Steven's Blog

Increase Your Attrition

Many companies are struggling to find the qualified people they need, so they resort to retaining the people they have whether qualified or not. They fight to eliminate or at least reduce rates of attrition when it is increased attrition that can do the business the most good. Retention of the best is all that matters.

Recently, the head of a large business unit of a major international company here in Japan told me that the company’s rate of attrition is of no particular concern to him, even though it is higher than industry average.

“I don’t care about attrition rate overall for the business. I only care about attrition of the best, and in my business unit, that rate is zero.”

In his view, a higher attrition rate in the business is good. It frees space either to hire more of the best from the outside, or to promote the best from within.

We all know that in sports, no one wins by playing only a defensive game. Yet many companies are playing a defensive game when it comes to employee retention in a misguided effort to increase employee satisfaction and engagement. They put incentive programs into place for people who rather not bother, even for more money. They contrive pro forma opportunities for informal information exchange between staff and managers. They shower training programs on the already disinterested and disaffected. In one company, they even installed a high-end barista coffee machine in the break room.

A company I know has recently seen several highly capable employees with specialized technical capabilities leave despite such prima facie efforts at reducing attrition. Such attempts always leave the most talented of employees uninspired.

Only opportunity moves talented people—opportunity to use their talent to the maximum to affect business outcomes through their own work, opportunity to grow their capabilities at a rapid pace, and a discernible path of opportunities for their career progression.

The one capability that unites the most talented of people no matter role, rank, or industry is the desire and ability to learn. I don’t care what a person’s age or experience might be. Without the desire and ability to learn, he or she will never become one of your company’s stars. It is easy to identify who is your best and who is not.

Never just shower your employees with training as a retention tactic. It is a wasted effort. I have frequently heard employees complain about how their company‘s training is lacking, and sometimes they are right. However, when I ask these same people how many books about their professional domain they have read, whatever that domain might be, the answer most of the time is “none.”

Why invest in developing and retaining someone who does not have the wherewithal to invest in himself or herself? Click To Tweet

The most talented people I have known never complain about lack of training. They educate themselves first, and then ask their company for support. If you want to identify top talent early, find out who is taking personal responsibility for his or her own development. Provide a reading list for all employees, and make it voluntary. Set up discussion groups led by managers to lead discussions with employees about the content of the books. See who actually reads and participates. Those are your learners, and they are the ones in whom you ought to invest and retain.

And what about the rest? Who cares what their attrition rate might be? There is never any shortage of people who have no desire to learn no matter how tight the labor market. Increase their attrition to make room for those whom you really want.

Focus on the best and forget the rest.


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