Tag Archives: employee retention

Five Ways to Lose Good Employees

After parachuting in to hundreds of workplaces, I’ve come to see a number of ways that employers upset, alienate, and eventually lose good employees. They are, in no particular order:

1.  Fail to recognize good work when it happens. I’m not talking an Employee of the Month award, just a timely and sincere expression of appreciation for what the employee did. Consider using the “SAIL” method of recognition, which involves hitting on the following four points:

  • Situation: The problem or opportunity
  • Action: What was done, in specific terms
  • Impact: The result of the action
  • Link to organizational goals or values: how the action contributed to the organization.

And if you’re emailing the recognition, it never hurts to copy someone higher up the chain.

2. Let bad work or behavior go unpunished. When management takes no steps to address poor performance or negative behaviors, it affects the morale of other employees, particularly those who are doing their work faithfully and well. The good performers not only may have to pick up the slack for the poor ones, but they see management’s inaction as indicating that the organization doesn’t value good work and adult behavior. Even if management is taking corrective action of which other employees are unaware, the corrective action may not be very effective if other employees see no changes.

3. Change priorities frequently. Good employees tend to take organizational priorities seriously and work hard to achieve them. When the organization keeps changing those priorities, however, it’s like the boy who cried wolf: employees start to care less about particular projects because history shows that tomorrow, that project will be shelved and another put in its place. For good employees, this is not only frustrating, but it makes their work less rewarding and satisfying.

4. Abuse employees’ trust. Trust is about doing what you say you are going to do and being who you say you are. It’s about showing your staff that you are reliable, responsible and accountable, and that they can rely on you for consistency. It means never discussing one employee with another employee unless you are highlighting his or her accomplishments. Violate these rules at your peril: good employees may just leave.

5. Take credit but not blame. Aside from actual abuse, one of the worst things management can do is to take credit for the achievements of good performers and blame them when things go wrong. When things go well, management should give staff credit. When things don’t go well, it should assume responsibility and not scapegoat.

And a P.S.: Imposition of high expectations without a commitment to providing the necessary resources is another way that management can ensure that its best employees will soon start looking elsewhere.

Is there something else you would put in your top five? Interestingly, a recent Forbes magazine article had a completely different list!  ~Amy Stephson

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Improving One-on-One’s with Direct Reports

Many managers and supervisors either don’t have one-on-one meetings with their direct reports, frequently cancel those they do schedule, or fail to prepare for those they have.  To these managers, one-on-ones seem unnecessary and a waste of scarce time.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Regular, focused meetings with subordinates are a key way to help ensure that your team is productive and happy.  Done right, they also help with employee engagement and retention.

It is not necessary to have one-on-ones every week (though with new reports, this is recommended), but it is best to have them at least every other week.  A standing agenda along the following lines is helpful:

  1. Update on action items/commitments from last time
  2. What is going well?
  3. What are the obstacles and how can I (the manager) help?
  4. Ongoing performance feedback, pluses and minuses, if and as needed
  5. Action items going forward

One or more times a year, it’s a good idea to enlarge the scope of the meeting and and cover the following:

  1. Where is the organization going?
  2. Where are you going?
  3. What are you and your team doing well? What are you proud of?
  4. What are your suggestions for improvements for the future (for the organization, for your team, for yourself)?
  5. How can I (the manager) help?
  6. What suggestions for improvement do you have for me (the manager)?

Other tips for having good one-on-one meetings with direct reports are:

1. Schedule them out for 6-12 months for about an hour each. Don’t wait for them to happen, because they won’t.

2. Don’t cancel, reschedule.  If you’re always canceling them, you’re sending the message they aren’t important.

3. Shut the door, don’t answer phones or emails, turn cell phones off, and give 100% attention.

4.  View the meeting as a coaching conversation primarily driven by the direct report.  The manager should ask questions, listen, and provide guidance if needed, but not dominate the conversation.

5. Don’t accumulate a to-do list for each employee, and then use the meeting to unload your list. Don’t overload the employee with action items.

6. Save some time to just talk. It’s OK to spend a few moments just asking what’s new, how’s life, how’s the family, etc….

7. Always try to end on a positive note – let the employee know how well they are doing (if it’s genuine) and how much you appreciate their efforts. If the meeting was a difficult one, you can try to comment positively on how things are going to improve moving forward.

Anything else you would add about successful one-on-ones?  ~Amy Stephson

Sense of Accomplishment Is Critical

I recently read an article in The Washington Post entitled, “How to completely, utterly destroy an employee’s work life.” Written by Professor Teresa Amabile and psychologist Steven Kramer, the premise of the article is that people want to make a valuable contribution in their jobs and what makes employees most miserable is management that keeps them “from making progress in meaningful work.”

The article lists four steps managers take that lead to maximal “work-life demolition.” One of them really stood out for me because I think many employers — including those who are in no way evil — are guilty of this morale-killer: “Never allow pride of accomplishment.”

As described in the article, this occurs when work setbacks occur so frequently that employees can never complete anything and feel they made a difference. The article gives an example of the head of product development who routinely moves  people on and off projects “like chess pieces in a game for which only he had the rules.”

Strike a chord? How many workplaces have we seen or worked in where priorities constantly change? Or where a combination of budget cuts and turnover means that employees are constantly being given new positions and responsibilities? Or where funding, and therefore projects, come and go? For an employer to be able to “change on a dime,” is deemed a good thing. But what about the impacts of such rapid change?

I myself have seen the impact on employees. It is devastating and creates significant morale issues. This is true even when the employer is acting in good faith to meet changing needs.

So what’s the solution? First, employers need to be aware of how detrimental it is for employees to feel they never can complete anything. Then, they need to handle their prioritization and re-prioritization processes with more sensitivity to this issue. Finally, employers may want to talk about the problem openly with employees to try to figure out what they can do to meet their need for accomplishment.

Any other ideas on what employers can do? ~Amy Stephson

Learning from “Stay Interviews”

I recently read in the Linked In “HR Think Tank” listserv of a concept tentatively called a “stay interview.”  The term is the opposite of an “exit interview” and the goal is retention of employees.  Another name suggested is a “pulse interview.”   Somewhere out there an even better name likely exists.

Typically, climate surveys and the like focus on the problems.  In a stay interview, the focus is on the positive.  The organization learns what it is doing right – information that can be as useful as learning what it’s doing wrong.  This is because understanding and replicating the good things often results in the bad things correcting themselves or getting less focus.  The organizational development process appreciative inquiry builds on this notion. 

How does it work? In one model, someone from HR or  in management (better in many cases) meets 1:1 with the employee informally.  After telling the employee how valued he or she is, a few questions are all that is needed to get the basic information: Why do you stay at x? What about this organization and your job do you like most? What does this organization do that you like? What could it do more of? 

Whoever is conducting the interview should take a few notes, but the goal is to keep it informal and open.  The interviews can be done in small groups as well. 

Who gets a “stay interview”? Different organizations target different sets of employees.  One approach is to do them with “critical” talent, i.e., the star performers and those with high potential.  The idea is that this will help the organization retain its best people.  Other employers target new employees (e.g. less than two years) or those at milestones such as 1, 3, 5, 10, 15, 20, etc. years.  They can be done with any group of employees, e.g., all managers and supervisors.  

It’s also been suggested that these questions  could be asked routinely for all employees as part of the performance review process.  With many organizations short on staff and time, it may even be helpful to ask these questions in a short written survey of all employees or targeted groups.  As I’m sitting here writing, it occurs to me that these questions could even be asked at a staff meeting by supervisors who then communicate the results to upper management. 

Food for thought. Have any of you tried this?     ~Amy Stephson