Four Building Blocks of the Retention Process

February 4, 2002 | By Beth N. Carvin

Many organizations are feeling the pinch of low unemployment and high turnover. Maybe yours is one of them. Keeping good employees is critical to organizational success.

However, many organizations look at this area as a series of tasks to be performed. This is a process, not a set of tasks... and once that mindset is taken, a comprehensive, ongoing system can be developed to ensure your retention goals are realized. Here are four areas to consider when developing your systemic process.

Building Block 1: Recruit To Retain

Use behavior based interviewing (see last quarter's issue). Ensure that all interviewers are "in-sync"; that is, they're reading off the same sheet of music. Look at the competencies that will be needed to reach strategic goals, and then hire people who posses those competencies. Use indicator assessments to help you better screen candidates and ensure that the job fit is correct. Realistically preview jobs; neither overselling nor underselling benefits the interviewee or the organization. And, don't forget reference and credential checks. In certain positions, full background checks may be needed.

Carefully evaluate each position, especially when one becomes vacant. Is a replacement truly needed? Are there better ways of structuring positions? Look for employee input as well as management input.

How does your organization stack up against the competition? If salaries, benefits and other "maintenance" factors aren't keeping up with the market, the other areas don't matter. Consider getting outside market surveys for comparative data.

Building Block 2: Make Everyone A Part Of The Family

Set up orientation programs that embrace new employees. Look at orientation as a long-term process, not just the first day or week of employment. Use your orientation process to build employee involvement and commitment. That means making it interactive from the beginning, and involving all parts of the organization. Use a buddy system for that critical introductory period time (or some other time parameter). It's nice to have a buddy to explain the ropes and to have someone to have lunch with. Check back regularly with new employees to "see how it's going". Find out if what was described during the formal orientation day is indeed what they're experiencing at their worksite.

Don't wait for the resignation that triggers an exit interview to find out what caused an employee to leave. Don't wait for the exit interview to find out where the organization has some opportunities for improvement. Use both formal and informal systems. For example, "Pulse Check" interviews done at three or four months after hire date can give a standardized indication of what's going well and where improvements can be made. Culture and climate surveys provide indicators, and focus groups can provide in-depth information on specific areas.

"MBWA", Managing By Walking Around, is a great way to get up close and personal with employees. It gives you first hand information, and allows you to view the workplace "as it is", rather than your perception from your office.

Building Block 3: Develop Current and Future Competencies

Skill development is for everyone - old and new employees alike. Proactively assist employees in setting goals that link their development to the organization's overall goals. Provide opportunities for both the short term and long term. Reward and recognize employees based on results achieved pertaining to that skill. It isn't enough just to learn it. Determine tangible results based on mastering the skill.

If you don't already have a mentor program, consider this for every employee. Mentors can help to guide and develop every employee, and the relationship is invaluable in raising the comfort level of employees and the productivity standard bar in the organization.

Managers are critical in retention efforts, so think about what you're doing to develop yours. Employees don't leave companies; they leave their managers! Make your managers are ones that employees will stick to like glue! But be forewarned, management development is an individualized, long-term commitment. It's not a few programs that the organization mandates every manager must attend.

Use a variety of tools and methods for developing employees. Assessments, web-based training, classroom instruction, team learning and on-the-job training are just a few of the methods. Each person is different in how they take in and process information. Find out what works best with each person, and then capitalize on it.

Building Block 4: Learn From The Past With An Eye On The Future

Even with the best work environments, employees do leave for a variety of reasons. Find out why your voluntary terminations resign by conducting structured exit interviews. Then, use that data to make positive changes in your workplace. If recurring themes come up, verify them with existing employees. Ask employees to form teams to develop recommendations to improve those areas.

As for involuntary terminations - study them carefully. Are there trends? Do certain supervisors have a higher than normal percentage of involuntary terminations? What are the reasons? How can these be avoided in the future?

By implementing principles of the Four Building Blocks, you can build a strong process for holding on to your employees. This, of course, is by no means exhaustive... but it's a heckuva good start!

Lynda Ford, author of this article, is president of The Ford Group, a consulting firm dedicated to improving organizations through their greatest potential resource: people. She can be contacted by e-mail at or by phone at (315) 339-6398 or toll free at 1-888-722-9876. Visit the website at