Jan 31, 2019

When High Performance Means Higher Flight Risk

Google has long been a popular focus of case studies, from business strategy to posting to business apps. Well, here’s one you might not have seen: their employee retention. It appears that while Google perennially ranks among the nation’s best places to work, they still haven’t mastered the art of holding on to their top employees.

This finding is no shocker. As with all companies, there are issues at Google. But enough talented folks leave that they’ve created a term for it: Xoogler. One such defector is Laszlo Bock, who once led Google’s retention efforts as the head of HR. While serving in that role, he introduced a 5-month maternity leave plan that led to a 50% reduction in the attrition rate for new moms.

Bock has now launched a new company called Humu. The technology platform is engineered to make sure employees get the recognition they crave and deserve. The result, claims Humu’s website, is that “people become happier, more productive — and stick around longer.”

“By simply thanking people in those types of environments, where it doesn’t happen very often, it can have a disproportionate impact on performance,” Bock explained in an interview with Quartz.

So what is Google lacking? Why did Bock leave to form a company that specializes in thanking people? The truth is, Google probably does an above-average job of recognizing top performers. Remember, their employees have identified them as one of the best places to work in America.

Still, there’s always room for improvement. And many small businesses suffer from similar retention problems, often stemming from what Forbes.com calls the “Curse of Competence.” Essentially, a handful of unfortunate circumstances can occur when you excel in your role:

  1. Your boss feels threatened by your achievements
  2. Someone higher up the chain doesn’t like the idea of you standing out and getting special rewards
  3. Your coworkers don’t like being outshone
  4. Your boss gives you more (and less desirable) work so you stay as busy than your less-motivated peers
  5. Your boss begins to take your achievements for granted

Any of these scenarios can produce chronic headaches for high performers, which is why companies both large and small live with the risk of their best folks leaving. One survey revealed only 7% of executives at Fortune 500 companies feel they can hold on to their best employees. With such dismal projections, it’s no wonder 77% of managers and senior executives in the survey described their retention strategies as inadequate.

“And the scarcer top talent becomes, the more companies that aren’t on their game will find their best people cherry-picked by companies that are,” says the report. “In the future, this will be even more likely, since millennials are far less loyal to their employers than their parents were.”

Government statistics back up this assertion. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the median job tenure for both men and women hovers around 4 years. This figure is undoubtedly driven by younger, more mobile employees. The BLS found 74% of the youngest workers had a tenure of 12 months or less with their current employer. When you look at workers between the ages of 55 and 64, only 9% have been at their job for 12 months or less.

As reported by the Harvard Business Review, “star performers” often leave companies because they’ve found things they excel in and no longer want to be stuck in the status quo. Others are introverts who decide they’re misfits in their extroverted work environments or grow tired of the political maneuvering necessary to climb the ladder.

The most common situation, however, is when a top performer decides it’s not worth it to continue carrying their less-motivated teammates. They see their surplus being used to subsidize others, which is never a good feeling. As Marc Andreessen once said, “five great programmers can completely outperform 1,000 mediocre ones.”

Some top performers go to other companies, where they likely get a bigger pay bump than they would if they stayed put and received a meager annual increase. Others choose to stop working for someone else and instead start their own thing. This move can bring better autonomy and flexibility, though it also means a less stable paycheck and the burden of health insurance.

Given these factors, it’s important for managers to remember that their best and brightest should be managed differently than the rest of the herd. When an employee’s work warrants praise, give it. When they want to discuss new approaches to their role, listen. And when their contribution calls for a substantial raise, make it happen.

Because if you won’t, someone else will.

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About the author

Grant Olsen
Grant Olsen is a writer specializing in small business loans, leadership skills, and growth strategies. He is a contributing writer for KSL 5 TV, where his articles have generated more than 6 million page views, and has been featured on FitSmallBusiness.com and ModernHealthcare.com. Grant is also the author of the book "Rhino Trouble." He has a B.A. in English from Brigham Young University.

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