Can a Development Plan Reduce Turnover?

July 10, 2014

Dear Failure to Communicate:

HR should be a key leader in helping to get turnover under control. Often, a department with high turnover thinks turnover is a necessary evil, or “just the way it is.” If they do not realize the cost of turnover, you should point out the real impacts of losing talent, including the costs of recruiting, the costs of training new hires, lost productivity while the position is vacant, inefficiencies while people are in training, the tarnished company reputation caused by turnover, as well as the stress on remaining workers who must fill the void while the position is vacant. These negative forces can make it more difficult to attract quality talent, and have a negative impact on company profitability.

While you are tracking turnover statistics on an ongoing basis, try to also estimate the costs of turnover. Share this data with company management.

To address the turnover problem, we recommend taking a dual approach to increase the sources of engagement while reducing the causes of turnover. This allows the organization to focus on the positive and strengthen morale.

Look to your employees to help you answer these key questions:

  • Why do people leave? What causes turnover in our organization?
  • Why do people stay? What does it take to succeed here? Why do people like working here?

Consider taking this high-involvement approach to generate suggestions for enhancing the workplace climate. By reducing the causes of turnover while simultaneously strengthening the sources of engagement, you can start to create momentum in a more positive direction.

1. Create a standing team of three to four employees whose purpose is to evaluate employee suggestions for enhancing the department’s work climate. This small group should include employees who are seen as positive leaders in the department. Depending on how long the initiative continues, employees could rotate on and off the team for greater participation.

2. For a period of six months, conduct a monthly one-hour focus group with a cross-section of eight to 12 department employees.

3. Set ground rules to create a safe environment for open discussion, for example:

  • Confidentiality: Your ideas will be anonymously recorded and shared.
  • Share your thinking. Focus on ways to enhance the work climate of the department.
  • Listen and show respect for each other’s ideas, even if you don’t agree.
  • Brainstorm suggestions, even if they are silly or impractical. Not all ideas can be implemented, but let the creative process flow!
  • All discussion outcomes will be summarized in a department newsletter so everyone can see the work being done.

4. Ask three key questions and flip chart all responses, with no names attached:

  • What does it take to succeed in this department?
  • What do you especially like about working in this department?
  • If you could change just one thing about working in the department, what would it be?

Questions 1 and 2 focus on strengths, and would generate a long list of positive comments. These would be recorded on flip charts as a way to visibly show the many positive aspects of working in the department, and the fine qualities of the work group itself. Use feedback on what it takes to succeed to strengthen your recruiting efforts. Target the kind of person who is most likely to succeed.

Question 3 focuses on recommended changes, which could run the gamut from building on strengths to simple improvements and more substantial changes. It would produce a list of suggested changes as opposed to complaints. This question would also limit the number of responses, so the list will be short and focused on participants’ highest priorities.

Record all comments and type them up after the session to share with the team. Facilitate discussion with the team to help them select the highest-impact ideas for recommendation to management.

Continue with monthly focus groups until all employees have a chance to participate at least once. Be sure to implement as many suggestions as feasible. Because the focus group discussions will be conducted in a spirit of openness, a climate of candor and trust will gradually develop in the department. As employee ideas are implemented, confidence in departmental leadership will grow, and the general work climate will improve. 

SOURCE: Patsy Svare, managing director, the Chatfield Group, Northbrook, Illinois.