Employee Retention: The Truth About Turnover

by Stephen H. Lahey

Are you about to lose one of your best employees to the competition? It's a good question to consider. Superstar employees are restless, ambitious achievers with big dreams. Find out what really motivates them to leave.

Are you about to lose one of your best employees to the competition? It's a good question to consider. Superstar employees are restless, ambitious achievers with big dreams. They set high standards for themselves and, spoken or unspoken, for the people who lead them. When things are not going particularly well, they often become open to outside influences.


Yes, these "outside influences" do include headhunters. With that said, nobody ever kidnapped a candidate.

What really motivates superstars to leave? Simply put, they tend to leave because they are significantly discontented. That may sound negative. But I can tell you with confidence that in the absence of strong discontent, top players normally won't take the risk of leaving their company - often despite some very tempting opportunities .

So, while both play a role in turnover - pain is consistently a bigger motivator than gain.

Is there some way to inoculate your best players against this? No. But there is one approach that comes close.

Here's an illustration. About two weeks ago, I was referred to a strong candidate whom we'll call "Susan" (not her real name). In the course of our conversation, Susan described some of her experiences over the past five years with a very powerful, yet troubled, company. Despite facing some pretty daunting adversity, she maintained this perspective: She worked for the "best boss" she could imagine, "learned a lot from her," and felt that this was such a valuable developmental opportunity that she couldn't afford to leave. Susan even described, in detail, the way that her boss "fought" to get her promoted.

My point? If you want to retain your best players, you must invest the time and energy required to become their trusted mentor - to guide them, to draw out their real career concerns, and to be their advocate on an ongoing basis. If you do these things consistently over time, they will rarely interview someplace else (at least not on your watch).


If you're wondering if all this work is really worth it, know this: Your R.O.I. for the time and energy you invest in your best players may go well beyond just retaining them in the short run. There are other potential benefits. For example, as you build a reputation as an exceptional mentor, you may become the boss that the up-and-coming superstars within your company seek out. Some day, if you should choose to leave your company, you'll also be better positioned to entice your top players (and/or the top people within their networks) to join your new team. I regularly see both of these situations play out - creating career advantages for everyone involved.

One last thought. You have far more influence over retention and turnover than you might imagine. In large part, it's your decisions, your actions (not those of recruiters or anyone else) that determine whom you'll retain or lose. So, reach out to your best people. By making a difference in their careers - you may be making an even bigger difference in your own.

Stephen H. Lahey is an executive recruiter. He is also the author of "Talent Acumen" - a free monthly e-newsletter written for human resource professionals and hiring managers who are seeking to improve their employee recruitment and retention results. To learn more about Stephen or to sign up for his free e-newsletter visit the Lahey Consulting company website at: http://www.laheyconsulting.com.

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