Retaining staff

A client is concerned at the number of people who move out of the organisation instead of moving within.

Here are some ideas:

Pay people

Workers with in-demand skills, e.g. IT, can typically negotiate a 20% pay increase (or much more) by changing jobs, whereas they struggle to squeeze a few percent every year out of their bosses.  You need to pay people to stay.

Making a counter offer when they announce they are leaving says that you have been underpaying them all this time, and are willing to change only when you can’t get away with it any more. It’s better they leave than stay after that revelation.

Pay as much as you can  afford, not as little as you can negotiate.  You’re not buying people for the lowest cost, you’re hiring them for their value. We must move away from an extractive mindset: people (or the planet) are not an endless resource to be squeezed.

If you lose somebody, replacing them will cost much more than that raise you didn’t give.


Liberate people

When managers are measured on how well their team does, and not the organisation as a whole, then they are incented to concentrate good people within their own team. If staff know their team manager will never let them go, the easiest fix is to leave.

The key is to measure (and reward) people, including managers, on collective results not individual KPIs. We see the damage from individual reward systems everywhere, setting staff up to compete with each other instead of collaborating.

Specifically, measure managers on staff retention and progression, not (only) their results.

Once managers are incented to help people move around, they can then work at enabling it.

1) Reframe the thinking on career paths to move around, not just up: progress not just promotion. People should find where they are happiest and most effective (the two tend to overlap).

2) Managers can arrange secondments and virtual teams, to allow people to experiment with new roles and still have a way back.

3) Managers can also network to find opportunities for their staff, seeking to help maximise someone’s potential for the whole organisation.

4) The organisation can provide strength-finder tools, and managers can provide feedback, to help people navigate their career path.

5) The organisation can set up (or enhance) internal job markets to help staff find opportunities.


Appreciate people

All the liberation won’t persuade people to stay if they don’t want to work here.

Organisations that treat people as a resource, an asset, capital stock, wet machines, a cost centre, we say they burn people for fuel – it’s that extractive mindset. Nobody wants to work there. “Work is so bad they have to pay you to do it.” Paying people properly gets the issue off the table, but it is not enough.  People need autonomy, mastery, and purpose, as Daniel Pink puts it.  They need fulfilment. Work on your culture, and especially your management culture.  Change the principles and  behaviours, and (hopefully) culture will improve.

It starts with governors espousing new values and principles, to lead managers to new ways of managing, which enables better working lives. (This is what our work at Teal Unicorn is all about).


Pay them, liberate them,  and appreciate them.  Then your staff will stay.