Turnover, Retention and the Crusade to Assign “Responsibility”

Ask most any HR Leader “what’s your biggest pain point?” and I guarantee that retention/turnover will be up there amongst the top 3 answers. Quite often this answer is partnered up with its companion “recruiting/hiring” since, of course, they share space for all eternity on the organizational mobius strip. 

Depending upon one’s company, the responsibility for lowering turnover/increasing employee retention may be a shared goal (as it should be) or may belong to a specific department: usually HR. 

Which is crap.

When Stan in the Distribution Center resigns it’s not due to the interactions he had with Karen in the HR Department or Sherrie in Recruiting. (Recruiters are another group that tend to have their performance measured, inaccurately, on turnover numbers). It’s quite likely that Stan didn’t even resign because of his direct supervisor or department manager. Oh I know; every speaker at every HR conference for the last 2 decades has posted a slide with the seemingly profound words “people leave managers…not companies!” (And then they act like they are the first person to ever say this and all the attendees furiously scribble these seemingly transformative words in their notebooks). 

I detest that pablum statement. Are there horrible, toxic and downright inept managers out there that drive people away from organizations? Of course there are. But people do leave companies; I certainly have. People may have the best manager in the world BUT that manager’s hands may be tied by the company. 

People quit, resign, mentally check out, get fired and just plain stop-showing-up for a variety of reasons. And yes; while some people get fired for an egregious act wherein they may go out in a blaze of glory, there are sufficient numbers of people who are terminated for performance because, well, they just stopped trying or caring.

NONE OF THIS IS THE FAULT OF THE HR DEPARTMENT. Heck, I would argue, again, that quite a bit of it is not even the fault of the person’s manager.

The reasons why people leave their jobs can be classified, fairly simply, into either PUSH or PULL factors.

Push factors are those over which the organization has control. This includes factors such as overall company culture, pay and benefits, working conditions, trust (or lack of trust) in leadership, and opportunities (or lack thereof) for development or career progression. Push factors may also include the annoying co-worker in the next cubicle, the lack of up-to-date technology one has to do their job, and the company’s propensity to rule via death-by-a-thousand-cuts-HR-policies. 

Pull factors are those things that are outside of your organization (and outside of your control). These factors include family responsibilities (a move, family care issues), personal decisions (returning to school), commute and travel issues, and personal/family finances that necessitate a change.

Some may argue that the siren call of a competitor (they pay more! they have free snacks in the breakroom!) is a PULL factor. In the vast majority of cases I disagree; the number of regular employees (i.e. not top tech talent, the superstar marketing professional, etc.) who are recruited (sourced, called, woo’ed) for another job is pretty slim. But even if it does happen, there is some underlying PUSH factor that leads the person to go through an interview and application process beyond simple curiosity. 

They want to leave. And NOTHING you can do is going to get them to change their mind. 

So what IS the role of Human Resources?

HR’s responsibility is to recognize and understand the reasons why people leave the organization, identify the problem areas, and develop solutions to lesson the impact (financial and otherwise). This requires gathering data (exit interviews anyone?) and synthesizing it, appropriately, to provide some real multi-layered answers. 

There are areas, fully in the control of HR, where adjustments can be made:

  • Attraction and recruiting initiatives lay the foundation for retaining talent and HR/TA needs to get this shit right. The “employer brand” should be real and truthful; there should be no sugar-coating of what the day-to-day reality of working at the company is like. Never (ever) should applicants be promised one thing to get them in the door and then the organization delivers an employment experience that is entirely different  
  • HR, with some heavy-lifting from managers, manages the onboarding experience from the time-of-offer to a date well after the newbie employees start. HR should dive deep to ensure onboarding includes sufficient aspects of cultural assimilation, socialization and opportunities for relationship building (in addition to all the “how do you DO your actual job”) 
  • HR staff should work with managers, and equip them with the training, time and resources, so they can provide a high-feedback/high-touch work environment. Do some supervisor/manager training? Sure. But back that up with the time and money to let them do-what-you-hired-them-to-do.

In addition, there are certainly other areas where HR professionals can have an impact on some of the PUSH factors including offering pay and benefits that are competitive and at appropriate levels and ensuring development opportunities truly exist (and aren’t just paid lip service on the company career site). HR professionals should also do some soul-searching and find ways to ‘lighten up’ on the draconian, bureaucratic HR policies and procedures that provide much of the fodder for the “I hate HR” crowd. 

Easier said than done of course. Depending upon ones’ level in the organizational hierarchy (i.e. any layer below the CHRO) and/or the size of the organization it can be a downright futile exercise. Karen the HRBP covering a small region for an enterprise with 50,000 employees unfortunately doesn’t have much input into the drafting of the corporate HR policies or defining the compensation philosophy. (YET SHE IS STILL TOLD SHE IS RESPONSIBLE FOR TURNOVER!) 

Here’s the deal though…

So often, when lectured by a CEO/Owner/Big Shot VP that she is responsible for lowering turnover, Karen in HR (as mentioned above) who is sitting out at a regional site and has no real power to make deep and abiding organizational changes, will do a bunch of “activities.” She’ll hand out water bottles with the company logo, order in pizza, and kick off an Employee of the Month award. 

But no one’s going to stay just because they might – one day – win the “Employee of the Month” award and receive a $25 gift card and their name on a plaque hung in the breakroom.

The Push/Pull factors are still there.

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How much do I like this diving into this topic? So much that I’ll be speaking about it at the Talent Success Conference in September. 

