Twenty years ago, I was asked by a retail company to do something about their high turnover rate, which was about 50%, half of the company's entire workforce was leaving every year. The executives were tearing their hair out. Salespeople and administrators alike were quitting in droves, year after year. The human resources department did little else than recruit and interview people they knew would leave the company in a matter of months.
To attack this problem, I did what any good management consultant would do. I conducted endless interviews, and administered numerous surveys and questionnaires to determine what employees were unhappy about. I was sure if the company changed the way it treated employees, workers would be happier and more likely to stay.
The company's management was completely cooperative. When I said to change something, it was immediately changed. People were given positive reinforcement, they had greater control over work schedules, they had more input into the company's strategic decision-making, they were empowered to make unilateral decisions to please unsatisfied customers. This was truly becoming a company where employees were valued and appreciated.
After a year, we took a look at the turnover rate, certain it would be substantially lower than before. After all, we had created the ultimate workplace. I was shocked to see the 50% turnover rate had hardly changed. What made things worse was many of the people who quit during our reformation were some of the company's oldest and most valued employees. What was going on?
After quite a bit of thinking and analysis, two things became clear. The first was we were asking management to do things they were unfamiliar and uncomfortable with. The truth is they didn't really feel employees should be empowered. Management had always made company decisions and, even with high turnover, their profits were still good. I was asking them to run the company in a way that was, to them, unnatural and illogical. I might as well have been asking a right-handed pitcher to throw lefty. It just didn't work.
The second thing we noticed was after we changed things, we merely replaced one group of unhappy employees with another. In that company (as in all companies) there was a core of employees who were happy with the way things were. They liked the way management did things and they related well to the company's rules and regulations. All in all, they were compatible with the company's culture. Once things started changing, their needs were no longer being met. In their eyes, management was doing too much to please malcontents while ignoring their most loyal and valuable employees. Now, the people running for the doors were the very people the company needed the most.
This is a sad story you don't have to repeat. If you are having employee turnover problems, it's not because of anything you are doing it's because too many of the people you are hiring are not right for you. Luckily, there is a solution to your dilemma. As simple as it may sound, all you have to do is identify your best, longest-term employees and hire more like them. As unhappy employees leave, replace them with people whose attitudes and feelings about working match those of your most loyal people.
In order to do this, spend some time with your happy and productive employees. Ask what they like most about working for you. For example, are they satisfied with their paychecks? Do they value the opportunity for advancement your company provides? Do they enjoy delivering the type of customer service you expect? Do they appreciate your benefits package, or does it really matter to them? Are they proud to tell people they work for you?
Once you feel that you know all the things your best employees like about their jobs and the company, develop an interview format or questionnaire (or both) which will help determine how a job candidate is like your best employees. For example, lets say your company's benefits package is only modest. You already know (from your previous fact-finding meetings) your best employees don't consider outstanding benefits all that important to them. During interviews, ask candidates to tell you what benefits are most important and meaningful to them. If they describe a package far more than you can hope to provide, they clearly differ in this respect from your outstanding employees.
Too many differences should tell you the person will probably not appreciate the job you give him and will not fit in well with your company's culture.
Keep evaluating candidates until you find someone truly like your most valued employees. Hire him, and you will have a productive and contributing member of your team for years to come.
Dr. Rovner, a business psychologist in Los Angeles, CA, has helped many companies solve their employee retention and turnover problems. He may be contacted through National Driller.