Ryann Wayne is the CEO of The Frontier Project Group of Companies, a portfolio consultancy that delivers growth for its clients in a way that benefits employees, shareholders, and society.
Turnover, as conventional wisdom has it, sucks.
Churn eats up time and slows productivity. Off-boarding and on-boarding gets expensive, fast. A revolving door can take its toll on morale. So enterprise organizations fret endlessly over their retention figures and their related costs, and human resources organizations constantly suggest ideal targets for employee churn rates. Turnover, it’s generally agreed, is a bad thing for large businesses.
But for your small, fast-growth business? Turnover might be just what you needed. Here’s why:
1) Small businesses evolve with wild, unpredictable speed, and their talent should too.
A possible pivot, expansion, relaunch, or repositioning is always just around the corner. The talent you acquired during one stage might not best-suited for another. Turnover opens an opportunity to refresh, to reboot, or to reup for whatever you’re tackling next.
I used to beat myself up over losing a good employee. Suffering from the “all turnover is bad” mindset that I was taught in school, I would take it personally, and obsess over whether I could have done anything to prevent it. And then one day, I had a realization: We have never had an employee departure that did not present us with a well-timed opportunity to regroup, reassess our business needs and strategic direction, and replace that person with a new hire that took us to the next level. It’s happened nearly every time.
Exit, it turns out, might be opportunity.
2) Fast-growth small businesses attract creative people-and creative people are often restless.
If they found you, and you found them, chances are pretty good they’ll find something else at some point. Another mountain to climb, another dream to chase. That’s good. You want people who aren’t easily satisfied, and who are hungry for the better and the greater. That means you’ll lose them at some point. But the impulse that urges them to move on is the same impulse that triggered great work while they were with you. Comes with the territory.
I’m not saying retention shouldn’t be the goal (or at least a goal), but retention for the sake of retention is misguided. Work to retain the people who are going to give you their all, who are excited to be working every day for you, who elevate your work product, and who inspire the people around them. Once that magic is gone, you want those people to go where they are going to find that magic again. Does it hurt your turnover numbers? Yes. Does it hurt your business? Well, no.
3) Small businesses need evangelists-and your best evangelists are those that participated in building the company.
Your ex-employees may be your best advocates. Spreading word of your product, referring new talent to your firm, introducing possible partners or allies. An exit doesn’t have to mean a relational rupture. It could just as easily be an extension into communities you don’t reach.
Here’s a common occurrence around our studio: I spot a former employee on site, in a meeting about a new project that involves their company and ours. Or I see an appointment on the calendar of one of our consultants to share a call or a cocktail with a former employee to explore a collaboration. Our network is made better, more diverse, and more generative by those who chose to walk away.
What I describe above is a kind of nutritional turnover: Rather than making the company weaker, this kind of churn both fuels and awakens. To create the conditions for nutritional turnover, make sure those who are meant to stay, do. And those are meant to leave can do so in a healthy manner than doesn’t threaten the wellness of the whole. Here are a three things to pay attention to whether employees are coming, going, or staying:
- Are your employees connected to your company’s purpose?
Around our shop, we call it the raison d’etre. The reason for our existence. For us: we help companies grow in a way that benefits employees, shareholders and society. Healthy growth plus progressive social impact. Do you know yours? Do those who work for you know it too? Can they easy tie their daily work to this existential grounding? If yes, the departure of an employee won’t disrupt the deeper resonance any given employee feels with her or his work.
- Does your company encourage vertical and horizontal connection?
Your less experienced employees will find comrades in each other. Your managers will connect over shared challenges, and naturally build rapport. Your skilled teams will clump together and create ad hoc families. These horizontal relationships are good. But when an employee leaves you’ll need vertical relationships to be just as strong. My favorite cubicle mate might depart, but if I love my manager, I’m not likely to feel totally disoriented. Trust in leadership is an anchor in times of transition.
- Is your team highly networked-internally?
We switch desks once a quarter so no one nests too heavily. Each project is staffed from scratch with a new team. We monitor the balance of client work for each of our consultants and associates to make sure ruts don’t develop. The result: everyone in our firm has worked with everyone else, and will continue to, in a constant swirl of repositioning of resources, people, and approaches. The departure of any one of us would be a loss, but the network would hold. Sticky as a web.
The pace of change in our businesses continues to increase–as does the pace of change in the lives of our employees. As the economy continues to recover, and as one generation hands off leadership to another, it only becomes more likely that talent will come and go-perhaps more frequently than we’d like. These cultural forces cannot be avoided. So rather than fight these realities, harness their momentum to propel your business forward.