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“Conference” HR vs. Real-World HR

For many years now I’ve lived simultaneously in two separate and distinct HR worlds. I’ve been fortunate to be able to travel the world attending and/or speaking at events and conferences focused on HR, Recruiting, Technology and the Future of Work. I’ve also continued to meet and work with human resources professionals and businesses that, to put it mildly, operate much as they did circa 1993.

I love the fact that I have a world-wide community of friends and colleagues who are on the cutting-edge; people doing smart and innovative work who drive conversations about change and HR’s role in meeting workforce needs in the 21st century. I also appreciate how I get to discuss and observe (and fix) the day-to-day realities of running a people operations function in this day and age. These interactions include working with HR professionals from small companies to large enterprises and (here’s the not-so-secret-dirty-little-secret) many of them feel somewhat chagrined they’re not rocking and rolling with ALL the bells and whistles they believe are expected of a modern HR team. Oh sure, some of that is based on a reluctance (or fear) to change or innovate but quite often it’s due to budget, priorities, type of industry or the desires of the company CEO/Owner.

Now one of the reasons we (the collective we) like to attend conferences is to gather ideas; I’m certainly a firm believer that one can hear the most crazy, outrageous and disruptive idea, strip it down to its essence, and get some take-away that can be applicable back in your HR shop.

However, and here’s the part I find amusing, there is often SUCH a disconnect between the content delivered at events (onstage, whitepapers, podcasts, etc.) and what the typical HR professional discusses that it may appear we are operating in 2 entirely different professions.

What does this look like?

Conference HR: ”Implementing broad workplace flexibility will improve business performance and increase employee engagement, commitment and retention!” Real World HR: “Our attendance policy issues points; if an employee has 2 tardies (clocking in more than 1 minute late) in 90 days we start progressive discipline. Are we being too lenient?”

Conference HR: “Strategic use of advanced people analytics and large data sets means your HR Team can improve overall business performance!” Real World HR: “At the end of each month I run a report for the leadership team showing hires, terms and transfers; they seem to like it”

Conference HR: “The gig economy provides flexibility for businesses and workers!” Real World HR: “Can I change a W2 employee into a 1099 Independent Contractor? My CEO wants to save money on benefits.”

Conference HR: “The use of AI and augmented intelligence will provide for proactive hiring and better determine candidate fit and future performance!” Real World HR: “Does anybody else work for a company that doesn’t have an ATS or HRIS system? If so, how do you track data? Excel?”

Conference HR: “To nurture a culture of communication and transparency at all-hands meetings make sure to revisit business goals and discuss results and strategy!” Real World HR: “The topics we cover at every all-hands meeting are safety training and the attendance policy requirements. Oh; and we remind everyone to turn in their timecards.”

Conference HR: “The resume is dead; you can source candidates online and find everything you need to know!” Real World HR: “I refuse to consider an applicant’s resume unless they’ve followed directions and included a cover letter.”

Conference HR: “The Future of Work is NOW!” Real World HR: “Someone is smearing feces on the walls of the men’s restroom and we’re unsure how to go about investigating this…”

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Global Human Capital Trends Report – 2019

Last week Deloitte released the 2019 Global Human Capital Trends report. It’s always a must read for me and I strongly encourage other HR leaders and those involved in the talent/people space to take a look. Last year, Deloitte described the rise of the social enterprise and this year’s report outlines how the factors and pressures that have driven the social enterprise not only continue but are growing more acute.

A few tidbits from this year’s report:

  • 86% of respondents believe they must reinvent their ability to learn
  • 84% of respondents reports they need to rethink their workforce experience to improve productivity, and
  • 80% believe they must develop leaders in a different fashion

Deloitte outlined a set of five principles to frame the “human focus” for the social enterprise; describing them as benchmarks against one can measure actions and business decisions that could affect people:

  • Purpose and meaning
  • Ethics and Fairness
  • Growth and passion
  • Collaboration and personal relationships
  • Transparency and openness

These five design principles define the “why” of reinvention and the 2019 Human Capital Trends, listed below, are divided into 3 categories:

Future of the workforce

  • The alternative workforce
  • From jobs to superjobs
  • Leadership for the 21st century

Future of the organization

  • From employee experience to human experience
  • Organizational performance
  • Rewards

Future of HR

  • Accessing talent
  • Learning in the flow of life
  • Talent mobility
  • HR cloud

This is a great resource for HR and organizational leaders; you can download the report here.

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Watching this year over year as I do?  Here are Deloitte’s Human Capital Trends from the last 3 years:  

Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report2018

  1. The Symphonic C-Suite: Teams Leading Teams
  2. The Workforce Ecosystem: Managing Beyond the Enterprise
  3. New Rewards: Personalized, Agile and Holistic
  4. From Careers to Experiences: New Pathways
  5. The Longevity Dividend: Work in an Era of 100-Year Lives
  6. Citizenship and Social Impact: Society Holds the Mirror
  7. Well-Being: A Strategy and a Responsibility
  8. AI, Robotics, and Automation: Put Humans in the Loop
  9. The Hyper-Connected Workplace: Will Productivity Reign?
  10. People Data: How Far is Too Far?

Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report2017

  1. The organization of the future
  2. Careers and learning
  3. Talent acquisition
  4. The employee experience
  5. Performance management
  6. Leadership disrupted
  7. Digital HR
  8. People analytics
  9. Diversity & inclusion
  10. The future of work

Deloitte Human Capital Trends Report2016 Organizational design

  1. Organizational design
  2. Leadership
  3. Culture
  4. Engagement
  5. Learning
  6. Design Thinking
  7. Changing the skills of the HR organization
  8. People Analytics
  9. Digital HR
  10. Workforce management

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