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3 Critical Reasons Your Best People Stay or Leave…Oh, And It Is Your Fault Either Way!
01/18/2018 John Grubbs

Today, I sat through a meeting with a 31 year old who is contemplating leaving his company.  “I just don’t feel valued here anymore”, he said sadly.  “I give a lot to this company but I don’t think anyone notices”, he continued.  How many people in your organization are in the same mental place?  What are you doing to proactively retain the best talent on your team?

To be brutally honest, most supervisors and managers stink at talent retention.  They have never been provided the tools to make the workplace “sticky” when it comes to people.  More often than not, the first conversation takes place after the employee has made the decision to leave.  And, that is tragic!  Our number one desire is to be appreciated by our boss.  It is more than the ubiquitous “good job” offered out of habit than emotion.  Also, we all have a sixth sense when it comes to sincerity. If it is not how you really feel, we know!

I have been helping employers conduct “stay interviews” and collecting some raw data regarding what people really think about the job.  You might be surprised that keeping the best talent is simple when executed properly.  And before you get too involved mentally, it is not about the money.  Money is important but the data just doesn’t point to compensation as a primary driver for retention. Yes, that means you cannot buy a solution to your turnover problem.

Community.  A study by McMillan and Chavis theorized:

“Sense of community is a feeling that members have of belonging, a feeling that members matter to one another and to the group, and a shared faith that members’ needs will be met through their commitment to be together” (McMillan, 1976).

Building a community on the job takes effort.  It does not organically evolve over time.  A major factor in building community is the feeling of membership.  Being a member of something unique, special, or different can indeed be cultivated by leadership.  A CEO that I work closely with says, “We are different on purpose” and “We know that our company is not for everyone”.  This thinking is in complete alignment with building a community.  Members must make sacrifices to belong and it enhances their sense of community.

What are we accomplishing together?  If the organization is not moving toward a goal or ideal outcome, what’s the point?  We end up like the old Duncan Donut commercial with the guy waking up saying, “I gotta make the donuts.” 

As humans, influential groups are bound by a sense of what other people need.  I am more likely to be committed when others depend on me.  The emotional experience of helping others is critical to become fulfilled at work.

Identity.  Abraham Maslow taught us that as humans we need to self-actualize (achieve our potential).  When we feel something in common with others, it helps us see our own potential.  This reference with others allows is part of being a complex, social being.  In other words, I can identify with someone or some group and it gives me comfort.  We define ourselves by contrast with others.  Companies with strong identities use “us” and “we” pronouns often. 

Research states, “This social comparison often appears in forms of status, which is one reason we are driven to purchase status symbols that signals to others (and particularly to ourselves) that we are better in some way - richer or more tasteful, for example.  Social comparison is often along some measure of success, which is itself a social construction. Our sense of identity degrades when we fail - which we often do as we accept constant social escalation of what 'success' means.”

Finding our identity amongst our peers is a critical part of the retention puzzle.  Without it, we merely exist and have no long-term connection to the community.

Purpose.  A feeling of being lost or empty is created by a lack of purpose.  Most of us seek a deeper connection in life.  We desire a passion for our effort. And let’s face it some jobs do not cooperate.  To make matters worse, the poorly trained supervisor makes the job seem even less important.  Getting people involved with more than the work creates purpose.  Purpose is a derivative of action.  We need to be emotionally invested in our action. 

A company in Texas makes products for law enforcement; however the lobby is adorned with pictures from all over the world that represent a purpose beyond business.  They send people and money to help make water wells for communities that do not have clean water to drink.  It has nothing to do with the business, yet it has everything to do with a higher sense of purpose.

The challenge comes in looking for the “one” thing.  Stop!  Let people explore their passions and purpose will rise to the surface.  The key to success come by creating a culture that promotes individual higher purpose.  The combination of passions among people will naturally expose purpose for the organization.  It then becomes a matter of choice among the community that makes up the organization.

Millennials (1981 – 2000) and iGen (2001 and after) are more predisposed to community, identity, and purpose than previous generations.  Social media has created online communities their entire lives.  They have avatars that represent their identity on social media as well as the games they play online.  The time they invest in creating an accurate portrayal of their physical reality demonstrates the importance of personal identity. 

Let’s face it, most of us desire a higher purpose from life and welcome a job that gives us the opportunity to be a part of something special.  Retaining today’s workforce takes effort but it is not complex calculus.  Providing supervisors and managers with some simple tools is the key to success.  Learning how to apply these tools on the job takes practice and commitment.  I promise the results are worth the effort.  Just like any relationship, keeping good people takes work.  You can do it!

Should I stay or should I go?
You hit the nail on the head with so much of this! As I read it I really thought you were talking to me directly. Over the past couple of years I've increasingly found myself looking elsewhere in my career just to regain the excitement that has been sucked away by one of our upper level managers. Trying to get him to read this and realize he's "that guy" will never happen. Our glimmer of hope is a new, strong, well rounded manager coming in that can hopefully get a handle on things before we lose more good people. Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us.
(January 18, 2018 ~ 3:19 PM)
By Anonymous

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