Here's How To Kill Employee Turnover Before It Kills You

You're only as good as your people. Your people will treat you as good as you treat them.

Customer churn--where users engage, disengage, and quickly flee--can kill a company. And as William Tincup argues at OpenView, churning through your team will kill you just as dead.

"Employee turnover can be just as damaging," he write, "impeding your ability to attract top talent right now, and lessening the likelihood that you’ll retain your highest performers in the long-term."

The big question, then, is how to build a company where your people love--rather than loathe--their work. Fast Company's done our best to find some answers.

Hire "tasteful" people

As CEO Tom Preston-Werner explained to us, GitHub is a company that optimizes for happiness--in their employees, in their customers, and other stakeholders. What, then, does a happiness-centric executive such as he organize his work around?

Hiring. Specifically, finding the kind of people that suit GitHub's "taste," the aesthetic that animates the social coding company's libertarian hustle:

For GitHub, "taste" means the same set of values that allows for GitHub's open autonomy. He reels off a list of feeler questions: Do they care about improving as a person? Do they believe in products? In supporting users? In making developers' lives better? In making it easier for people to work together? Are they self-motivated? Do they value communication skills? Do they appreciate the freedom to self-direct and make the best possible decision?

If all those questions find a positive answer, he says, then the given candidate will be a positive fit for the company. And positive experiences will emerge.

Give people autonomy

We all hate to be bossed around--so much that it hampers our productivity. This is a signal as to how crucial autonomy is to people feeling positive about their working lives.

Management is great if you want compliance, Dan Pink reminds us, but if we want engagement--which we need for the complicated tasks inherent to knowledge work--then self-direction is better.

Give people resources

While one solid definition of entrepreneurship is doing awesome things with limited resources, people need resources--both in the cases of compensation and in budget--to feel valued, which leads to that all-important engagement.

Give people progress

Perhaps superseding all of these is the need for progress, as articulated by Teresa Amabile, a professor and a research director at Harvard Business School. For people to have their best inner lives--which has the downstream effects of engagement, creativity, and innovation--they need to experience small wins, those little victories that help you recognize that you're making incremental improvements.

As she's written before, this suggests that managers don't need to worry about reading the psyches of their teams, but rather arranging the work in such a way that has clear indicators of progress--progressive techniques include narrated work and other progress-marking rituals. Amabile closes the loop:

By supporting people and their daily progress in meaningful work, managers improve not only the inner work lives of their employees but also the organization’s long-term performance, which enhances inner work life even more. Of course, there is a dark side--the possibility of negative feedback loops. If managers fail to support progress and the people trying to make it, inner work life suffers and so does performance; and degraded performance further undermines inner work life.

Hat tip: OpenView

[Image: Flickr user Michael Schanbacher]

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2 Comments

  • Tim Ryan

    Autonomy and chipping away at meaningful tasks seem spot on for optimizing happiness at work.

    Interested in reading more work by Teresa Amabile regarding giving effective recognition to employees as a way of supporting daily accomplishments towards project goals. 

    We just blogged about other ways to give recognition if your readers are interested: 
    https://youearnedit.com/blog/7...

    Thanks for your great work on this article Drake!

    Tim Ryan
    @YouEarnedIt