Michael White, founder of MashTank | Discretionary time is life.
In your company’s ecosystem, the most important lifecycle is your people’s: attracting the right talent, onboarding and optimizing them, then offboarding them knowing why they left and what you can learn from them.
And in theory, most leaders understand this life cycle. People will come and go, as is the nature of life, and we as leaders can have exit interviews to learn along the way.
But from my experience working with executives and teams over the past 25 years, here’s what I usually see happening:
1. In the first phase you attract some people. Depending on your culture and unique value propositions as an employer, you may or may not attract the perfect people from the start.
2. In the next phase you onboard those people.
3. Eventually, over time, people leave and you leave them on board.
What most companies miss is the optimization within all these phases to make the process action-oriented, effective and measurable.
Looking at the last stage, people don’t just get up and leave. They fall into one of two categories:
1. Graduates: They reached milestones that led them elsewhere. They become loyal alumni who may even come back in the future, which would be welcome.
2. Defectors: They weren’t happy with anything about their employment situation, either as a simple culture flaw (because not everyone can fit) or because you, a leader in the company, dropped the ball.
Reasons for leaving
In the offboarding process, most companies only check the boxes about the state of the relationship at the time of departure. Did something big happen to stop them? Is there a drama to notice? Is it “only for personal reasons”? You could learn so much more.
Knowing if someone has graduated can make the offboarding process a joy. This team member has done so well within your company, both in their work and in the time given to them in their personal lives, that they continue to move forward on their journey.
Perhaps your personalized benefits program enabled them to finally take the right courses they needed before taking the plunge to become entrepreneurs and start their own business. They may have saved enough to take months off to travel the world. The ways people can achieve their goals to get more out of their lives are endless. As an employer, you can congratulate yourself on optimizing the talents of your employees so well that they have fulfilled everything you needed from them until the next stage of life. From here you have yourself loyal alumni, maybe even evangelists.
On the other hand, finding out if someone is a defector gives you the chance to have a useful, productive list of opportunities. If someone defects, it’s possible they just weren’t the right fit for the culture. Not everyone can be, not when personalities are so unique.
But more often, someone is a defector because you, the employer, somehow dropped the ball. Perhaps this person felt unappreciated and resentment grew over the years. Perhaps there was dishonesty or lack of transparency that the senior leaders were not even aware of. Perhaps this is the third person to defect from a specific department and it is necessary to reassess resources or direct managers in that department.
The reasons why someone defects are as unique as the person themselves. And with everyone, when the offboarding process is optimized and executed well, you should be able to learn in a way that is actionable and measurable for the future.
When a company is committed to optimizing offboarding processes, the number of defects decreases, graduates are taken for granted and the company benefits in areas such as productivity, retention and profitability.
So let’s go one step further. Instead of waiting for the final stage to review and optimize, conduct retention interviews, not just exit interviews. This brings us to the optimization that was missing in the first two phases.
The ultimate, measurable, research-proven method to optimize talent (and thus retention and profitability) is by working with team members to help them achieve their goals. This includes goals that are directly related to the business (e.g. want to learn more about a particular area of the business for a career path) and that are unrelated to the business (e.g. want help achieving a personal goal in their life, or it now involves investing in lessons, more free time for a hobby, etc.).
By making time to listen to their goals, finding creative ways to find passion in at least some of what they do every day, and instilling a culture of trust, phases one and two are optimized for retention before you even but need to worry about offboarding. Trust that as a whole human being you care enough about them to invest in them as such. Because if you don’t do it, someone else will. And who would blame anyone for going somewhere where they feel better cared for and can get more of their life back?
An optimized ecosystem
In an optimized ecosystem, retention practices and lessons aren’t just learned when someone leaves, and they aren’t just questions yelled at someone halfway through the door hoping for the best.
Instead, you can learn and get better from it throughout the relationship. You will be made better not only as a company – boasting higher morale, loyalty, productivity and profitability – but as a team of people with personal goals and beyond life. This is about the sum of people, and ultimately as a world. It starts with caring and making it measurable – because what you can measure, you can improve.