Shamaym Blog

Corporate Culture & Employee Retention


How to address employee unrest and high turnover

Good companies invest in their employees. The reason is obvious. Happy employees tend to hang around and provide a return on that investment. But when it comes to employee retention, are companies investing in the right thing?

In the Silicon Valley, the latest statistics show a new trend — one of unrest and high turnover. New employees stay on the new job between 1.8 and three years. This development represents a bad return on the investment, considering can take months to properly train a new employee. Then, on average, it takes an employee six to 12 months to attain relevant efficiency in a new position. This means it takes a year or year and a half to get employees up and running and they only provide a year and a half, maybe, of adequate production before they are gone. A company pays a lot of money for recruitment and a lot of money for the basic training — and the position will be abandoned after one year? This is not a good business situation.

Of course, all companies want to improve retention. It is something most organizations track to discover the problems and determine if there is room for improvement — and to protect their bottom line.

There are generally four main reasons why employees will leave an organization. The first is a lack of recognition from management of an employee’s job performance. A simple lack of communication. Newer employees especially value feedback, and it is puzzling why any company wouldn’t provide it. The second is a feeling an employee’s work is not essential or not contributing to the organization’s business goals (another communication problem). The third is work that isn’t challenging enough, and a feeling of boredom sets in about the work itself. The fourth reason has to do with relationships at work — a lack of camaraderie and even friendships. It is much more difficult to leave a job where one is working with good friends.

The good news is that most of the reasons employees abandon their jobs so quickly these days are within the control of the employer. If a company takes a “big picture” approach, much of what needs to be addressed can occur with the establishment of an internal culture of accountability, transparency and openness.

The investment in employee retention should start with an examination of the basic culture of an organization. Installing a change in culture to one of transparency and accountability addresses most of the “problems” that cause employees to jump ship so quickly. The answer lies in teaching an entire organization to think and act like a jet fighter pilot “on a mission.” You’ll end up with a culture that ingrains short and actionable self-learning from daily performance. The lessons are shared openly, without rancor or malice, to create an internal shift to accountability-based excellence.

What needs to happen? After all work projects or individual action items, supervisors have to encourage employees to be honest about mistakes and to not fear for their jobs by expressing — as a matter of fact — what went right or what went wrong. An organization’s best learning comes from making mistakes — if those lessons are shared routinely and without personal judgement. Thus, the ability to succinctly “debrief” after a mission, just as with a pilot, is critical to building a culture of accountability. If these skills are standard operating procedures for a business, that business will have gone a long way toward addressing lack of recognition and providing a feeling of contribution, which will naturally enhance relationships with co-workers. All of this together makes the work less boring, because people are talking about what they’re doing. They are sharing knowledge. People get comments and feedback from their environment. No one likes the feeling of being on an island, alone, so this type of interaction is a powerful way to keep people active and engaged. Thinking like a pilot makes it possible to achieve continuous improvement, especially in a starved time. However, the tools are available to quickly change an organization’s culture, often in as little as a few weeks, by turning mistakes into learning opportunities and success.

If done properly, a company will quickly cultivate a culture of continuous learning and improvement. But it starts with allowing people to say, “This is what I should have done,” or “This is my part of [something that didn’t go the right way].” Quite simply, an organization interested in self-learning and improvement will systematically provide employees the opportunity and a fundamental way to talk about mistakes, share them, and thus learn from them. Then a company has to provide the structure of where and when employees get to speak freely about specific projects. This is known as “process” — when we want to learn and how we conduct the learning. So the culture is encouraging people to speak and learn from what they do, and the process is to define the occurrences of such exchanges; we want to learn after every meeting, after every sale, after every customer we lost.

The famous author Malcom Gladwell wrote that it takes 10,000 hours of “experience” to become an expert in whatever it is that person is doing. The problem is, nobody has 10,000 hours to spare. Would 2,000 hours be enough of a barometer to determine an employee’s possibilities? Incorporating a system of routine “debriefing,” besides keeping the employee actively engaged and feeling useful and respected (and hanging around, because 2,000 hours equals a little more than four years of service time), affords the employer the time to fully ascertain if an individual will finally “get it” and become productive and efficient (as so many do). With the trend of employees leaving an organization so quickly, how many future “rock stars” have been lost?

Of course, the flip side is 2,000 hours also provides enough time for the employer to gather that it might be in the best interests of the organization to cut somebody loose. But, at least, the employer would feel better about the return on the original investment. The “pilot learning” methodology does at least provide the opportunity to understand who has potential. At first, it has more to do with how an employee handles the learning process than actual results. Regular debriefings provide that kind of insight into an employee’s capacity to improve and is a predictor of ultimate success. This is not to say that 100 percent of employees should stay for five, 10, 15 years for a company, but, by using this learning methodology, employers can also find out who doesn’t fit to their organization.