Carefully Crafted on June 04

Shifting the “Turnover” Conversation

One of the core criteria in Best Places to Work surveys is turnover. Presumably, this implies that a company with high turnover mustn’t be among the best employment options.

A few years ago, my company experienced a period of high(ish) turnover. We had a number of people come and go in a relatively short period of time. I couldn’t figure out what I was doing wrong. Why didn’t they want to work here? Why wasn’t their performance meeting my expectations? Why did I hire them, only to find out they were a bad fit?

Business blogs, magazines and books urge you to avoid high rates of turnover. So, of course, as a business owner, I was stressing about our spike. In theory, you want to keep turnover low because the cost of turnover isn’t nominal. However, the cost of keeping a sub-bar performer or a bad cultural fit on the team is even more detrimental to a business.

I’ve worked really hard the past year or so to tweak our interview process to improve the likelihood that we’re hiring the best-of-the-best. We’ve identified core competencies for the specific position and ask questions that require the interviewee to provide demonstrable experience in each of those areas. For example, we want to hire people who are results-oriented. So we ask questions like:

  • Tell me about a time when you were working on a project and you stayed focused on results, rather than outputs.
  • Tell me about a time you had to anticipate and overcome obstacles to ensure the timely completion of a project.

Likewise, we want people who take initiative and are self-starters. Questions like the following help us see if interviewees possess this skill:

  • Tell us about a time when you were able to anticipate future needs and were willing to take the first step, without first being asked.
  • How do you take decisive action and hold yourself accountable?

Additionally, we ask questions to understand if the candidate aligns with our House Rules. The interview process is more intense and requires more effort (on our part and the interviewee’s), but it’s working. Our current team is collectively stronger than it’s ever been.  That said, I do realize that no interview process is 100% safeguarded. Instead of worrying about keeping general turnover low, I’m much more interested in a nuanced version of that data point: Retention of top talent.

Turnover isn’t a bad thing. Retention of top-talent is most critical. (Tweet this.)

So, how do we retain top talent? We are continuing to work on and expand the specifics, but here are a few ideas:

  • Customized benefits packages. Some people are motivated by salary, others are motivated by opportunities. Some people want more vacation days, while others prefer flexible work schedules. Instead of creating a one-size-fits-all benefits/compensation package, I try to listen to each person and understand what motivates them and how they want to be rewarded for a job well done. Then, as much as possible, I try to create an accommodating environment (within reason!) so each person feels fulfilled and appreciated.
  • Freedom and flexibility. No one wants to be micro-managed, and as a manager, I don’t want to be involved in every detail of every project. It’s my job to hire smart people, train them well and then get out of their way. Megan (Geben’s VP of client strategy) and I are very intentional about creating a flexible work environment that empowers each person to design their day and work when/where they’re most productive. At the same time, we don’t have a set “start” time, nor do we require people to clock-out or take PTO for things like doctor appointments. We also have a pretty lax sick time and vacation policy. If someone is abusing this, it’s a personnel problem, not a policy problem. Combined, these little gestures make a big difference to employees.
  • Personalized growth opportunities. Just as people are motivated by different things, people are also interested in different career paths. Instead of putting people on the “clients services track” or a “project manager track,” we have conversations with each individual about their goals and then create an individualized plan to track progress against those goals. Similarly, we’ve hired an outside business coach to provide additional support to employees. As much as possible, we try to help each person on our team create their own career path. We can garner more trust and loyalty from our top performers by aligning their personal growth goals with opportunities that we can create within Geben.
  • Do well by doing good. We’ve all seen the research that says people want to work for companies that are about more than the bottom line. Make no mistake, Geben is a for-profit company, but I’m also a big believer in the idea of doing well by doing good. That’s why we provide pro bono services to The Women’s Fund of Central Ohio, offer a deeply discounted nonprofit rate, take time out of the workday to volunteer, and frequently say “yes” to meetings with nonprofits seeking free advice. Employees are also encouraged to join boards or committees that align with their personal interests. My team appreciates the opportunity to give back to the community. It’s part of who we are as a company and part of the reason we’re able to retain top talent.
  • Minimize bureaucracy and hierarchy. No one, especially A-players, appreciates drowning in paperwork and chains of command. As we’ve grown at Geben, we’ve had to update HOW TO: Thrive at Geben (our version of a policy/procedures manual), but we try to keep that stuff to a minimum. Personally, I work really hard to make sure no one ever feels like they can’t come talk directly to me. I have standing mentor meetings with a few people on my team, and recently, I initiated a monthly lunch with our younger staff. As we grew, I found I wasn’t getting as much one-on-one time with the account coordinators and account execs (our entry- and middle-level positions). That disconnect didn’t feel very “Geben-ful,” so I decided to change it. By keeping the org chart relatively flat, top talent — regardless of level — always feels connected to the company as a whole.

What are some perks that you’ve experienced or seen to help retain top talent? Share your favorites in the comments!

Does Geben sound like a place you’d like to work? We are growing and currently expanding our team.  I’m always on the lookout for exceptional talent at all levels, particularly people with previous agency experience. Interested? Shoot me an email [] with your background and resume.


Photo credit: gronger

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