argument.

If you allow anonymity in your surveys, your employees may be more open and vulnerable about their problems. They may feel like they can speak more candidly without fear of retribution. On the other hand, anonymous surveys could lead people down rabbit holes of warrantless bashing. This might lead to exaggerations that could inflame problems unnecessarily. Another con of the anonymous survey is that once you receive a complaint, it is hard to actualize a plan of remediation because, quite simply, you don’t know where it came from. When your organization is big, this could lead to a serious issue — and you may just have to do a huge overall and disrupt variables that are working in the process.

Named surveys have their own pros and cons. On the plus side, when people put their names on a problem, it relieves the friction of solving issues. You have the ability to know exactly where the problem is and can attack it head on. The cons of named surveys are pretty obvious: people are afraid to be brutally honest. This is obviously very detrimental to the long-term health and happiness of your company.

We see it as a chicken or the egg type of problem. You want a company where people feel free to share their grievances, but in order to do that, you need to put a scaffolding in place to allow them to be open. But, they won’t open up unless they feel safe doing it. A way to get yourself out of this pickle is by simply running head-first into the problem.

Named surveys can be a fantastic first-step approach to starting your organization out on becoming less opaque. We recommend named surveys because it helps your team understand that you have an open, collaborative, and understanding culture. You want to hear your team members’ true opinions. This might help increase visibility in your organization and catalyze people to come forward with their issues long before they become an irreversible problem.

If you want to go one step further, our second recommendation is hiring an outside, independent third party to survey your employees. Third-party auditing is a great way to show your employees how committed you are to their cares and concerns. (And they’re really great at making vile responses more digestible.)


4. Holding Exit Interviews

Many sources argue that exit interviews are a necessary part of preventing churn. You should always hold exit interviews. Try to meet face-to-face and schedule the appointment in advance so that your soon to be ex-employee understands they must attend and that you truly care.

Try to keep emotion out of the conversation. Although this might be an awkward interaction, it certainly doesn’t have to be. When all else fails, just keep it professional.

There are some specific questions you shouldn’t forget to ask:

“Why are you leaving?”

“How could we have improved?”

“What are your sentiments about working here?”

“Would you recommend this company to others? Why or why not?”

“What are we as a company doing right?”

“Did you have any wishes or ideas for improvement that were never implemented?”

There are some questions you should avoid. These fall into the “gossip” category. Do not ask the ex-employee to “rat” on other employees.

While we agree with making exit interviews a part of your company culture, we find them lacking for one key reason: they are reactive. We want you to be proactive. We don’t want you to get to the point where you are conducting an exit interview with a great employee you wish would have stayed.

By having consistent conversations about how your employee is doing, you will mitigate against a flood of issues that finally come to light once that employee decides enough is enough.

You deserve to retain your beloved employees, but you will have to work for it. Here at The ONE Thing, we think that being successful at employee retention is a proactive, rather than reactive pursuit. If you are reacting to your employees’ needs and complaints, then you may be too late to save them. If you can shift your mindset to thinking about retention in terms of taking a daily vitamin, then hopefully you won’t have to start feeding your company aspirin when it starts to fall apart. Have any tips you’ve found in your journey that you would like to share? Talk to us on Facebook!