Keeping employees for the sake of keeping employees misses the point.
By Michael Beygelman
Much discussion these days revolves around the importance of employee retention. However, this is really an age-old topic that can be traced to Biblical times—the importance of apostles and retaining people that are aligned with the overall mission and vision. In more modern times, even Andrew Carnegie, the 19th century industrialist responsible for creating what today is U.S. Steel, was quoted as saying, “Take away my factories, my plants, take away my railroads, my ships, my transportation; take away my money, strip me of all these, but leave me my men, and in two or three years, I will have them all again.”
Let us gain alignment and understanding of why the effort to retain valuable employees might be able to pay dividends for companies large and small.
Recruiting and hiring is often not easy. Recruiters screen individuals from a large pool of applicants, conduct preliminary interviews, and eventually send hopeful candidates to managers for review. We do this for a few rounds, drill the applicants as to why they think they are fit for our company, and then we try to woo the right candidate to join our organization.
Once the hire is made, we invest time and money in training, developing, and in general grooming of people to help them get ready to be productive at work. If that person chooses to leave the organization, the HR process has to start all over again to (re) fill the same role. Finding the right employee is often a tedious job and an expensive exercise, and all efforts and costs simply go to waste when an employee leaves and has to be replaced.
When employees leave their employers, it is also more likely that they might join competing organizations. In these instances, employees tend to be tempted to take all the high-quality organizational attributes or people to their new employer, as well as some much-coveted intellectual capital.
It is essential for a company to retain employees who show potential, because every organization needs talented, hard-working members who can come up with creative ideas. Some believe that a company cannot survive if its top performing employees quit, so it is essential for companies to retain employees who really work hard and have proven themselves to be nearly indispensable.
However, caution must be maintained when dealing with issues of retention, because other viable points of view exist. Two different takes on the retention debate come from an event a few years ago at which the CEOs of both Facebook and Zappos spoke.
Covered in a subsequent Wall Street Journal piece, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook said, “If you want to learn how to build really good products and really good practices at a company that builds stuff really quickly, and have a big impact, I’d argue there’s no better place than Facebook to do that now.” He noted that some well-known companies have been started by former Facebook staffers such as YouTube co-founded by early Facebook employee Steve Chen. Zuckerberg qualified his statements by saying that he doesn’t want people to leave Facebook but understands that it will happen. “The types of people that want to do that, entrepreneurs or hackers, are fundamentally not going to want to stay at one place forever,” he said. “If people want to come do work and build and contribute to what we’re doing for a year, two, three or four, learn and build, and then go off and do new things, that’s something we’re really proud of. Our goal isn’t necessarily to keep people forever.”
The piece also went on to discuss Zappos, which tries to keep its employees as long as possible. “We have a different approach from what Mark was talking about at Facebook,” said Tony Hsieh, chief executive of Zappos, speaking after Zuckerberg at the same event. “We actually want our employees stay with the company for a long time, for 10 years, maybe their entire life. We now provide mentorship and training so employees can join at the entry level and, over a period of five to seven years, have the opportunity and training to become senior leaders in the company,” he said. “Constant growth is what will keep them in the company for a very long time.”
Hsieh has developed one way for a successful company to view retention of its employees. Facebook’s Zuckerberg has developed another. What is clear is that retention for the sake of retention is not a very good strategy. Organizational retention strategies must be grounded in the company’s culture, values, and belief systems in order to be effective in the long run.
Michael Beygelman is the global practice leader and president, North America RPO, at Adecco Group. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org