Leadership Barometer 40 Turnover

March 2, 2020

Is employee turnover killing your company? Turnover is one of the most significant, and avoidable inhibitors of profit. The US national average for turnover usually runs between 2-3% per month, whereas the top 100 companies often have a turnover rate of only 2-3% in an entire year.

In this article, I put a spotlight on the turnover problem and offer some antidotes that are common sense but sometimes not common practice.

For professionals, the cost of replacing an employee is roughly the annual salary of the individual. That means a company with 1000 people, each with an average annual salary of $48K, will lose more than $17 million per year due to turnover. These costs go directly to the bottom line in good times and bad.

Even in periods of high unemployment, turnover is still a problem for most groups. When jobs are scarce, workers may not leave immediately, but they are quietly planning on exiting once the job market improves.

One recent estimate is that 40% of workers are unhappy and plan to move within the next year if jobs become available (National Labor Statistics). That would mean a dramatic rise in turnover costs and a significant shift of the best talent from organizations with poor practices to those with stronger cultures.
How can we fight this needless drain? Here are seven key factors that can help you reduce turnover in your organization:

Supervision

When people decide to leave an organization, it is most often the result of dissatisfaction with their direct supervisor. The most important thing to improve is the quality of leadership at all levels. Teaching supervisors and managers how to create the right culture makes a huge difference in turnover.

Unfortunately, when money is tight, often the first thing that gets cut is training. Improving leadership at all levels needs to be a continual investment, not a one-time event when someone gets promoted to a supervisory role.

Supervisors who are well trained recognize their primary function is to create a culture where people are engaged in the work and want the organization to succeed. These people rarely leave because they are happy where they are.

Compensation

Pay is often cited as a reason for people leaving an organization. Pay may be a factor in some cases, but it is often just the excuse. What is really happening is that the work environment is intolerable, so the remuneration for the grief to be endured is not a good tradeoff. We need to teach managers to improve the trust level within the organization.

High trust organizations can pay workers non-inflated wages and still have excellent retention rates. There are numerous examples of this. One of them is Zappos, where they have such a great culture, that when employees are offered $2000 to leave, they do not take it.

In Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us, Dan Pink points out that the relationship between pay and motivation is not what most people think. He cites several studies that show a pattern where higher pay can actually lead to poorer performance.

Pink advocates paying people enough so that the issue of money is off the table. Then three other conditions, Autonomy, Mastery, and Purpose, will take over as the key drivers to satisfaction and motivation, and therefore, retention.

A better future

Another key factor that causes people to leave is lack of a path forward. Employees who can visualize some pathway to a better future will generally stick around to experience it. Training and development are a key enablers for people to know there is a brighter future. Cross training is a particularly helpful way to have employees feel they are being developed to be more important to their organization. Cross training also helps make the work environment more interesting.

A family atmosphere

If you read about the culture of the top companies worldwide, there are many common themes. One of these is that employees describe their work associates as their extended family. They cherish the relationships with their co-workers. Sure, there will be some squabbles and an occasional lecherous uncle, but the overarching atmosphere is one of a nurturing and caring group of people similar to a family. Who would want to leave that environment?

Freedom

Enabling people to do their own work without being micromanaged is a characteristic of organizations that are good at retaining people. Nothing is more irritating than being ordered to do things in a certain way by a condescending boss who does not really understand the process as well as you do.

The ability to use one’s own initiative and creativity to get the job done right helps build self esteem, which is a key ingredient in the retention of people.

Recognition

Knowing that someone cares about you and recognizes your efforts and accomplishments goes a long way toward building employee loyalty. A loyal employee is not out there looking for another position. Instead, he or she is thinking about how the organization’s success can be enhanced through even more effort. The collective muscle of thousands of employees who each feel that way is amazing to behold.

Safety

Many organizations live on the edge of impending disaster. The competitive world has forced legions of companies to downsize on a regular basis simply to survive. When employees witness the revolving door that occurs as a result of things they cannot control, you can’t blame them for wanting to find a safer mode of transport through their career.

If the other suggestions above are followed religiously, then the organization will have a lower risk of having to lay off people, so they will enjoy a lower turnover rate.

