employee retentionYou don’t have to look very hard to find research like this Gallup study saying that 50% of people have quit a job to “get away from their boss.” Now, you could argue that this might be a personality thing but the notion that a sensitive and charismatic boss is what everyone is after is flawed. Instead, you can reduce unwanted turnover and employee retention by ensuring managers simply get the basics right.  

Every employee, no matter their level or role in an organization, needs 3 foundation blocks to be satisfied, productive, and engaged. Fancy office space, a hefty paycheck and allowing dogs to come to work will never make up for getting this part right.

The 3 Basics of Employee Retention

Warning: I’m about to state the obvious so don’t let yourself skim past this next section because it seems ridiculously simple. This list is in fact very simple, but it’s also extremely elusive and not hitting any one of these three certainly impacts employee retention. If you think you may already have them covered, I encourage you to pay attention to the measurements I provide to test whether you’re really executing against this “basic” list.  

Here’s what I see in the field every day. You can’t expect to retain your top talent if they can’t answer these three questions:

  1. How do I fit in the Big Picture?
  2. Exactly what are my tasks?
  3. How do I know whether I’m doing them right (my tasks)?

Measure Whether Your Folks “Get the Big Picture”

Every professional worth retaining wants and needs to make good decisions, prioritize well and deliver predictably. We can measure whether they “get the big picture” or not by ensuring that they can answer the Big Picture Questions and sound like their boss and their peers. If they don’t have clear answers, they are a retention risk.  

MEASURE IT:  You can measure this by literally asking the questions and ensuring everyone’s answers are in line. I’ve been asking these questions for 20 years and disconnects abound – especially in organizations with employee retention problems.

What Are My Tasks?

One thing we all know about top performers is that they want to deliver every day and they hate wasting time and energy chasing crazy. We use our Skill Development Plan (SDP) to document the tasks and skills required for each member of a team, silo by silo.  

MEASURE IT:  Make a list of verbs that are active and relevant to each role and make sure that every employee can state what they do in plain language.  Write documents, lead meetings, design solutions, troubleshoot problems, plan projects, build budgets, etc.  

If a headhunter tries to lure away a top performer who has an active list of valuable work (not just sitting in endless meetings where nothing is decided or struggling with role clarity and their ability to add value) then they’re less likely to take the call.

How Do I Know If I’m Doing My Tasks Right?

While we can all agree that top performers need room to be creative and put their stamp on the world, it’s better when the don’t have to do so in a vacuum. Sometimes we like to say that we hire good people and get out of their way, but make no mistake, there is a wrong way to do everything. Even in a highly autonomous environment/culture you can still take too much time, spend too much money, involve too many people or just miss the mark on requirements. That lack of clear roles, standards, and feedback leads some folks to feel disconnected – increasing unwanted turnover.

In our Knowledge Silo Matrix, we help leadership define who’s the “purple” expert to be replicated. This provides a framework for setting a standard for each silo or knowledge and helps organizations clarify expectations. We’ve used this guidance to support roles as diverse as IT professionals, video gamers, research scientists and footwear developers.  

MEASURE IT: For every silo of expertise (block of work that takes a month to a year to learn) ask, “who’s setting the standard?” The answer should be clear for each team, division, region and even sometimes for the whole world. Consistency, speed, clarity and retention of top people depends on knowing.

Remember the phrase “If you hear the thundering of hooves, don’t look for zebras or unicorns?”  This is one of those times when you should look for a more obvious answer than you may have in the past. Get the basics right before looking for a more complicated solution to your problems.