How do you get employees to be as loyal as man’s best friend? For starters, learn to lead better. (Photo courtesy of Flickr.)
Although employee turnover is a natural part of business in any industry, dealing with its consequences isn’t easy. Revolving workforces lead to increased training costs, inconsistent production, poor morale and, consequently, reduced or limited profits.
What are top organizations doing about it, aside from implementing some short-term solutions when they discover it’s a problem?I interviewed Dov Baron, author of “Fiercely Loyal: How High Performing Companies Develop and Retain Top Talent,” to find out the myths surrounding leadership and the things today’s leaders must do if they to want keep their top talent and generate fierce and unshakable loyalty in employees and customers alike. Below are edited excerpts of our interview.
Employee loyalty seems so scarce these days. With millennial turnover so high, what suggestions do you have to reduce it? Is it even worth trying to reduce?
Baron: You are right. Millennial turnover is high, but it can be significantly reduced. Is it worth even trying to retain millennials? Absolutely.
Millennial turnover is high; however, we need to contextualize what is meant by “high.” The first thing to realize is that the days of having 20-plus-years employees is over. Millennials are looking to change careers about every four years. That being said, the average tenure of an employee is 1.2 years. This of course means that your job as a leader is to do what it takes to hold onto your people for the maximum period of time, or at least four years. In reference to the question of whether it’s even worth trying to keep your people, in training and development alone the average employee costs an organization between 1.5-2 times their annual salary. Therefore, unless you have an effective way to bond your people to the organization, you will never get a return on your investment.
If an organization is truly serious about keeping its millennial talent pool, then there must be a dedication to understanding this workforce. First, millennials have grown up with more screen time that any previous generation. This means they are bored faster than most individuals from the previous workforce. Boomers and Gen Xers grew up on TV shows that were at least 22 minutes, plus commercials.
Millennials are often perceived as entitled because they want to get everywhere fast. However, they are the generation that volunteers more of their time than any previous generation has, and clearly this flies in the face of the label entitled. In the broadest possible terms, if you seriously want to reduce the revolving door of millennial talent, you better make sure that the work they’re doing is meaningful.
What traits do leaders need to get loyalty from their employees?
Baron: The No. 1 trait is also the one that is the scariest to traditional leaders: transparency. The kind of transparency I am speaking of is far more than simply revealing the financials of your organization to the employees. In order for today’s leaders to create loyalty, they will also need to be transparent about who they are, and what truly matters to them. The leaders who are able to instill fierce loyalty in their people understand that, despite what we have all been taught, vulnerability is not weakness. Vulnerability with accountability is an extremely powerful way to generate the kind of loyalty we as leaders so desperately desire.
One application of using vulnerability to instill loyalty is something known as “cross mentoring.” In the old world of leadership, the leader is older, more experienced and therefore assumes the mentor role. In that old model, a leader cannot (or is not willing to) admit that they don’t know something. In the new model of leadership, mentoring doesn’t just go from the top down but also across. This means that today’s leader understands and accepts that there are many things someone who is junior can teach them.
Right now, there is a massive concern with regard to the very low level of employee engagement. Leaders are pushing hard to find way to engage their people without realizing that they themselves may be at the core of the problem. To have engaged employees, you must be an engaged leader. The leaders who are keeping their people loyal are the ones who are passionate about what their organization does, what it stands for. Leaders who are engaged in a deeper purpose of their organization are the leaders who will inspire their people to stick around.
Are they traits you think today’s leaders possess?
Baron: All too rarely. However, there are exceptions. The first that comes to mind is Sir Richard Branson. Let’s face it; if you are going to model someone who’s doing it right, Branson is a great choice.
With regard to leaders who are engaged, the obvious one that likely pops to mind is Steve Jobs. Let’s be clear here: Jobs was not a great guy to work for. His demands were impossible, he did not treat employees well, and he was in many ways a tyrant, yet people stayed with him. Why? He was a leader who was absolutely and completely engaged with his purpose. This overriding desire to “put a ding in the universe” had him completely engaged. Because of this deep engagement, people stayed with him far longer than they ever would have if they were working for someone who was not so committed to the purpose of their organization.
Can these traits be learned?
Baron: Great question. However, a better question is: Are today’s leaders willing to learn them? Vulnerability and transparency can be learned, but it takes great commitment and dedication.
Here’s why: Fake vulnerably and transparency can be easily spotted by another, even if the person doing the revealing is telling themselves its real. The reason for this is true vulnerability is not possible without a depth of self-knowledge. So yes, real vulnerability can be learned, but only by a leader who is genuinely committed to looking under their own hood and discovering what really makes them tick.
Can a leader learn engagement with purpose? I would seriously doubt it. Can they fake it? Sure, but millennials seem to have a very powerful b.s. radar. Rather than learning this trait, leaders would be well advised to check their own integrity, and make sure they, like millennials, go to work for organizations they can deeply care about.