Losing key employees prematurely can be one of the greatest liabilities for an organization. It can be highly disruptive and expensive. Replacing high-skilled employees often costs over 200% of their salary.

We've seen companies try to address the issue by investing in employee engagement: lavish campuses, free gourmet meals, and all sorts of fun and expensive perks. I'm not sure how effective this strategy has been, but it seems that it's just distracting employees from their real needs: eventually, despite the sushi and massages, the best employees want career progress more than anything.

Survey after survey proves that most employees are unhappy with their career development opportunities. According to a study by Blessing-White, the top three factors influencing an employee's thoughts of leaving an organization is:

  • "I don't have opportunities to grow or advance here." (26%)
  • "I don't like what I do, or it doesn't make the most of my talents." (15%)
  • "I don't like working for" my manager. (10%)

It is the manager's responsibility to discourage key talent from premature turnover, and the only way to do it is to offer career development opportunities. The problem is that most managers don't know how. Managers generally do not have the knowledge, skill, and ability, to have the conversations, creativity, and planning necessary to sincerely offer an employee the opportunity for career transformation. This failing leads to frustration on the part of the employee, disengagement, and premature turnover.

Some organizations are acutely aware of the problem, having recognized it in the form of data from employee engagement surveys and exit interviews. Yet most of the organizations don't have a clue what to do about the problem.

We believe the solution mainly lies in supporting managers in learning how to develop their employees, to help them the career progress they actually want. Gone are the days when managers can assume what an employee wants--a step up on the corporate ladder. The modern realities of employment--disruptive technology, economic uncertainty, frequent reorganizations and layoffs, and savvy employees with a Start-up of You mentality--demands a new approach for managers to support their employees. Specifically, we believe a Tour of Duty is the best foundation for the relationship (as presented in The Alliance).

A Tour of Duty ensures that each key employee understands his or her specific mission, what constitutes successful completion of that mission, and the specific benefits that accomplishing the mission drives for the company's business and the employee's career development.

Tours of Duty for key employees, in particular, is the best way to maximize employee engagement and reduce premature turnover. But managers need organizational support: the organization needs to equip them with the skills to have the right conversations, build the trust, and be creative with the employee in finding the right mission objective that will transform the organization and the employee's career.

I founded Allied Talent with the authors of The Alliance and The Start-up of You, to help companies adopt the best practices in 21st-century management and career development. One of our focuses is to help companies keep key employees by preemptively addressing the reasons they might leave. If you or someone you know could use our help or resources, go here.

Chip Joyce is the Co-Founder and CEO of Allied Talent.