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Transforming the Great Attrition into the Great Attraction

How redefining “balanced growth” can improve talent retention in a changing labor market

As the Great Recession raged, McKinsey published helpful research under the title Great Attrition’ or ‘Great Attraction’? The choice is yours. The main takeaway is the deep disconnect between employers and employees on the underlying issues driving today’s historically high quit rates. In this study:

  • EMPLOYERS believed that most problems center on work-life balance, employee workload, family care responsibilities, and overall engagement.

  • EMPLOYEES, on the other hand, talked about the importance of being valued, feeling a sense of belonging, and having caring and trusting teammates, as well as enjoying opportunity for advancement and flexible work schedules.

Put another way, employees are eschewing transactional employment relationships in favor of ones with positive interactions. Remote or on-site, they want to be part of something.That’s why well-meaning employer efforts, such as giving pay bumps and bonuses, have frequently failed to stem turnover. In the absence of meaningful attention to culture, such financial incentives only offer more transaction without connection.

Balanced Growth and Talent

Any econ majors and MBAs reading will recognize “balanced growth” as a macroeconomic theory positing that long-term growth is a viable alternative to boom-and-bust cycles that throw nations in and out of deep recession. By using this term, we don’t mean to go toe-to-toe with the Ph.D. set over their models. Rather, we’re arguing for a broad concept of sustainability within a day-to-day business context.

To us and with reference to talent, our area of expertise, balanced growth means caring as much about people as about profits, reflecting that outlook in operations, and enjoying the upsides. For example, we strongly believe that a growth mindset contributes to ongoing business success.

Organizations that act on the understanding that skills and abilities can be learned—the definition of a growth mindset—will incentivize employees to take risks and improve themselves and their work. They will offer opportunities for advancement and be willing to reward, rather than punish, failure as inherent in the quest to achieve big, important things.

Imagine being in an environment that values you not only for your current, bottom-line impact but also for your potential. What if the permission to try, struggle, and grow were extended to all employees equally instead of restricting such empathy to the upper echelon or judging failure differently depending on an employee’s race, gender, or background? What if the organization pulled together as every team member embarked on their own unique growth journey?

Such a growth-oriented company would not only innovate more, it would check a lot of boxes employees highlighted in the McKinsey study. And that’s just the beginning.

Are You Suffering a Growth Imbalance?

Here are just a few points on a hypothetical teeter-totter between employer and employee perspectives. How balanced is your company? For instance, are you:

Growing revenues—without growing your investment in the employees making great things happen

Employees notice when the company posts record profits yet shares little, if any, of that success with workers. Employees are telling us that being “valued” doesn’t always mean money; not every step of incremental growth need be accompanied by pay raises. But if you’re eking out revenues on the backs of your employees without asking what they need and want out of the relationship, that approach is unlikely to be sustainable.

Growing employees’ responsibilities—without recognizing “scope creep” and mitigating its impacts

A very “now” problem is attrition’s impacts on employees who choose to stay. In many cases, your most loyal workers are taking on two or three roles. Are they earning promotion, meaningful appreciation, and/or added flexibility and agency to get the job done without obsessive oversight? Are you providing tools and support and bringing on staff as quickly as possible to relieve these burdens?

Growing the volume of job openings—without adequate professional development and internal promotion

Employees are interested in advancement opportunities and that means professional development. The statistics show that training has a positive impact on retention. Plus, building talent is often easier and more effective than finding it on the market. Still, some employers are dissuaded by the trend toward shorter employee tenures. The illogic here might be best expressed in this comment to CNBC by Marcus Bryant of Vantage Customer Solutions: “Imagine if we don’t train [employees] and they stay at our organization…They’re underperforming or not performing to their maximum ability. We can’t worry that they’re going to overperform somewhere else when they’re underperforming here.” Yeah, no more excuses.

Growing employee skills—without recognition of their enhanced value

Even a company steeped in a growth mindset cannot meet an employee’s every increase in skill or ability with a promotion, but that doesn’t mean such improvements must be overlooked. McKinsey points to the Waffle House, where there are three levels of grill position: grill operator, master grill operator, and rock star grill operator, aka “Elvis on the grill.” The role itself doesn’t change but at this company, a great cook is called a great cook and it matters.

Growing your reputation—without taming the “corporate ego”

The “old” way was to assume employees should be grateful to work for you, no matter what. Whether expressed overtly or communicated in subtle ways, this attitude doesn’t fly anymore. Employment is a two-way street. Companies must value their talent. And the good news is, if you’re looking for gratitude, workers will actually be more appreciative of a job with an employee-centric organization.

Growing your values and mission verbiage—without putting them into action

With all the talk of culture, values, mission, meaning and so on, executive teams are striving to define the “why” behind their companies. Problems arise when this conversation is reserved for the C suite and the results are then promoted to employees in posters, rah-rah presentations, and the like. Companies must not only match words with action but also strive to build a safe space where employees can share their career “whys” and empower them to achieve unique objectives. That’s a truly shared mission.

Want to Talk Talent?

We get it, this is a lot to think about, let alone act on. But take heart. As the McKinsey research makes clear, the vast majority of employers are struggling to understand and adapt to new and still evolving worker perspectives.

You needn’t achieve perfection, let alone do it by tomorrow. But it’s still worth the effort to change. Organizations that reflect the current gestalt faster and more holistically than the competition will win in the labor market and can thereby transform the Great Attrition into their Great Attraction.

Sometimes adopting a growth mindset means looking to outside expertise. If you feel that the time has come to get help in achieving balanced growth as we’ve defined it here, feel free to talk to us.


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