Retention: The Next Frontier?

What are the best research-based employee retention strategies?

Someone posed this question to me on Quora. Despite the issue of poor or uncertain research techniques (yes, I’ve sat on more than my share of doctoral and peer review committees) I decided to answer it, because retention is a universal problem that affects all areas of life. You don’t have to restrain your thinking to the office, either. Just consider the divorce rate. And how many of your kindergarten besties are still in your life?

Given the results of last week’s election, it looks like both major parties will be needing help too. So, while I’ll tailor my remarks to the Quora questioner, be assured, the problem of how to retain relationships is universal.

Let’s start with the vagaries of definition. Most HR folks define retention by the presence of the person at the end of a given term of employment, usually measured in years. (Exception: customer service, where some companies measure in days.) But that just takes the body into consideration. I’ve often said, I don’t care about having your body present. In the tech industry, remote teams are pretty much the norm. But, I do care a lot about having your brain present. And your heart. And your very soul. I truly dislike the word ‘engagement’ but that’s close enough, at least theoretically.

If you want people to stay with you, in every way, start by figuring out how they deeply desire to contribute to something bigger than themselves. (You can use the technology at to do this. Disclosure: I’m the architect of the system. It rocks.) Then assign them work that aligns with this, and relate to them appropriately. People do best what they like best, and they like best what they do best. Stop fighting human nature and do not believe it when an HR person whines to you something like “everyone has to do something they don’t like.” (I will not cite the source of that quote. I’m not that mean…)

Once you do that, the rest is easy. Respect them for what they contribute to your team, your family, the world. Tell them in words, deeds, and cash. Every. Single. Day. (At least the words and deeds part.) If it’s a personal relationship we’re talking about, make sure you seal it with a kiss.

And note, if it’s a political relationship, telling the truth and setting a good example for how future voters should behave is the most important.

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