Friday, March 18, 2011

Retention: Rhymes with Detention

We’ve all heard the buzz about retention. There’s a war for talent on. Your best talent is at risk. Replacing employees is expensive. Yada, yada, yada.

Don’t get me wrong, retention’s important. But while my project social partner Dave Ryan and I were chatting about retention last week, the words ‘rhymes with detention’ just popped into my head.

If you think about it, there’s a fine line of distinction between the two words: To retain someone means you secure them for possible future use. To detain someone means you hold them back. In both cases you’re hanging onto someone or something for your own purposes, but detention implies confinement.

Typical retention policies focus on rewards but rewards alone can leave employees feeling trapped, for example if they receive seniority pay that they can’t match somewhere else. If you don’t also offer good management and some sort of career development you may be detaining employees rather than retaining them.

Depending on the circumstances an unmotivated but adequately performing employee may be better than no one. But if you’re detaining people instead of retaining them, chances are you’ve got a performance gap that’s impacting your bottom line.

Or, a better way of putting it might be that you have an opportunity to increase shareholder value by closing that gap. So, what you really need is an engagement policy because engaged employees are more likely stick around and make you glad they did.

Where to begin? Dave Ryan wrote a great post about retention that I highly recommend. And don't miss the free eBook on Engagement in this same series.

Bottom line:
Hire the best people you can.
Treat them with respect.
Give them opportunities to learn.
Don't micromanage.
Pay fairly.
Reward excellence.
Say thank you.
Lighten up.


  1. Yes Laura - between Seinfeld or South Park there is something that relates to every blog post in the world. Nice Job - as we both spoke to "retention". PS Partner - Dave

  2. What a great and insightful post, Laura. You're right - too often our retention efforts do amount to detention. How productive can that be?


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