Leaders often lose great talent because there's no promotion available. It's terrible to watch your best employees quit after you have invested your time and resources in their professional growth. You may even question why you are investing so much in developing them in the first place.

On the other hand, leaders who discover a way to promote their top talent when there's not a position readily available can retain the best performers, develop their team even further, and increase team performance.

The best news of all is the leader can do this without creating a log jam at the top or having payrolls swell.

The key is to insert more steps for advancement within the career tracks you already have.

Keith Jackson, Vice President of Human Resources at AT&T, brilliantly explained to me,

"We were seeing turnover in our college hire program because they felt there was no upward mobility. We took a job that had three logical progressions over 5-7 years and inserted 4 more steps. This allowed the employees to be promoted in place (with new fancy titles) as they met productivity, leadership, competency, and training thresholds."

This was the secret sauce for providing assurances and incentives that the employees were on right track.

Humans Love Affirmation

Turns out that Keith is spot on. According to SHRM, "Millennials expect to be promoted every one to two years". When this expectation isn't met, they start searching for opportunity elsewhere. Instead of denying this reality, why not embrace it?

Decrease turnover by developing a system of mini-promotions to acknowledge and celebrate employees for their progress.

The Boys Scouts and Martial Arts communities have effectively used this for years. I never would have made it to Eagle Scout if it hadn't been for all the ranks and merit badges along the way. My daughter is now in Karate and there are lots of belts. Every time she checks one off it goes up on her wall. She can't wait for class!

To start your own system of mini-promotions to drive down turnover try these steps:

1. Get the pulse - The reality is that most leaders I meet do not know their current turnover rate, much less what their turnover rate is in key areas of the company. Calculate that first.

2. Prioritize where to make a change - Focus your attention on the teams that have the highest turnover rate, yet are critical for your leadership pipeline of the company. These are the employees who could become the future "eagle scouts" or "black belts" of the company.

3. Add "ranks" or "merit badges" - Instead of creating a "new system", take your existing career tracks and add new titles that are achievable on shorter time horizons. If this isn't possible, consider different development areas and create certifications that promote continuous development.

This doesn't have to be complicated. It can be a series of job titles based on performance or even certificates for skills mastered along the way. Possible title variations can be made for any level employee with a combination of these: coordinator, assistant, associate, analyst, administrator, engineer, specialist, generalist, officer, manager, consultant, representative, or leader.

4. Acknowledge - Get the most from this change by creating a development milestone and acknowledgement every 9-12 months just like Keith. The key is to offer a sign of public acknowledgement. It's not routine praise which employees may tune out. Consider using the company newsletter or group town halls as a forum for acknowledgement.

5. Track your results - Once you've made this change, track your results and modify along the way.

Try this approach with one of your high performing teams and note the impact on turnover and morale.