While many leaders lament the difficulty of recruiting new talent for their team, I often think we neglect the equally important task of retaining those we have. We tend to put so much into recruitment pitches, job fairs, job announcements, headhunters, etc. -- but we forget the people that we already have -- and watch them go out the door.
Some estimates put the cost of replacing an employee at 150% of that employee's salary (see Cost of Employee Turnover). Factors such as lost sales, recruitment costs, training, and decreased efficiency all add up -- big time. This can be even higher for management, sales, or very technical positions.
The Army recognized the importance of retention in its balanced approach to increasing troop strength to meet the demands it faces around the world. Recruitment of new troopers (see the Army Strong campaign) is critical. We must have new Soldiers committed to service and willing to join the Army at its lowest ranks. We must also have those that are already in uniform -- stay. And they must stay at a higher rate in order to meet the goals of the larger force.
How is it going? The pictures at the top are from the largest military re-enlistment ceremony in history. General David Petreaus presided over this ceremony on July 4th, 2008 at Al Faw Palace in Baghdad, Iraq. Thousands of young (and some probably not so young) troopers raised their hands and said, "I'm committed to what I am doing...I want to stay."
What does it take to ensure that capable talent stays?
-- A sense of purpose. People want to be a part of something important. If we can convince them that what we are doing as a team is important...and that their contribution to the mission is valued...they will stay.
-- An opportunity for growth. Teammates want to know that their is a pathway for them to progress in the organization. They want to know that they can expect to be trained, to have opportunities for promotion and development, and that there is no limit to the potential for their advancement. If they believe it...and see it in role models around them...they will stay.
-- Good leadership. More than half of our employees will leave because they don't like their supervisors. This should be enough for all of us to strive to be the role model, the mentor, the leader that will be the reason people will stay. We must also ensure we are providing adequate training to our supervisors to help ensure they are not the reason people leave. It should be no surprise that this many troopers wanted General Petraeus to personally re-enlist them. Good leadership will make a difference...and they will stay.
-- Help people find the right fit. Many people will re-enlist if they have an opportunity for a different job. One of the options in Army re-enlistment is to select the assignment or the specialty of choice. Leaders must recognize that often we must be flexible in meeting the needs of good people. To borrow from author Jim Collins -- if they are on the right bus, but not in the right seat...help them move.
-- Use incentives. Note that I put this last in this list. Incentives are important but generally not enough to tip the scales and prevent someone from leaving. But it is something to keep in the tool kit and be able to apply for those who are close and help push them over the top. Incentives such as a re-enlistment bonus, education opportunities and benefits, considerations to help meet work/life balance, adjustments to salary, are all available and are generally going to be considerably less costly than finding and training a new hire.
While I have been pushing my HR staff to recruit new employees to meet our increased work load, I have been working this retention piece even harder. I tell my staff that it is my intention that they stay with us for the rest of their lives. I make it clear that I will never, never, never let them leave me! I will do anything I have to do to help them decide to stay. (The exception to this, of course, is if they are not worth keeping...then I will help them pack!). I believe the result of these efforts is a workforce that knows they are valued, who will work their tails off to see the organization succeed, and when faced with the decision to stay or to leave...they will stay. That's the re-enlistment bonus. And that's Leader Business.