You Can’t Hire Your Way Out Of A Retention Crisis

by William T Batten

I once worked with an organisation in crisis. There was a mass exodus of employees. People were fed up with a few too many decisions that, shall we say, didn’t align with their expectations.

Geniuses with decades of experience were walking out the door.

This organisation didn’t think it had a problem. After all, they had no issues in attracting new employees.

But as I (and anyone could have) told them – unproven folk with no experience can’t replace your high performers.

New employees aren’t a capability. They’re an investment. Maybe one day they’ll deliver returns on that. Or maybe they’ll move on in less than a year.

Change always hurts, even when it’s an improvement.

Replacing a known performer with someone fresh is especially painful.

Some organisations are hungry to grow, some want to maintain what they have and some need to shrink.

Either way, pay attention to who leaves and why.

I can give this advice confidently. A lot of what I say is stuff you might already be doing. But this? This you need to hear.

Because if there’s a mass exodus in any area, you probably weren’t paying attention. Employees will put up with a lot if they feel their senior leaders notice their concerns.

My philosophy is simple. I set a tripwire – a threshold that tells me when to really sit up and take notice. The exact number varies between organisations – McDonalds thrives with high turnover, mostly because it has set procedures.

Maybe for you, you want a tripwire like if 25% of your people leave in any given year.

The point of a tripwire is it gives you something to do when certain conditions are met. I precommit to doing this when the tripwire activates:


If enough employees leave in a short time, I assume there’s a problem and the problem is me.

Yes, even if there are retention problems all across the industry lately.

Yes, even if you spoke to those leaving and they had good reasons. It doesn’t matter if they won the lottery or their mother is sick – leaving is still leaving.

Here’s the benefit of panicking, whether there’s a problem or not:

Your people are going to panic. They now have to do a team’s worth of work with much fewer people.

By asking if there are any problems, you show that you care and you help them manage their new workloads.

And, just maybe, you catch wind of any fundamental problems that drive your people away.

This all sounds pretty obvious. But, let me tell you, any leader who does this will stand out. A simple enquiry shows you’re paying attention and are willing to make your people’s lives easier.

In my decade or so of office work, I never saw a leader do this. Senior leaders didn’t notice a crisis even when, within six months, 80% of a team left… and the other 20% said they were looking to move on. Even when the remaining team members approached them and did the maths, the leaders couldn’t see the problem.

“We can always just hire more people!”

Hiring people is brutally hard.

Solving problems is always easier.

Especially when your first step is approaching your people with an open ear and an even more open mind.

The best way to enhance your organisation is with the ultimate advantage: trust.

But how do you measure something like that, let alone improve it?

Especially if your workforce is stretched thin, cynical and burned out on change?

There are simple, effective and proven strategies you can begin implementing today. I know you can unlock the creativity, productivity and joy of your employees.

Learn how today with my free white paper and all the resources you need to launch your own trust-based change initiative: