“How in the heck do we keep people?” is the question on every leader’s mind right now in the midst of The Big Quit happening all around us.
In today’s episode, co-hosts Richard Lindner and Jeff Mask sit down to talk about the tension of employee retention. Specifically, retaining the most talented people who are the best fit for your company. Of course you don’t want them to leave. And as difficult and scary as that thought might be, there are some really simple (not easy) ways to make sure it doesn’t happen.
Listen in as they share some dos and some don’ts of keeping the right people on your team.
Retention Starts with the Leader’s Mindset
As Jeff and Richard talk to other people at different levels of leadership organizationally, they’re hearing a lot of stressful talk about retention. How do we keep people from leaving? Why are they leaving? Is this my fault? Tell me what to do!
Jeff says one aspect of leadership that can happen is that you finally find the right team, a great fit, and you develop a scarcity mindset of “I hope nobody leaves.” He had a manager once with this underlying attitude of “I’m paying you well. You should be grateful. Your only way to grow is in this company and nowhere else.” The employees felt like they were under his thumb, like they were owned.
He believes this is why much of the workforce is saying, “I’m done with this. I don’t have to keep enduring what I’ve endured. I don’t have to put up with this fear-based tactic.” Covid has opened our eyes to what matters, to what we’re willing to put up with.
Jeff thinks that the lack of care and love for individuals is what has led to the Great Resignation. It’s not the only thing, but it’s a big part of it. It’s time to rethink and not repeat the habits and behaviors of that manager. Have you had that leader? Have you been that leader? Are you that leader right now?
We need to talk about how to retain people in a more healthy, holistic, long-term way of thinking, instead of a short-term, scarce, fear-based way of thinking. Some things are obvious. Don’t make your team members feel owned. Don’t posture as if they’re lucky to have this job. Don’t ask for inappropriate chunks of their personal time as the norm. Other things are less obvious and will take some thought and maybe even some trial and error.
Building a Sense of Belonging
A sense of belonging is so important in a workplace, but how do you build that? Richard has tried some things in the past that just didn’t work. They did team lunches once a week one time. The budget ballooned, and people would get their food and sit in the corner with their cliques. It had little to no effect on anyone’s sense of belonging.
If you’re not prioritizing knowing your team, there’s no way you’ll know what to do or if it’s working. You need a cadence of communication. Jeff and Richard believe weekly one-on-ones are the key. They’re one of the best retention builders. And you need to posture the one-on-one as their time, not yours. Your “agenda” is getting to know them first and giving them clarity second. Building relationships is key. It’s easy for an employee to leave when there’s no relationship.
Jeff plays devil’s advocate for a minute. “Weekly one-on-ones? You don’t realize how busy I am or how many people I’m leading. We work together daily. We don’t need one-on-ones.”
Yeah, you do. Doing meaningful work together is great. Get stuff done and that builds bonding. But if you only do that, and you don’t dedicate time to finding out their hopes, dreams, and aspirations, it won’t be enough. This is not a secondary task of leadership. It’s a primary task. That significant carved-out space over weeks and months is the most effective people-building time and a preventative measure to keep people from leaving.
What Do One-on-Ones Look Like?
How often do you do one-on-ones, and for how long? When you’re first starting, you should do 60 minutes once a week. Then you can go down to 30 minutes with this caveat—leave a buffer on your calendar for 30 minutes after. You wouldn’t believe how many grenades get hurled, how many breakdowns people have, at the 28-minute mark of a 30-minute meeting. This person has been working up the courage to say this for 25 minutes. The worst thing that can happen is saying, “I wish you’d said that at the beginning. I have another meeting to get to.”
People do this at doctors’ offices too. Just when the doctor has finished and is walking out the door, the patient says, “Oh, by the way, there’s also…” And they unload the thing they were afraid to ask/say.
We are leaders of hearts and minds. When we have a consistent one-on-one where we’re investing in people, they’re more likely to share, feel seen and valued. If they still want to leave, you celebrate them. You’re building them for who they are, not just to build your company.
Belonging is the answer to solving talent retention. How do we build a sense of belonging? Build relationships. Get to know your team. Have everyone fill out a new team member survey. If you don’t know someone, you can’t invest in them. People are different, so treat them how they want to be treated, not how you want to be rewarded. Know someone so you can invest in them and reward them in a way that is meaningful to them. Invest in your team member’s growth, personally and professionally.
Then, when performance or alignment starts to break down, you have your bond to fall back on. “Hey, Jeff, your performance isn’t up to usual. Is everything okay?” Caring about the problem now is fine, because you’ve been caring for a long time. If you only “care” when things are going wrong, you’re not going to retain talent.
Pat Lencioni has a powerful model that explains why people leave their companies:
- Anonymity (no one knows them or values them)
- Irrelevance (they don’t see how their work matters or is impactful)
- Immeasurement (they don’t know how to tell if they’re succeeding or not)
Own Your Imperfections As a Leader
When you boil it down, leadership is simple. It’s simple, not easy. If you bring someone in, do weekly one-on-ones, and they understand what they’re responsible for, how to achieve success, how to measure what they own, if you have effective communication, and you care about them when they’re doing well and when they’re struggling, you’ve nailed it.
But, like so many things in life, we’ll nail something one day and fall on our face the next. When this happens, we have two choices: 1.) negative self-talk. I suck at this. Live a self-fulfilling truth. Or 2.) you suck it up, say you messed up, get back on the horse, kill impostor syndrome by being honest about what happened.
You’re going to screw up. How you respond/move on from there is critical. This takes us back to the Triangle of Trust. When we mess up, we’re vulnerable and we own it, instead of acting like we have it all figured out, have all the answers.
One last thing. Let go of the counterintuitive way of thinking that you have to retain them here, that people feel like your claws are in them, they’re obligated/need to stay. This makes them feel stifled, like they owe it to the company. When you grow them, teach them, coach them from a place of abundant possibility, inside or outside the company, ironically, people are more apt to stay than leave.
Let go of the scarcity and control. Replace it with abundance and freedom for people, and watch what happens. When it’s about them and their growth, that creates an environment where people would rather stay than go. When they feel free, it changes everything. “This is where I’ve thrived and grown the most. My leaders care. Why would I go?”
If you aren’t currently having one-on-ones, book them. With every person who reports to you. Build meaningful connections with the people who work with you, and watch your talent retention go through the roof.
Richard and Jeff want to hear from YOU. Did something in today’s episode resonate with you? What insights or actionable items are you going to implement today? They’d love to hear your feedback on this episode. Email them here with your thoughts/questions: email@example.com
LINKS AND RESOURCES
- Episode 4: The First 90 Days Leading a New Team
- The Truth About Employee Engagement (book by Patrick Lencioni)
- Pat Lencioni’s website
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