Employee Retention 601- Trustworthy Leaders & Managers

Shawnee Love   •  
April 27, 2010

Tiger Woods is my muse today. Okay, it is a bit shameless to use him given he is such an easy target, but that is also what makes him such a great example. He is infamous for not walking his talk or at least not walking his brand. The same thing happens in companies all the time (although usually with less spectacular and public results).

I have always thought that organizations should include a turnover metric as one of the criteria on performance reviews for managers. Turnover is easy to calculate for any given time period:

Number of employees who left voluntarily
Average number of employees

For example, if you have a team of 5 employees and last year you had to replace 8 people who handed in their resignations and moved to other jobs, then your turnover metric would be 8/5 or 160%.

If everyone in the company has similarly shocking turnover metrics, then you can assume it is either a HOT job market or your company has some serious problems. But if that high turnover rating is unique to your department, then your company should be holding your feet to the fire on solving that turnover problem.

The reason I like the turnover metric as a performance measurement is because as a manager, your team is your responsibility and you have to own the reasons employees leave even if the root cause is someone or something else. I can tell you without a doubt that consistently high turnover in a department is usually about the leader of that department and what they are doing or not doing. People join companies and leave managers.

So what does all this have to do with Tiger Woods? Just like employees who resign from companies where their leaders do “things” they can’t support, some of Tiger’s followers and endorsements have terminated their relationships with Tiger because of his actions and because his actions are so far gone from the image he tried to cultivate. People hate hypocrites. As a manager, you must walk your talk, because that is how you demonstrate you are trustworthy!

But what happens if you are a Trustworthy Leader or Manager and still your inbox is being replenished with resignations? Well, aside from figuring out why people are leaving and seeking out creative ways to fix the issues, one of the most important things you can do is build a relationship with your employees. I don’t mean become their buddy either, because I think that type of relationship is a mistake between managers and employees. What I mean is you should take the time to learn more about your employees and let them learn more about you, because even if you know you are trustworthy, your employees may not. The power imbalance between employees and managers can make you seem unapproachable, intimidating, and potentially risky to talk to.

I once worked for an organization where an extremely smart, talented CEO was hired to follow in a well-liked exiting CEO’s footsteps. The new guy made changes (as almost all new executives seem to do) and since change is hard for people, and he was new and not the best communicator, the atmosphere quickly went to H-E-Double Hockey Sticks.

Triage was needed to stop the bleeding. There were many techniques we implemented to stop the exodus, but one of the most effective was to start a monthly breakfast meeting that the CEO attended. Employees had to sign up to participate and the room could only hold 25, but those in attendance got free coffee and pastries and the chance to ask questions and talk with the CEO without fear of reprisal.

We gave employees a chance to hear what is going on from the horse’s mouth instead of the horse’s @SS (i.e., rumour mill and gossip). These breakfasts started off slowly and the CEO had a few “tough cookies” in the first sessions, but when those critics and skeptics left and talked with their friends about what the CEO had said, the popularity of the breakfasts grew to the point that we had to refuse employees who had attended in the last six months. Two added benefits of these meetings were that the CEO kept his finger on the pulse of the organization and the people were no longer afraid to ask questions because they knew they’d get the best answer the CEO could give.

Note to Tiger. It could work for you too. All you have to do is buy a lot of coffee and muffins while taking responsibility and answering questions honestly. Hope to see you holding breakfast meetings in a city nearby soon.