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Earlier in my career I had a large number of job titles in a short time. It’s worth charting those job titles to show how one company’s thinking grew and changed – changes that are now represented, to a greater or lesser degree, across different companies. So my story of honest confessions of my time as a ‘retention expert’ commence…

Please note: I’m exaggerating for effect below, we had some good successes, but we also did a host of things I wouldn’t do now…

Take a deep breath, in a short period I was known as

  • Employee Attrition specialist
  • Employee Retention coordinator
  • Employee Engagement Manager
  • Employee Engagement and Culture Manager
  • Employee Engagement, Leadership and Culture Manager (it just about fit on a business card)
  • Organisational Development Manager

I’m pretty sure you can guess, but let me chart the learning journey that was associated with each role

Employee attrition Specialist – you can acquire a hell of a lot of data on the reasons why people leave. It won’t tell you as much as you need to know about why people stay and perform. To paraphrase Marcus Buckingham ‘if you study bad, the best you can hope to understand is.. not bad’

Employee Retention Coordinator – you can genuinely make an impact on the amount of people who leave your company. You can impact some of the marginal decisions and you never, ever lose out by striving for a better environment. The issue is, that if you are dealing only in those marginal decisions then a small negative decision can have a big impact. You haven’t created an environment that fosters loyalty, you’ve created one that is just on the right side of the ‘stay or go’ question

Employee Engagement Manager – this was quite a progressive title and role when I did it, before it became and then abruptly stopped being trendy. We did lots of survey work, we did lots of insight work, we actually did some of that notoriously hard to deliver action planning and improving. We did big data (on no practically budget) well before most HR departments had a dashboard. Key learning: all the surveys in the world won’t change bad management. They are actually more useful for giving your better managers insight to further improve. And the company’s level of tolerance for poor quality managers? Those are leadership and culture issues.

Employee Engagement, Leadership and Culture Manager –  you’ll notice that by this point we’d twigged that the employee experience wasn’t something you could impact by coming at it from one angle. At this point I was becoming close to a minister without portfolio, with permission to poke my nose into any part of the employee experience that I thought we could improve. Recruitment, training, values, data, coaching, performance management, remuneration – they all join up to determine the employee experience. If they end up feeling disjointed, you feel pain as a business.

Organisational Development Manager– if you grow people, you grow the business and you improve the business – then people want to stay. If only we’d got there 5 job titles earlier, but then, sometimes experience is the only way to learn

I cringe when I hear people attempting to create a business case for something that is common sense, I cringe when I hear the term ’employee engagement’ because of the lack of change it has come to represent, I cringe when I hear ridiculous ROI figures being engineered to justify decisions that should be made on principle, I cringe when I see data being abused or poorly utilised. I cringe when I think about how often you’ll find me cringing.

I cringe because it is sloppy and out of date, but also because I’m as guilty as anyone else of having done it. But it should stop… now.

The surprising truths about why people leave, stay and perform are now so well established to just be embarrassing misses.They shouldn’t catch your organisations off guard.

People don’t leave companies because of a lack of MI about them or a lack of initiatives. They leave because your company, in the round, isn’t as good as the company they left for. Quite often they leave managers.

This is a problem that won’t be solved by analysis or buzzwords or inventive job titles, it will only be solved by action.

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