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By Todd Horton • October 3, 2019

Rethinking Employee Retention

All companies struggle with employee retention. The question is how can we HR leaders re-frame the retention challenge as something that is not about keeping people, but about how do we build an environment employees don't want to leave.

While it's true the workplace is changing rapidly and some suggest people want to shift jobs frequently, it's also true that employee want an environment to grow, gain skills, and understand the direct impact their work is having on the values of the org.  Considering this topic a cultural issue of making the organization as strong as possible then you’re creating the possibility for a more powerful company.

Let’s press pause for a second and stop seeing employees as some mass group which are broken down into subcategories, each separate from the other. As we know, that’s the model for most companies. In some companies with an antiquated mindset that model is seen as all there is.

I’ll tell you that many of the HR people I work with would agree with me that there is a better way to do retention. A way that is innovative, creative and takes what already exists and adjusts it to fit today’s world. This is a case of creative exciting evolution, not of disruptive revolution.

Let’s talk about how we take the employment experience at your company from good to great. I recommend you should:

  • Give your employees chances to grow
  • Cross train them by having them work with other groups
  • Be a mentor, not a manager

Let me run down the list and discuss these points in more detail.

Give your employees chances to grow. What’s the number one reason employees leave? It used to be their manager. Better opportunities is edging managers out. Better opportunities can also be called a lack of chances to grow. Do you think any employee wants to be doing the exact same thing day after day thinking they are making no progress? Provide them with these chances, maybe it’s the chance to try something new. Empower them to learn new things and to embrace the strongest parts of your culture. Things like that are what will help employees grow and help you retain them

Cross train them by having them work with other groups. I’ve had these discussions with some really fascinating HR professionals. The ones willing to try something and see how they work. The first obstacle to overcome is to somehow convince the powers that be that to let people learn and understand what others do in order to better understand what they do. Someone with expertise in one area may be able to bring a unique understanding to someone from another and likewise. Let’s be clear when we say this we’re not talking about someone from accounting taking the place of an engineer.

We are talking about how people within the same group can be taught the work of the other. Maybe the accounts receivable person could learn something about how to do a cost benefit analysis and vice-versa. Of course some will want to do it and some will not but that will tell you who your rock stars are. You’ll now see who you want to keep in the organization. These are the people you can’t afford not to retain.

Be a mentor, not a manager. Mentors are a dying breed. People don’t last long enough in one place for those special relationships to build. As a result when they become managers they don’t see the need to mentor their direct reports. This needs to change if you want to retain employees.

A great mentor encourages growth and ensures that the employees experience is positive from on-boarding to the time when they reach that point and mentor on their own.

After talking to so many different employers about retention it all comes back to this. Approach the question of retention from the angle of build the type of environment and culture that encourages people to stay by offering them real, personal reasons to do so. The money and benefits are all great and essential but they will only go so far. Build the type of culture that people will want to join and you’ll the type of retention rate you want.