The One that Got Away

Most of us have lost a key employee before.  I know that I have lost more than a few over the years and it is a regret that stays with you.  As I consider where they ended up in their careers, I realize the difference they could have made in my organization. Good employees leave for a variety of reasons: better opportunities, working conditions, or simply for new challenges.   The hard part of keeping the right people is making sure that we consistently and comprehensively address our risk factors.

I recently worked with an organization that affectionately referred to themselves as a “world class turnover shop.”  They possessed a strong recruitment profile in the marketplace, identified the most knowledgeable and interested candidates with a highly effective and structured screening process, and utilized an interactive and fun on-boarding process.  None of these practices correlated with their unreasonable turnover numbers and many of their practices would be the envy of most organizations.  As one recent hire summarized the hiring experience: “this place really cares about who works here and if they reach their full potential.”  Another employee with less than a year of experience stated “this place just might fulfill my dreams.” Since 40 percent of the most talented, high performers leave in three years, I asked: “What happens after these talented team members join the organization?”

The answer most often conveyed was “nothing happens.”  Among those employees with three to five years of experience, the consensus seemed to be that “the organization is great at brining you in and using you up.”  As I pondered the meaning of the answer, I realized a few important lessons.


As leaders, we tend to focus on part of a process or an area of concern.  In other words, we lose focus of the big picture as we expend all of our energy on fixing a problem.  When I shared the comments from the above with leaders, they lamented that problems still existed with talent management.  In the past, the organization had issues with recruiting the “best and brightest” and shifted its resources to rectifying the issue.  While focusing on recruitment, the organization began to neglect the longer-term employees.

Whole Package

High performing employees expect and demand the whole package from their employers.  By the whole package, I am referring to an efficient recruitment process, strong on-boarding, fulfilling assignments, recognition for performance, opportunities for growth and development, superior engagement, strong leadership, and chance for advancement.  In the past, an organization might have been able to flourish with having a comparative advantage in one or two talent areas.  Today, the successful standard incorporates all facets of talent management.  A September 2012 survey by HCS found that 72 percent of CEOs consider talent management critical to their organization’s success, but only 20 percent feel that they have a comprehensive offering.  The study collected employee opinions in the same organizations and employees agreed with leadership.


Engagement is dynamic and fluctuates over time.  Regardless of how hard an organization works to improve engagement, maintaining that level requires constant attention and effort.  As I have eluded to before, building engagement is like climbing a mountain: it takes time and demands a lot of the climber.  While, losing engagement mirrors tumbling down the mountain since losing engagement with your employees occurs much easier than building it.

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