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September 1, 2013

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Retention Rates and Mediocrity: A Match Made in Heaven

by Trevor Nagle, Ph.D.

images (4)The tears welled up and were pushed back.  Five minutes later, the same thing.  Over and over, for about 30 minutes, this repeated. Never overflowing, but always threatening like the summer sky that flashes its lightning, but the deluge never quite arrives.

They weren’t tears of joy, unfortunately.  Nope, her emotions had been pushed to the brink by the callous leadership for which her organization is known.  Caring, it is not, despite the rhetoric of the recruiting brochures and its executive town hall meetings.  And, alas, it’s not the only company like that.

“I’ve got to get out,” she sighed near the end of our lunch.  “And I mean it this time.  My goal is by New Year’s to have found something else.”

How many similar conversations I’ve had with individuals in the past year or more.  Some, former co-workers of mine.  Others, simply friends.  Still others, individuals with whom I’d networked and begun to build relationships.

And sigh is what it makes me do, as well.  Sigh. Sigh. Sigh…

charles-barsotti-yes-sir-morale-is-fine-new-yorker-cartoonIt’s not that the executive leaders don’t know that the morale problem exists.  They do, all too well.  Culture audits, engagement scores, heck, even just walk-throughs of the cubicled hallways are evidence enough…and obvious.  Yet, the problems persist.

They say the economy’s improving, and in many ways that’s, oh, so true.  Profits are more up than down.  Hiring is somewhat up.  Retention rates of employees are extremely high….Oh wait, that’s not always good?

Look at the retention rates of many organizations…and you’ll quickly see their executive leaders too often toss out other indicators of sinking workplace culture and engagement.  Phew, they sigh….dodged that bullet.  We’re keeping our people, so that must mean we’re doing something right….right?

WRONG!

images (6)You see, when people see no other options outside your walls, they often opt for safety and security, at the expense of satisfaction and engagement.  And that’s okay in the short-term, but as the months stretch into years, the despair undermines it all.

Retention is not in and of itself a positive indicator.  Oh, it can be.  But how do you know?  THAT is the million dollar question, but it’s a question that more and more executives are stopping short of answering.  After all, they know the rule…don’t ask a question for which you may not be prepared for the answer!  So ask, they don’t.

As I sat across the table from Rachel at lunch, watching the emotions ebb and flow like the waves on Monterey Bay, I wondered if her manager had ever truly sat and talked with her about her goals, her passions, and, yes, her experience.  All three were being wasted where she is, and she knows it.  And it’s eating her alive….

improving_company_morale_sjpg1213In the end, I offered her some coaching, starting with an assessment of her likes, dislikes, interests, and preferences.  We’ll start the process of finding her a better fit.  Even if it’s not the best fit, it’ll be better than the bitter fit she faces day in and day out at this Fortune 500 company.  She needs more, I explained, than a culture that thrives on mediocrity.  Because a company that looks for and rewards mediocrity will quickly dismiss indicators (such as retention rates) of disharmony and dissatisfaction.  They’re not interested in getting better, but opt instead for just getting by.  And Rachel’s better than that.  It’s about time she figured that out…And by the looks of it, she has.

So, let’s get on with it….

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