These seven factors are not an exhaustive list, but I contend that groups who focus on these seven conditions and understand the dynamics will have consistently lower turnover rates, saving millions of dollars each year. That advantage is sustainable and scalable. It just requires leaders at the top who are skillful and relentless at applying these principles.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of: The Trust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online, and Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind.


Leadership Barometer 39 Stop Enabling Problem Employees

February 23, 2020

In any organization, there are situations where supervisors accommodate problem employees rather than confront them. Ignoring wrong actions models a laissez faire attitude on problem solving and enforcing rules.

It also enables the perpetrator to continue the wrong behavior. In a typical scenario, the problem festers under the surface for months or even years.

Ultimately escalation of the issue reaches a tipping point when something simply must be done. By this time, the problems are so horrendous they are many times more difficult to tackle.

A common example is when workers stretch break times from the standard 20 minutes to more than 30 minutes actually sitting in the break room.

The total duration is more like 45 minutes from the time work stops until it resumes. The supervisor does not want to appear to be a “by the book” manager, so the problem is ignored every day.

When things get too far out of control, the unfortunate supervisor is forced to play the bad guy, and everyone suffers a major loss in morale and trust.

I once worked in a unit where one person suffered from acute alcoholism. His abusive behavior was enabled because his supervisor did not dare confront him. The excuse was that his process knowledge was so important to the organization that he could not be fired.

Finally, the situation became intolerable. When they called him in to confront the facts, he had been out of control for 15 years. His reaction to the manager was, “What took you guys so long?”

Following months of treatment, he became sober and was able to go on with his life as a positive contributor. Unfortunately, he was old enough by that time to retire; the organization had acted too late to gain much benefit from his recovery. The problem was clear, yet for years nothing was done.

In every organization, there are situations like this (not just health issues – tardiness, too many smoke breaks, or abusing the internet are typical examples). Leaders often ignore the problem, hoping it will go away or fearing that the cure will be worse than the disease.

The advice here is to remember the comment made by my friend, “What took you guys so long?” and intervene when the problems are less acute and the damage is minor. In his case, that would have been a blessing; the man died a few months after retiring.

Taking strong action requires courage that many leaders simply do not have. They rationalize the situation with logic like:

• Maybe the problem will correct itself if I just leave it alone.
• Perhaps I will be moved sometime soon, and the next person can deal with this.
• Confronting the issue would be so traumatic that it would do more harm than good.
• We have already found viable workaround measures, so why rock the boat now?
• We have bigger problems than this. Exposing this situation would be a distraction from our critical work.

The real dilemma is knowing the exact moment to intervene and how to do it in a way that preserves trust with the individual and the group.

Once you let someone get away with a violation, it becomes harder to enforce a rule the next time. You also run the risk of appearing to play favorites when you try to clamp down on other individuals.

The art of supervision is knowing how to make judgments that people interpret as fair, equitable, and sensitive. The best time to intervene is when the issue first arises. As a supervisor, you need to make the rules known and follow them yourself with few and only well-justified exceptions.

It is not possible to treat everyone always the same because people have different needs, but you must enforce the rules consistently in a way that people recognize is both appropriate and disciplined.

Be alert for the following symptoms in your area of control. If you observe these, chances are you are enabling problem employees.

• Recognition that you are working around a “problem”
• Accusations that you are “playing favorites”
• Individuals claiming they do not understand documented policies
• Backroom discussions of how to handle a person who is out of control
• Denial or downplaying an issue that is well known in the area
• Fear of retaliation or sabotage if rules are enforced
• Cliques forming to protect certain individuals
• Pranks or horseplay perpetrated on some individuals

These are just a few signals that someone is being enabled and that you need to step up to the responsibility of being the enforcer.

Sometimes supervisors inherit an undisciplined situation from a previous weak leader. It can be a challenge to get people to follow rules they have habitually ignored.

One idea is to get the group together and review company policy or simply ask what the rules are in this organization. Often people do not know the policies, or pretend they do not know, because the application of rules has been eclectic.

This void gives you a perfect opportunity to restate or recast the rules to start fresh. It can be done as a group exercise to improve buy-in. When people have a hand in creating the rules, they tend to remember and follow them better.

If you are not a new leader but are in a situation where abuse has crept in, using this technique and taking responsible action can help you regain control and credibility.

