Alex, the general manager of a factory in Wisconsin, recently told me that he goes to new employee orientations to deliver two messages: Thank you for choosing us and please, please, don’t quit before calling me first.

He’s handing out his cell number to people he wouldn’t have considered interviewing – much less hiring – 5 years ago. For Alex, the war for talent is real, it’s messy, and it’s threatening his ability to keep his doors open. It isn’t just about attracting talent (thank you for choosing us), it’s mostly about keeping them (please don’t leave!).

With unemployment rates hovering around 4%, employees are increasingly mobile. In fact, a recent Gallup poll found that 51% of employees are actively looking for a new job or watching for openings. So, what do you do?

Make Sure Your Team Gets the Big Picture

One of the most powerful tools you have as a leader is the ability to connect your staff to your company’s big picture and purpose. It seems obvious, I know, but it is easily overlooked as indicated by recent research from Deloitte:

24% of employees feel that their company does an excellent job aligning the employee’s personal goals with corporate purpose. – 2017 Global Human Capital Trends

If you’re competing for talent with the company across the street—or across the globe—remember what Millennials have taught corporate America. They want to be part of something bigger than themselves. Turns out that’s true for Xers and Boomers, too. Millennials were just the first to INSIST on it.

So, what if Alex went to the new employee orientation and said: “Here is why you just made a great choice in joining us. Here is why what we do is important. This is how you’ll be part of a product and/or service delivery that makes a difference. Here are the customers we serve. Here is how you can help us be the best in the world at what we do.”

Don’t think you’ve got this covered with the corporate video playing in your lobby. I’m talking about a personal conversation with each candidate, so they see themselves clearly connected to the big picture – and see that better with you than with any other company trying to recruit them. And don’t forget, existing employees need to hear the same message, so they stay connected to you and swat away the recruiters trying to lure them to a competitor.

How Do I Know If My Team “Gets” the Big Picture?

I’m going to let you in on something that I share with the executives I work with. There’s a way to test your team to find out if they “get” the big picture and understand how they fit within it. All professionals worth retaining want and need to prioritize well, make good decisions, and deliver on a predictable basis – which is why understanding the big picture matters. Over the years I’ve used questions, like these, to test alignment between leaders and their staff:

  1. Who are the customers or customer segments we serve, listed in priority order?
  2. What are the products or services we provide now, and which ones, if any, need to change as we implement the current strategy?
  3. Who are our competitors (listed in priority order), why is each considered a threat, and what can we learn from them?
  4. How do we measure our success now, and how might that change in the future?
  5. What are three things our unit is doing to support the current strategy?

If your employee’s answers don’t align with their boss and team members, they may be a retention risk. I’ve been asking these questions for 20 years, and I will tell you that the most disconnected answers come from organizations with retention problems – so it’s important to get them right.

Answer the Big Picture Questions with Your Whole Team, Top to Bottom

Here are a few practical steps you can take to align your team, department, and/or division with the big picture.

Start with your senior leaders. Put the questions up on a whiteboard and try to answer them together. It should only take about 60 minutes—but in some organizations it can take hours or even days. It can take much longer when there is no agreement on the answers, which may be a sign that you’re not aligned in other ways as well.

Once your senior leadership agrees on their answers, ask them to create a short presentation. Then lower level leaders can customize a version of this big picture Q&A for their own teams. Their managers under them can do the same, with each leader rolling down these same big picture questions to their people, making the answers more granular for their particular group until there is alignment top to bottom.

The big picture questions should eventually be answered by everyone—right down to the photo researcher, the technician on the shop floor, the engineer hired last month. Because this is the foundation for making every well-informed decision. Everyone on a team should be clear on it.

The measure of success here is that everybody up and down an organization can answer these simple questions and sound like their boss and their peers, which will not only help with retention – it will make your company more productive because everyone is using the same guiding principles for their decisions and prioritization.

If you have thoughts, questions, or a story to share, please email me at:


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