Retention – Are we asking the wrong questions?


Stephen Covey said: “If the ladder is not leaning against the right wall, every step we take just gets us to the wrong place faster.” The “right wall” being a metaphor for our most important goal.


In a recent group mentoring session, we were discussing a question one of us had raised. We didn’t seem to be getting to answers that satisfied the asker. Then the chair said: “I think we’re asking the wrong question” and restated the issue from a new perspective. It was an “Ah ha” moment for us all. It reframed our thinking from “how do I …” to “why do I … and what could I do instead?” It moved us to an outcome focus, because we were immediately able to see this ladder was leaning on the wrong wall!


The incident prompted me to think about questions clients have been asking me about retaining talent.


The prospects are not good. Deloitte’s global research[i] shows that 50% of millennials plan to move jobs within 2 years and only 20% plan to stay more than 5 years. This is disturbing, given that young professional are a rapidly growing proportion of the workforce, expected to be 75% by 2025.


However, the problem is not restricted to younger workers. Overall turnover was 18.7% in 2008. After the global financial crisis dropping to a low of 14.4% in 2011, it was 16.7% in 2015. In some industries turnover is much higher. Hospitality tops the list at 25.9%[ii].


There is no doubt turnover is costly. It is distressing when organisations invest in expensive recruitment, onboarding and training, only to see people leave. There is plenty of data about what people want – and here’s a surprise, millennials want pretty much the same as Gen X and Boomers[iii].


But I am wondering, are we resisting the inevitable, trying to turn back a rising tide, asking the wrong question? Perhaps we could accept a 2-5 year horizon on retention. Rather than how do we keep them longer, would the better question be: how do we ensure that while they are with us they are passionate about their job, committed to the organization and put discretionary effort into their work?


Passion for the job, commitment to the organization and discretionary effort is the definition of employee engagement, which is statistically linked to every bottom-line measure of success – including retention. It also means that if we can engage employees, they will add more value while they are with us, for however long that might be.


Reframing the question allows us to focus on real, practical and proven things we can do. After all, not every organization can afford free lunches, in-house gyms and every Friday afternoon off.


What can we do? Like most issues, there is no single answer, but in this case there is one big one. We certainly need to have well-defined roles, clear expectations and meaningful work so people can see how they contribute. Employees need to feel proud of where they work, so a mission they can relate to is important. They want a work culture that focusses on its people and society and provides opportunities for them to develop.


But the big one? It’s leadership. An immediate manager who consistently engages the individual to achieve excellence. That means a manager who mentors and coaches his or her team-members, who provides strengths-based development and alignment to the team and organization purpose.


Gallup’s research shows that managers account for 70% of variance in employee engagement[iv] and with employee engagement world wide at just 13% there is plenty of room for improvement.


So the real question might be: how do we help managers get better at mentoring and coaching their people?


[i] https://www2.deloitte.com/au/en/pages/media-releases/articles/50-percent-millennials-plan-to-move-jobs-within-two-years-090216.html


[ii] http://www.compensationforce.com/2016/04/2015-turnover-rates-by-industry.html


[iii] https://hbr.org/2016/04/what-do-millennials-really-want-at-work


[iv] http://www.gallup.com/businessjournal/182792/managers-account-variance-employee-engagement.aspx?g_source=70%25+variance+in+employee+engagement+managers&g_medium=search&g_campaign=tiles



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About Ann Rolfe

Ann Rolfe is internationally recognised as Australia's leading specialist in mentoring, and is available for speaking, training and consulting. Here Ann shares her knowledge and allows you to ask your most pressing questions about mentoring.

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