The reward for making the tough calls is that people throughout the organization will respect you. Problems will be handled early when they are easier to correct. The downside of procrastinating on enforcement is that you appear weak, and people will continually push the boundaries.

The preceding information was adapted from the book Leading with Trust is like Sailing Downwind, by Robert Whipple. It is available on http://www.leadergrow.com.

Robert Whipple is also the author of The TRUST Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals and, Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online. Bob consults and speaks on these and other leadership topics. He is CEO of Leadergrow Inc. a company dedicated to growing leaders.


Body Language 38 Sour Face

July 26, 2019

There is a facial expression that we all know well. I call it the “sourface.” The look comes from a natural reaction to tasting something that is sour, like a lemon, or milk that has gone bad. We pucker up our mouth, wrinkle our nose, and close our eyes to indicate discomfort.

Children use this expression when they put sour candy in their mouth. It is an instinctual expression that comes naturally, and it is generally not culture specific.

Physically, when we have something unpleasant in our mouth, we would like to block the taste as much as possible. Taste is a function of breathing along with a chemical reaction on the taste buds. To block the taste, we instinctively try to stop the ability to breathe by crinkling our nose and closing the back of our nostrils.

The eyes close tightly as well, due to the extreme discomfort of tasting something sour. One might think the eyes would widen due to the surprise, but that is never the case. We pucker up our mouth, nose, and eyes at the same time.

In the professional world, we use a similar expression to indicate extreme displeasure. When someone says or does something that is totally offensive to the point of being intolerable, the same facial expression often can be observed. It is like we are saying “dealing with that offensive remark is nearly as impossible as eating a lemon without wincing.” In this case, the tasteless comment is not literal, but the figurative bodily reaction is the same.

When others make a sour face

If you see the expression used in a professional environment, take note of it. In the eyes of that person, what was just said or done went way beyond being wrong or bad: it went all the way to abhorrent.

Stop the conversation and try to understand why the person had such a strong reaction. It may have been revulsion at a tasteless joke someone just told. It may be because they witnessed someone playing favorites to a painful level. It could be that the person believes a decision will likely have catastrophic negative impacts on the culture.

Usually this expression is not a group activity. You will not see everyone on a team use this expression at the same time. It is a manifestation of rejection by the person most offended. The other people are left to deal with the fallout until things get back to normal.

A person who overuses the sourface expression will have a negative impact on any group. People get fed up with the overt attempt to reject most statements. If there a member of your team who uses the sourface gesture a lot, investigate what is behind it.

This individual may be easily offended or have a specific trust problem with one or more members of the team. Alternatively, he or she may not be in sync with the goals or values of the organization. When you see someone using the sourface, use it as a signal that something needs to be discussed with the individual or the team.

When you make a sour face

If you are a leader, remember that it is easy to put your thumb on the scale of group opinion. The sourface may be just an expression you use to signal your personal disapproval, but you are really trying to sway the opinion of the group. Do not use the expression unless it is your intention to communicate a totally intolerable situation.

The sourface is a helpful tool to highlight tent-pole issues that should be dealt with before further damage is done. Use it sparingly, and note carefully the reactions from your group. Recognize that the expression might have a negative impact on trust because it is the equivalent of cutting someone off in mid-sentence.

Conclusion

The sourface is an extreme gesture of displeasure when used in a business setting either by a leader or by people in the organization. It should be used only when the situation warrants such an overt signal. More subtle and gentle or verbal means of expressing displeasure normally should be used.

This is a part in a series of articles on “Body Language.” The entire series can be viewed on https://www.leadergrow.com/articles/categories/35-body-language or on this blog.

Bob Whipple, MBA, CPLP, is a consultant, trainer, speaker, and author in the areas of leadership and trust. He is the author of four books: 1.TheTrust Factor: Advanced Leadership for Professionals (2003), 2. Understanding E-Body Language: Building Trust Online (2006), 3. Leading with Trust is Like Sailing Downwind (2009), and 4. Trust in Transition: Navigating Organizational Change (2014). In addition, he has authored over 600 articles and videos on various topics in leadership and trust. Bob has many years as a senior executive with a Fortune 500 Company and with non-profit organizations.