• Greg Jenkins

Recruit & Retain: It's The Story, Stupid ...

A good friend of mine recently left a good-paying job with a global, Bay Area tech company. Why, especially in a tricky economy, would he leave?

"Was the pressure too much?"


"Were you bored?"


"How was the pay, equity and benefits?"


"Did you like the work, your boss and your colleagues?"


"Was remote working the issue?

"Not really. I got used to that like everybody else."

"Then why'd you leave?"

"Honestly, I got very little fulfillment out of it. I liked what the company was doing, I guess, but I didn't feel much of a meaningful connection beyond the paycheck and occasional 'team building' exercises."

"Did internal town halls help with that?"

"Not really, no."

Recruiting and retention are on every executive and HR professional's minds these days for very good reason. We've all heard the statistics, but they are worth recalling:

  • One-third of new employees quit within their first six months

  • Four million people quit monthly

  • The cost to recruit an employee is 50 percent of the departing employee's salary

This is a significant cost and an avoidable stumbling block to an enterprise's ability to grow and to thrive. The time a company spends on retention and recruitment is time NOT spent on the core mission. This is a drag on the overall success of the enterprise. And if recent statistics are any indication, that drag isn't static, it's accelerating.

How, then, do we create environments where employees are not only rewarded in the traditional ways -- money, equity, promotions, professional development, feedback loops, etc. -- but in ways that give them more "skin in the game?" And more importantly, why should we care?

There is no shortage of reasons feeding into finding and keeping talent. One key factor that is all-too-often overlooked is how an employee describes where they work to friends and family. Sure, everybody can say WHERE they work and WHAT they do. Most people can even -- maybe -- spit out their version of the mission statement. When asked by a friend or family member to talk about what's so great about where they spend most of their waking hours, this is where the conversation peters out. Wouldn't it be useful if your team members were equipped to both tell your story in a way you want it told to potential recruits, and to feel great about where they work? Of course. But why the disconnect in the first place?

From the C-Suite perspective, this is puzzling. Leadership knows how to talk about the company. They know the value proposition. They know the hierarchy of what matters most and what doesn't. They know all these things because they engage with key stakeholders all the time, and the minimum expectation is that they communicate these things purposefully. When a reporter asks the CEO what makes his or her company better than the competition, the response is -- or should be -- crisp and compelling. When an analyst asks the CFO how they intend to meet expectations, he or she knows what to say. Or they should.

So what's the problem below the leadership level and why does it matter?

The problem is an absence of a clear narrative and what to do with it even if you had one.

The reason it matters is your enteprise has an untapped resource who, if they had the tools to talk about where they work, have the potential to extend your brand and value proposition where it matters: recruitment. The other reason it matters is your team -- if they know why they work where they work -- will naturally feel more connected in a meaningful way: retention.

A useful, concise narrative captures the value of your enteprise in a way that mission statements cannot. A well-crafted narrative orders and translates corporate-speak into a Rosetta Stone, of sorts, for team members to absorb and use. In their own words. This is followed-up with team coaching to help people understand how easy it is to be confident, proud and effective when they are talking with friends and family about why they love where they work.

The process of building a useful -- and USABLE -- narrative is one of discovery. Leaders are the key to understanding what matters and what doesn't. But they're not the only ones. Key stakeholder -- customers, internal and external audiences, investors, journalists, et al. -- should also be engaged in the process. Very frequently in this discovery process daylight emerges between what leadership thinks is most important and what important stakeholders think. Draining away some of the corporate Kool Aid that we all like to drink is difficult, but necessary.

Once a narrative is developed, those who are charged with external communications -- the leadership team -- can buckle down and become much more effective, all singing from the same song sheet. That, unfortunately, is usually where the process ends. If leadership cares about retaining team members and finding new ones, then everybody in the enterprise should also understand what matters and how to talk about it.

It's worth considering that though the vast majority of an enterprise's team is not empowered to speak on a company's behalf, they do anyway. On the sidelines of their kid's soccer game to other parents ... at cocktail parties and backyard BBQs ... watching a football game with friends ... giving helpful advice to a friend who's looking for a new professinal challenge. It happens all the time, everywhere.

The question comes down to this: are you going to leverage this fact, or are you going to leave money on the table?

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