Retention is the wrong measure of success and yet “the most successful” companies in the world focus on it relentlessly. In everything from the “100 best companies to work for” reports, to RFP’s for vendors, the question of retention highlights a failure to recognize the need for transparency - great people move to keep building great things.
- Was @kevin quitting Google to build @instagram a failure for Google or the rest of the world?
- The employee who wanted to leave for a career change that you fought to save for another 6 months – was it worth it?
When an employee decides to leave an organization, the reasons are usually valid. If your company is doing its part, the employees are leaving for a reason that you may even mutually agree is best for them. Maybe it’s time for them to start their own company, or maybe they have an opportunity to expand their career that simply doesn’t exist within your organization. Adjusting this individual’s title, salary, or performing the diving save often delays the inevitable at the cost of the rest of the company. There are always exceptions but consider a few examples.
I started thinking about the problem of retention when 18 months into my career I was ready to leave Intuit. I loved the company, and I still believe Intuit is solving some of the biggest challenges for Small Businesses across America (though they better step up their game against Square, Xero etc), but I had come to Silicon Valley to solve new problems and that felt more achievable outside of Intuit rather than within. As I thought about what to do my first thought was to go to my two senior mentors at Intuit for advice. I’d reported directly to both of them during my time one a GM the other a Senior Director. When I told a friend I was going to ask my mentors for advice my friend asked, “are you crazy?” I always leave that question unanswered. They couldn’t understand why I’d go to my current employer for advice on what to do next.
The next day I chatted with both mentors and the advice was consistent – “Chris, that’s awesome. Let’s get specific about what you want to do and find a way to help you.” Both mentors talked about internal opportunities but agreed it was going to be best to start a company or find a startup to get involved with. What impressed me most was that both individuals cared enough about Intuit to act on the fact that Intuit was not the best place for me at this point in my career – I’ve seen Intuit continue to invest in some of the best career programs that create space to move quickly.
While I toyed with the idea of starting a business, one of my mentors said “before you do anything you should talk to the partners at Sequoia.” A twenty-four year old fresh to the west coast doesn’t say no to that, and a couple weeks later I met with Sequoia and signed on as the first employee at Hearsay Social. This was the right move for me. It was also the right move for Intuit. Mentors aside, the rest of Intuit went through the normal motions of offering more money, new titles, more flexibility, but it wasn’t about that.
Google with a 90%+ retention presents an interesting case. The pay is great, the benefits literally keep you around until you die (they actually employee team members whose only job is to “add three years to the actual lifetime of each Googler” – so awesome) but if you dig into the ranks you’ll find some of the worlds top talent disengaged but appeased with another plate of food or a stock grant vesting 4 years from now. I believe Google is the most marvelous “big” company in the world. They are working on things that will change the nature of how we communicate, connect and travel - certainly many employees have reasons to spend a full career at an organization like this and that I fully support. I’d be willing to bet there are 1,000’s of Googlers who know it’s time to move on, but they’ve been persuaded to stay for one poor reason or another.
The painful side of this story is numerous individuals I’ve met who actually make a practice of threatening to leave their current employer just because they know it’s consistently met with a healthy raise. I feel strongly this is the wrong behavior to reward.
Compare this culture to that of LuLu Lemon. Their transparent work environment means all employees document and share, their five-year goals by hanging them all over the office.
One document read - My goal is to leave LuLu Lemon to start a gluten free energy bar company one year from now. Another read - My goal is to leave LuLu Lemon 2 years from now to focus on hand made, all-natural apparel for babies. This honesty means employees can plan better. Management can plan better. I love it, the conversation is open.
Imagine a culture where management is so open that they proactively encourage employees to take the next step in their career. Sometimes people need a push to do what’s best for them.
I realize there are many exceptions to this argument. Companies need to retain top talent, and employees need to make the best decision for their family. If you work for Comcast and have a family of 6 I would not advise you tell your manager that you are considering leaving to pursue a career in the NFL. Context is important, but the transparency starts with each employee building relationships where caring for the company means you care about your employee’s best interest.
(I’m hoping that restricting myself to one proofread scan, will mean I write more often - apologies in advance to grammar superstar readers)