Pay Attention to Retention

Last updated on May 13th, 2019 at 02:37 pm

My top finance guy just gave me a month’s notice! I’ve got to start the hiring process all over again and do his job plus mine until I get someone on board and trained. There goes my summer!”

This is an all too familiar lament I hear from my coaching clients who are business owners. The cost of turnover goes way beyond the owner’s messed up golf season. Once it is calculated, it’s usually higher than we thought. And it is more important than ever that you do have a system for calculating the cost and rate of turnover in your organization.

As the employee/company relationship becomes increasingly complicated, the old retention strategies aren’t working. Savvy business owners are giving as much attention to employee satisfaction as to customer satisfaction. How employees measure value is just as complex and individualized and changing, as how customers do.

Employees used to have the highest priority on performance pay, then job security. But however they measure it, employees are now looking for something more from their work, and in this era they are often looking for a better quality of life on the job.

In this decade most of the research – and data emerging from my practice –  suggests that quality of life at work is often high when employees feel known and cared for by the boss. They don’t get the impression that the boss sees them as filling a slot, a nameless slug. They also value acknowledgement, a sense their efforts are seen and appreciated. Thirdly, the caliber of people you want on your team will always be those who want to learn and grow.

Attention to retention begins way before an employee signs on. When resumes are stacking up on your desk, do everything you can to figure out if the candidate’s values are a fit for your culture. If he or she excelled in a highly competitive dog-eat-dog environment, and your organization is built on teamwork, it might not be a match that will last.

Once hired, the early days are vitally important to the quality of relationship with the company. You wouldn’t

believe the stories I hear about new recruits being welcomed with fanfare, then left to learn the organization on their own. Even worse are the stories about conversations over lunch or coffee, where the new person gets all the scuttlebutt about the “good and bad” people to align with in the organization.

These first weeks need strategies that prepare the new hire to succeed in the environment and to feel he or she has made a great choice in joining your team. This is the time for many if not all team members to be involved in a positive, helpful mode. It is also the time for you to be having clear and ongoing conversations about performance expectations, about the new person’s early experiences within your company, and offering any other support that proves that you walk your talk.

After the “settling in” period, the employee will strengthen ties to your organization when opportunities for professional development are available and in sync with his or her career goals. It is a win-win situation as the employee hones new skills and develops talents. This is just as important when the employee has been with you for years—maybe more so. A new challenge in alignment with the employee’s interests and goals can be a powerful antidote to burnout. Use care in investing in canned programs that might only address a sliver of the person’s needs. Tuition reimbursement or one-on-one executive coaching might be highly valued.

Even in organizations with the best retention practices, a star will occasionally leave. Often we lose an employee and it isn’t about us, it’s about a yen to change zip codes, or industries, or fulfill that dream to raise sheep in Utah. (Of course you knew about that dream because you care about your employees’ dreams!)

We need though, to pay close attention to the frequency of exits, and learn everything we can about the reasons people leave. I think the practice of really squeezing worth out of exit interviews is rare. Those interviews, as well as the ones preceding hiring, are relationship-building opportunities for one thing. What do you want your former employees thinking and saying about your organization? What can you learn that will reduce turnover? What kind of documentation is needed for exit interviews?

It might take some time and effort to make changes within your company that will improve the likelihood of retaining your best employees. I can’t imagine that it is not worth it.

As Mary Kay Ash said and implemented as part of her huge success story:

“People are definitely a company’s greatest asset. It doesn’t make any difference whether the product is cars or cosmetics. A company is only as good as the people it keeps.”

Jo Hawkins Donovan has a coaching and psychotherapy firm in Whitefish Bay. She can be reached at (414) 332-0300 or at The firm’s Web site is

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