A Vice President said to the CEO, “What if we train our employees and they leave?” The CEO responded, “What if we don’t and they stay?”

A Vice President said to the CEO, “What if we train our employees and they leave?” The CEO responded, “What if we don’t and they stay?”

Far too many companies have a short-sighted view of the process of hiring, training and retaining employees. Once they get past the hiring, formal training and initiatives to keep people on board seem to vanish into thin air.

The Blame Game

So, when people leave the company like a gaggle of geese flying into the sunset, management often blames the departing employees, taking virtually no responsibility for why people walked out the door unhappy and disillusioned. You can hear the muffled rationalizations: “He didn’t really want to work hard,” “she couldn’t handle the workload,” “he was never happy with his supervisor,” “he never got along with people,” “she wanted more money.”

Do employers really think that employees come to work with the goal of doing a lousy job? For the most part, when a new employee comes on board, they are there to work hard, put food on the table, get a raise, get time off with pay, make a few friends and even experience a dose or two of happiness. Sadly, a 2013 Gallup study, which reported data for more than 180 million people, found that just 13% of us consider ourselves to be “happily engaged at work.”

The Keys to The Kingdom

Harvard Professor Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a professor at Harvard Business School, and the author of Confidence, has identified three key areas that drive employee satisfaction, sustained performance and retention:

“I summarize these keys to strong work motivation in three M’s — mastery, membership, and meaning. Money is a distant fourth. Money can even be an irritant if compensation is not adequate or fair, and compensation runs out of steam quickly as a source of sustained performance. Instead, people happy in their work are often found in mission-driven organizations where people feel they have a positive impact on social needs.”

Here’s a brief look at Kanter’s three keys to motivation:

  1. Mastery: Helping people develop deep skills. Have you ever tried to hit a baseball that is coming at you at 85mph? Skill development requires diligent practice (keep swinging) + keeping your head down (focus) + patience (time for the skill to build). Growth requires tackling big things, what Collins and Porras, in Built To Last, called Big, Hairy, Audacious Goals.
  2. Membership: Creating community by honoring individuality. True community comes from allowing the whole person to show up and knowing what people care about, what drives them, what their fears are and what their goals are. People at different levels of the organization can then appreciate each other more fully.
  3. Meaning: Repeating and reinforcing a larger purpose, which brings clarity about how what we do every day improves and changes the world. As part of what we talk about regularly, our mission and purpose can make the mundane tasks of the “job” a means to an end.

How difficult does it have to be to embrace the wonder and privilege that the reason we employ people is to love, connect with and serve people?

It is hard work, yet very simple, and the results speak for themselves. Is it possible to see annual employee turnover of just 35% in an industry (healthcare) that puts up pathetic numbers closer to 90% or even over 100%? In a word, yes. We do it every year.

Help your people become really good at something, connect them with a team where they know you have their back and appreciate them. Then, ignite in them a burning desire to accomplish something they could never accomplish on their own.