When I think about employee retention, I always come back to the story of a professional I know who kept a list at her desk of all the employees who came in and out of her 18-person department over the course of three years. She puts the number at 68 and she has the names to prove it. Of course, even that number is conservative—it took a few months of her just observing the revolving door before she even decided to start her list.
If the first time you think about employee retention is after you hire someone, you are bringing that person into your company through a revolving door. An organization’s retention efforts are just as much about hiring and onboarding people as they are about how to treat people once they’re hired. Here are five easy things your company can do to attract and retain the right employees.
1. Ditch the old job postings.
It’s crazy to think you will inspire the right people to apply for your jobs if your job postings are…well, uninspiring. Too often companies try to make their internal job descriptions double as job postings on career sites and job boards. Passionate, talented people are not moved by lengthy job postings with an endless series of “responsibilities/duties include” statements. Write job postings that tell a clear and compelling story about the meaningful work the person hired will perform and how that work will impact the organization and its stakeholders. A good posting will have some emotional appeal. If you want employees who are going to be excited ’til the end, start by getting them excited in the beginning.
2. Keep it real in your recruitment process.
Still asking candidates to tell you about their weaknesses or where they plan to be in five years? Unfortunately those kinds of intrusive questions from the company’s 20-page interview guide don’t advance the conversation. What you really want to know is whether or not candidates are truly the phenomenal professionals described on their resumes. And what candidates really want to know is whether or not your company is truly the awesome organization described on your website. Make sure every candidate conversation addresses three things: what your company wants to accomplish with this position, what the candidate wants to accomplish in their next position and how those two things align. Be candid and specific about workload, expectations, compensation and culture. You’d rather have candidates opt out now when you share the truth as opposed to having employees resign later when they learn the truth.
3. Realize that retention isn’t everything.
Your business doesn’t grow based on how long employees stay, it grows based on what they do while they’re there. Since you already know that nobody—including you—is going to stay forever, don’t stress out about whether an employee stays for 3.8 years as opposed to 2.9 years. Instead use outcomes as the focus of your retention efforts. An employee who accomplishes 98% of their goals produces more for the company in 4 years than an employee who accomplishes 75% of their goals produces for the company in 5 years. In this case, time is not on your side, but results are. Remember that when it comes to retention, less (tenure) is sometimes more.
4. Don’t stop the conversation.
If you really want to know what an employee is thinking, just ask once in a while. During the interview process, every conversation with candidates is used as an opportunity to gauge their sentiments about the position and the company. But once they are hired, they might receive an engagement survey once per year. Your company’s onboarding process should include regular check-ins with employees through at least the first year on the job. Find out if the position is what the employee expected, if the company is what the employee expected, how the employee is adjusting to the company culture, how the employee likes the coffee in the break room…you get the picture. Regular check-ins build rapport and trust and give you an early opportunity to address any concerns that might otherwise contribute to a great employee’s decision to jump ship. Above all, don’t be shy about asking any one of your most valuable employees to stick around—not for longer tenure, but for meaningful work. A great retention conversation can start as easily as this: “You have reached nearly every goal we hired you to accomplish and we would love for you to stay and accomplish even more. What would you like to do next?” Then, pause and listen.
5. Help them grow or help them go.
Without professional development, your employees aren’t improving or innovating and neither is your company. And when your employees feel like they are stagnant and also working for a stagnant company, resignation becomes an attractive option. If employees can see that you are investing in their futures, they are more likely to spend that future with you. Yes, professional development can cost (gasp) money for things like tuition reimbursement, national conferences in Vegas or professional association dues. But if cash is tight, you can still support your employees’ development by simply providing mentorship and stretch assignments and helping them build strong professional networks. If you can’t (or aren’t willing) to help employees develop, then have the professional courage to help them leave, whether that means leaving your team or leaving the organization.
These employee retention efforts do not require massive organizational change or substantial financial obligation; however, they do require candor, trust and reciprocity throughout the life cycle of your relationship with employees. And if you don’t have those things, it’s best that you don’t stay together anyway.
In my next post, I’ll discuss a different angle on this issue and explain why every employee needs to quit eventually.