Give ‘em a Reason to Stay

Now that we’ve identified some of the causes of turnover, specifically the reasons great team members leave an organization voluntarily and the high costs associated with that voluntary turnover, and we’ve looked at the extended reach of those costs, let’s get to work at addressing this profitability killer by providing those folks with a reason to stay!

I’m going to base what we’ll be working through as we wrap up this look at the high cost of turnover on a few assumptions. I realize that can be dangerous but it’s a chance I’m willing to take! First, I’m going to assume that the folks who leave our organizations voluntarily have solid skill sets that are important to what we do - otherwise, they either wouldn’t have been with us in the first place OR their departure wouldn’t be voluntary. I’m also going to assume that their overall compensation package is fair, or at least it was at some point. Again, without that ever being the case I’d struggle to think we would have ever had them on the team to begin with. And finally, I’m going to assume that any team members we’re interested in keeping have predominantly good attitudes. There are certainly times where someone with a great skill set and a terrible attitude adds more value by taking their mess to the competition… I’m not suggesting that turnover only kills any of our profitability when all three of these assumptions are correct, but I’d argue it costs us the most when they are!

Without at least a foundation of requisite skills, I can’t point to all that much cost incurred when someone leaves - even if they’re an overwhelmingly great person. Sure we may have had some time and money invested into their onboarding and training but part of a leader’s responsibility in the hiring process is making sure they have an existing set of skills that can translate to what they’ll be doing moving forward. The sooner we identify a mismatch, the better. If that’s after they’ve joined our team, we’d still do well to help them land well with another organization rather than dropping them like a bad habit but choosing not to address the issue won’t serve them or the rest of our team long term. And when we can handle a scenario like this by balancing our candor with care, we’re likely to earn a longstanding relationship with that individual even if they’re not in our organization AND we show the rest of our team that we value individuals over short term profit.

Now let’s consider that third assumption, the good attitude. I realize that losing anyone who’s mastered their craft can be a tough pill to swallow, especially when we have a significant workload and finding anyone with the skills we need has been increasingly difficult; skilled labor shortage anyone…? Sometimes though, having a high performer with a crap attitude can do far more harm than good. I’ve seen solid folks walk away from various companies as they were beginning to really dial things in because a more senior member of the team was just an ass to them on a regular basis. In many cases, that high performer with a bad attitude costs us more than their work earns us and that’s why I suggested that they may be more valuable to us if they worked for our competition!

With regards to that assumption about overall compensation, we do need to keep an eye on the market we’re in. With minimum wage nearly doubling in the last two years or so, coupled with a global pandemic and what appeared to be a huge labor shortage, wage ranges have shifted a lot - and quickly! I’m not about to suggest that we need to throw money at every individual in our organization but we do need to be sure we’re at least in the same ballpark as any other company that might try to lure them away.

When each of those things are in place, making my assumptions at least close to correct, there’s one specific thing we need to be sure we’re providing our best people if we really want to give them a reason to stay; we need to make sure they see purpose in the work they’re doing! When we’ve invested the time upfront to ensure everyone in our organization knows and understands our core values and we’ve been intentional about explaining how the work they do on a daily basis ties directly to the mission and vision of the organization, the sense of purpose a team member has can serve as a strong reason to stick around even through some of the toughest times. 

I believe having and buying into a strong purpose is why so many volunteer their time with various organizations, why so many great men and women have served in the armed forces, and a big part of why folks choose careers in public safety. But let’s be honest, would you or I do what we do if we didn’t find purpose in it? Since that was one of those rhetorical questions, I’ll just add that it’s up to us as leaders to help our team members find that purpose so they do want to stay!

