the Scope of Your Retention Efforts
By: Dr. John Sullivan
the economy heats up and firms once again look to build up their talent
strength, it's only logical that senior leaders, managers and HR professionals
will increasingly look at retention as a major business imperative. But as a
professional who has been designing retention solutions for corporations for
well over a decade, I can attest to the fact that most newly enacted retention
efforts will not only fail — they will do so miserably.
approach many firms take is doomed during the initial goal-setting period, when
managers and HR professionals alike define the goals of the retention program to
narrowly. If, for example, your firm defines the goal as merely to "keep
good people," you are automatically dooming the effort by failing to
identify specifics that can be measured. I recommend that you identify a broad
set of goals that cover additional areas, including identifying why people
leave, where they go, and whether the separations could have been prevented.
Possible Goals for Retention Efforts
you want your retention program to have a major impact, it's important that you
consider a wide range of ambitious retention goals. Each goal must, of course,
also include a numerical target or metric to ensure that it has been successful.
of the possible retention goals to consider for any successful retention program
include the following:
Target your efforts. Increase the impact of your retention efforts by targeting key
areas. It may not be advantageous or even necessary to retain everyone in
your organization. If you have limited time and resources, it's important to
first identify, and then focus your efforts on, mission-critical jobs,
hard-to-replace individuals and positions, individuals with critical
"future" skills, and all jobs within key business units.
Increase productivity first. Get targeted workers to be more productive while they are still on
Limit responses to recruiters. Prevent high performers and critical individuals from ever picking
up the phone to answer an external recruiter's call.
Increase tenure. Get
key individuals to stay longer (i.e. extend the average tenure for a person
in that position).
Identify causes. Develop
processes to identify why top performers leave in order to learn how to
prevent future turnover.
Prevent other employees from following. Since
departing managers and top performers often convince others to follow them,
it's important to try to prevent additional turnover by identifying and
managing those individuals that are likely to follow a key employee to his
or her new firm.
Predict departures. Develop processes that accurately predict when an individual is
about to leave.
Leave at the best time. Get employees to leave during slow periods.
Minimize the impact. Develop processes to minimize the economic impact when employees do
actually leave. For example, have a "backfill" person for every
Reward high retention. Develop a process to reward managers who have low top performer
Separate out preventable turnover. Identify
which voluntary turnovers were preventable so that turnover metrics will be
Identify where they go. Identify where top performers go (e.g. competitors, a different
field, or retirement) in order to help more accurately quantify the costs of
losing someone to a competitor firm. Where possible, it's also desirable to
direct employees to a non-competitor when they leave.
Depart happy. Get
employees to leave "happy" so that they don't disparage your
company and hurt your employment brand. After all, former employees
frequently buy your firm's products or act referral sources.
Increase the return rate. Develop a process to get those who left to return some day. For
example, start a boomerang program to lure high performers into returning
Increase involuntary turnover. Increase the turnover rate of low performers in order to increase
overall productivity and reduce the frustration of the top performers who
have to work alongside them.
Get management's ownership. In order to increase the chances of success for any retention
program, it's important to get managers and employees to "own"
Distribute turnover metrics. Develop a process to distribute monthly turnover metrics to all
managers in order to increase competition and "embarrass"
Identify bad managers. Because weak managers are the prime cause of turnover, one goal
needs to be to fix or replace managers who have high top-performer turnover
rates and low involuntary turnover rates.
Best-practice sharing. Develop a process that rapidly spreads "what works"
retention tools to all managers throughout the organization.
Avoid "zero" turnover. Develop
processes that ensure that the firm has a minimum turnover rate in order to
keep the organization vibrant and to be sure your people are desirable.
Identify why new hires quit. Develop a process that identifies why each new hire quit his or
her last position in order to educate their new managers about what might
trigger the new hire's next departure.
am not advocating that every retention program include each one of these goals.
It's important, however, to initially consider each of them on its own merit.
It's also important to be constantly aware that if you define your program goals
too narrowly, you may be actually dooming them to at best minimal results, or at
John Sullivan (JohnS@sfsu.edu)
is a well-known thought leader in HR. He is a frequent speaker and advisor to
Fortune 500 and Silicon Valley firms. Formerly the chief talent officer for
Agilent Technologies (the 43,000-employee HP spin-off), he is now professor and
head of the HR program at San Francisco State University. He was called the
"Michael Jordan of Hiring" by Fast Company magazine. More
recruiting articles by Dr. Sullivan can be found in the ER Daily archives.
Information about his numerous other articles, books and manuals about
recruiting and HR can be found at www.drjohnsullivan.com. Dr. Sullivan is also
the editor of VP of HR, an e-newsletter providing "out of the
box" solutions for senior HR managers. Free subscriptions can be obtained
on his website.