Retaining People

As employees we all have one important responsibility: Deliver business results on time. This means we need to do whatever it takes to complete our projects in high standards and do so on time. A successful project in terms of its deliverable which is late is not so successful.

Employee Relations by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

Employee Relations by Nick Youngson CC BY-SA 3.0 Alpha Stock Images

A manager on the other hand has one more responsibility: To retain people. Mark Horstman in his book ‘The Effective Manager’ lists two responsibilities for managers:

  • Deliver business results on time
  • Retain people

Since I believe every employee has the first responsibility, managers really have only one additional responsibility.

A study shows how important motivation is when it comes to retention. This links well to Dan Pink’s famous video about employee motivation:

When people lose motivation they tend to leave. Why retaining people is so important? A business with a huge turnover suffers from the need to teach new people, and the learning curve costs. Moreover the bottom line of the business is hurt. I am not getting into the implications on the people who stays.

The responsibility of retaining people can’t of course come at the expense of delivering business results on time, so how does one balance those two aspects of deliverables?

I would like to start at looking at what is not helping retention and go from there to the positive elements.

A toxic workplace is of course the worst and easiest to identify as hurting retention. No sane person would like to work at a place in which one is treated like trash. However, we don’t need to go all the way to the extreme to find bad habits or issues preventing the willingness of people to stay on the job. Having a high employee turnover rate is a good indication something is broken in your environment. You should seek and find what is the root cause for that.

If any of the above is true, you must remove those first, as they really hurt the happiness and willingness to deliver of your employees.

Google has done two interesting studies in this fields. The first one is what makes some teams highly successful, you would not be surprised to find out that the main factor is It was psychological safety. This means the basic is trust, without trust, no team will be able to be successful. The second study was to find what makes a great manager. In this research the findings are also around trust.

One of the famous quotes around employee retention is “employees leave bosses not companies” as in this linkedin post. This statement has been argued as a myth several times like in this post. But nevertheless, i will treat this quote as truth for this post. In any case you do not want to be the manager that is considered a ‘bad boss’. The first steps you should take are to eliminate any of the bad habits mentioned above, and strive to help your people grow.

I will summarize the findings of google’s manager behavior study for your ease:

  • A good coach
  • Empowers team and does not micromanage
  • Creates an inclusive team environment
  • Is productive
  • Communicates well
  • Supports career development and discusses performance
  • Has a clear vision and strategy for the team
  • Has key technical skills
  • Collaborates across the org
  • Is a strong decision maker

As you can easily see, those 10 habits lay the ground for people to want to work in a team managed by this person, especially if there is a habit of psychological safety in the team by teammates and the manager.