For Different Reasons…

As we’re working to provide our best team members with a reason to stay by fulfilling their need for purpose through the work they do, I’ve never seen this be accomplished more effectively than applying the same idea I referenced to address the high cost of turnover; by breaking the golden rule! But rather than rehashing some of the quick steps we can take to adapt our approach when sharing a message, taking action on The Platinum Rule in these scenarios requires us to do a bit more homework. To be honest though, I’m not sure a leader deserves commitment from great people on their teams if they haven’t been willing to do this simple legwork on the front end; and if they aren’t willing to do that, I’m not sure we should be referring to them as a leader…

The homework I’m suggesting here doesn’t require massive amounts of research. Truth be told, we’ll be able to follow the same basic pattern I outlined before but we will need a bit more time and energy invested in learning what each individual cares most about. Again, if we haven’t already taken that step with our top performers, I’d ask why we really want them to stay… If it’s just for how they impact the bottom line, can we even blame them for considering other options?

 Through my work in behavior-based safety as well as the work Cindy and I have done to help teams integrate The Model of Human Behavior into their organizational culture, I’ve learned that two people can do the exact same thing for VERY different reasons. I work some crazy hours to get the most and the best results I possibly can, and I get fulfillment from seeing the results that I produce help other people. Cindy works equally long hours to help people by providing precise systems they can follow to achieve results.

Here’s where you’re likely asking “Wes, isn’t that the same reason just in a different order?” Well, kinda… But that different order is the exact point I’m driving! When we’re able to differentiate our team members who love helping others get results from the ones who get results to help others, then tailor our communication with each of them in a way that helps define a purpose in their work that means the most to them as individuals, we’ve taken a significant step toward giving their daily routine more meaning but we’ve also shown them that we value them in a way few other employers will ever be able to duplicate - not so much because of the difficulty but because of the intentionality… 

By doing this, we can effectively tie the tasks they perform to a purpose that provides them with fulfillment. And this also helps to connect the dots with how they’re a critical part of something even bigger so let’s wrap up our look at the high turnover profitability killer with that…

Part of Something Bigger!

If we’re serious about giving our best team members a solid reason to stay by providing them with purpose and we’ve invested the energy into understanding the reasons that drive their behavior, we should certainly have a solid foundation. But when we can connect all of that to how each task they engage in ties to something bigger, we have a shot at creating the kind of synergy that few people ever want to leave!

Think about your organization… I’d be willing to bet that there’s a solid, if not majestic, mission statement hanging in a nice frame in your lobby, posted on bulletin boards, and printed in your employee handbook - or at least something similar. I’d also guess there’s a solid vision statement somewhere nearby. And I can’t think of many companies that don’t reference core values, even if those are just talking points covered in periodic meetings…

In a recent conversation with a friend who leads a team of about 100 folks across Virginia, he mentioned that his organization has each of those things in place but he felt like it was tough to measure whether or not his team was achieving them. He also mentioned that he had experienced a few situations where key members of his team struggled to list all the values and recite the mission or vision. I was quick to assure him that this WAS NOT a unique situation and that didn’t mean he had failed as a leader. Quite frankly, I’ve seen this same thing happen in huge companies that have invested big bucks into producing their mission, vision, and values statements just as much as I’ve seen in organizations that don’t have any of these things written down at all.

The most common disconnect I’ve seen driving this has been where team members at any level struggle to understand how what they do, day in and day out, ties directly back to each… My friend and I discussed the need for him, as the leader of that organization, to be intentional and repetitive in defining each of their values. Then as he interacts with any given individual, he can explain how their behaviors exemplify those values and how their work feeds directly back to the organization’s mission and vision. As he does this, he can also be very specific about the measuring targets they’re working to achieve - and still tying those back to the mission, vision, and values!

As we wrapped up the brief conversation, he felt like he had a specific plan of action he could use to begin measuring whether or not his team truly was accomplishing their mission and vision. I agree with him 100%, but I also believe that doing this will provide each member of his team with something even more valuable; I believe it shows them how their individual efforts contribute to something far bigger than just themselves! 

If we’ve already helped them find individual purpose and we’ve learned what drives them more than anything else, developing this sense of being part of a higher calling builds engagement and unity that can withstand some of the toughest times in even the most taxing roles! This can be significant in addressing how poor employee engagement kills profitability but before we look at that specifically, we’ll work through how we can effectively handle a profitability killer that lives in high recruiting costs! Stay tuned…