5 Proactive Turnover Prevention Strategies

Retention starts before an employee even looks for another job. Too many managers are surprised when someone says “I quit,” but who’s fault is that? It’s the manager’s fault because they did not create a safe enough environment to have open communications, thereby avoiding an employee surprising their boss by suddenly leaving. It’s unfortunate for everyone involved when organizational goals and customers take the brunt of the fallout from employee departures.  

The challenge is often rooted in how companies approach retention — reactively. Retention issues are ignored until the company suspects an employee might bail, at which point it’s addressed by offering the employee some kind of enticement to stay, but then it’s back to business as usual. This approach might work in the short-run, but it does nothing to cultivate longer-term loyalty.

A better approach is to address retention proactively, as a strategic issue. Here are five strategies to proactively combat turnover.

1. Hire loyal employees.
The pressure’s on from Day One in a high performance environment. While some people thrive under pressure, others will definitely falter. Elissa Tucker, Human Capital Management Knowledge Specialist at APQC, says the first thing leading organizations are doing to curtail this type of turnover is a focus on “hiring loyal employees.” Besides the obvious three to five years’ tenure in a similar role, Tucker suggests working with your managers and top performers to identify what backgrounds, skills, or personality characteristics your retainable employees have in common.

2. Plan careers, don’t fill roles.
Are you hiring the next employee of the year or your back-up? The answer is yes. They need to do the job they are hired to do uber-successfully and be capable of competencies to do another job as well. We should always be hiring with an eye toward long-range development, as well as job performance. Your top performers are thinking about their career, and you should be too. “Best-practice organizations work to help individuals plan to stay with the organization — to plan their careers with the organization,” says Tucker. The key is to guide your employees in mapping out how they can attain their career goals within your company.

3. Make retention personal.
Every employee is motivated by different things, and retention strategies thus need to be tailored down to the individual level. Steve Miranda, Managing Director of the Center for Advanced Human Resource Studies, Cornell University ILR School, says, “The key phrase is specialized efforts.” Successful organizations, he says, don’t view retention initiatives as ‘one size fits all.’ Instead, they’re making retention strategies personal. How? By simply asking, “What motivates you?” You may be surprised to find that monetary incentives are low on the list of responses you get. These days, “A” players are more concerned with challenging work, personal and professional growth opportunities, work/life balance, and workplace flexibility.

4. Get to the heart of underperformance.
Underperformance happens, and you don’t want to lose employees who were previously strong performers. If you notice a drop in performance, Miranda advises against writing them off without first getting to the heart of the issue. Miranda, broke underperformance down into a few root causes:

  • Skill and competency issues often come up when someone’s been promoted into a role they weren’t quite ready for. Fortunately these can be addressed with coaching and training–and usually for a fraction of the cost of replacing an employee.
  • Behavioral issues are usually more difficult. “If it’s a behavior issue,” Miranda says “identify the source of the issue to get an idea of whether it’s something worth investing the time and effort in.”
  • Personal issues are a leading cause of burnout among top performers. Things come up (divorce, health issues, mortgage issues, etc.), and can distract employees from their work and affect their ability to deliver. In these cases, a little support and flexibility will go a long way toward cultivating loyalty.

You may uncover trends in underperformance that you can use to your benefit. Are employees bored with the work? Are people burning out after six months? This kind of feedback is vital to the refined people process that supports success and curtails turnover.

5. Invest in your line managers.
“Employees don’t quit jobs,” says Miranda. “They quit managers.” He estimates that 80 percent of turnover is driven by the environment a manager creates for an employee (compared to 20 percent resulting from issues with company culture).  I know a few managers great at retaining their people. They spend time helping their people know what to ask and really look for in another company. If a recruiter pulls your top performer into an interview will a couple smiles and few dollars not only turn their head but also turn them on to leaving you? Shame on us for not preparing them. They should be as prepared to learn and make sure if they leave you, it’s for real career goals or aspects of their job they aren’t valuing. It may be the right call for them to leave, and only if they have challenged themselves and the new employer to make that decision. It’s your job as their current manager to create that open discussion before it becomes an open sore.

If we treat our current workers as volunteers, less paid employees, they may discuss more openly with us career concerns they talk about openly at home.

Who likes job surprises?


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