Time to Make Leaders Accountable for Turnover... Start at the Top

By Sherri Merbach Managing Director, C-Suite Analytics | March 11, 2012

Experience tells us that the best way to make things happen in organizations is to drive them from top to bottom... think sales, service, quality, safety. Intuitively, the same should be true for retention. Who is held accountable for service? Are the same leaders held accountable when your employee who gets the most positive guest comments leaves?

What does the conversation look like between the general manager and his/her manager when a great employee leaves? Does it sound like: "Oh that's too bad, we are really going to miss George here. Why did he leave? He left for a job that pays more. Wish we could pay more but we really can't. Tell recruiting we need a replacement yesterday."

Here's what the conversation should look like if leaders are holding the leaders that report to them accountable: "John, I understand George is leaving us. Why do you think that is? While I am sure all our employees would like to make more money, in my experience that is rarely the only reason a valued employee leaves. In the last month, have you had conversations with John regarding why he stays or what might cause him to look at other opportunities? (Yes is the ideal answer.) Were you surprised by his decision to leave or were you expecting it? (If surprised) I expect you to understand the reasons why each member of your team stays at our company and what might cause them to leave. (If not surprised) Since you were aware of his desire for advancement, did you consider ways to give him more responsibility in order to prepare him for roles that would have enabled him to be paid at a higher rate?

This is a conversation that should occur between a front desk supervisor and the front desk manager when a front desk clerk leaves. It is also the conversation that should occur between the CEO and the COO when a key performer that reports to the COO leaves. Retention accountability creates a positive stress when a performer leaves. High-retention organizations take it personally when an employee walks out and use each departure as a coaching opportunity for the leader of the departing employee.

So why don't leaders have these accountability conversations? It could be skill, time management, or beliefs.

Do your leaders have the skills necessary to driven retention and engagement? The key retention skill in a relationship between a leader and his or her direct reports is building trust. This is true for all levels in an organization. Supervisory relationships are unique levers that deeply impact employees' stay/leave decisions. There are behaviors that create mistrust and behaviors that build trust. For example, leaders break trust when information is withheld, either intentionally or unintentionally. Likewise, failure to keep promises and commitments, even something as simple as failing to send an email with requested information can break trust. To build trust, make commitments carefully with specific steps including timeframes. Leaders who cannot build trust have little credibility regardless of their other skills. The goods news is that with training and good on-the-job coaching, most leaders can improve their trust building skills and positively impact retention as a result.

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