Please, Never Leave Me! How an Insistence on Retention Limits Organizational Growth

April 17, 2017 | Taryn Stejskal | HCI
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Job Hopping is the New Normal

The relationships we form with our employers are characterized by deep and intimate ties. As with many relationships, all are not forever. For a variety of reasons, there comes a time to sever ties and to go our separate ways.

“We cannot become what we want to be by remaining what we are.” Max DePree

Many years ago, it was not uncommon for a person to join a company, move up through the ranks, and retire from the same corporation some 30 years later (with a gold watch and a full corporate pension).

Today, organizations continue to hold on to the past, conflating a lifetime of service with success. Yet, recent data indicates that the average person will change jobs as many as 12 times, with many holding 15-20 jobs over the lifespan of their career. As an increasingly mobile society, we are “uncoupling” from our employers with greater frequency and regularity. Yet, shorter tenures should not be viewed as a failure; with every ending, there is also a new beginning.

Love ‘Em and Let ‘Em Leave

“Change cannot and will not happen overnight. But the intent to evolve will produce opportunities for growth.” Robert D. Hart

There is a (significantly overlooked) upside to attrition. An employee’s decision to voluntarily leave is not a sign of decay; it is an opportunity for the enterprise’s continued development.  The occasion to engage new talent brings a fresh perspective, reducing the likelihood of myopic, entrenched thinking. Talent from other organizations and industries bring novel viewpoints, cross-pollination of ideas, innovation, and new skills, knowledge, and abilities.

If a job is more of a jaunt and less of a journey, how can organizations attract and engage quality talent, even if their relationship is not a long-term commitment?

  • The best leaders are net promoters of talent: The human inclination is to cling to top talent. Paradoxically, limited mobility puts high performers at risk. Support leadership in being net exporters of talent across the organization instead of net hoarders of talent within their teams.
  • Be opportunistic: Recently, an open position with a large body of work went unfilled for several months. Rather than allowing those deliverables to languish, we parsed up the responsibilities to several employees. They received new experiences and moved the business initiatives forward until a full-time replacement could be found.
  • Focus on engagement: Happy and healthy employees, regardless of tenure, create satisfied clients and customers. The Harvard Business Review (HBR) article “Competing on Analytics” found that, for Best Buy, a 0.1 percent increase in employee engagement in a particular store yielded $100,000. As with customers, the best employees are the ones you already have.
  • Create a series of experiences: Rather than a lifetime commitment, many job seekers perceive a position as a discrete experience, an opportunity to try something new. A recent survey of workers found more than 80 percent leave jobs for more interesting work. Keep talent invested by leveraging rotational programs, mini experiences, short-term and stretch assignments to accelerate skills, knowledge, and abilities.

Don’t Be Afraid to Commit

Rather than assuming a person who changes jobs regularly is disloyal, inpatient, and difficult to please, recognize that high-potential people often change jobs in order to gain new experiences and further their development.

Think of the Golden State Warriors: Would you rather have Stephen Curry, one of the best shooters in NBA history on your team for a year or his team mate, Anderson Varejao for five years? Anderson who? Exactly.