We all know our first job is (or expected to be) one of attraction. And we all know that if we build a strong brand, it will impact retention. But how many of us are intentionally involving ourselves in the thorny retention issues of the company?

In this episode, we talk about how you can get involved and how you can play a role in one of the most complex and important issues of any company.

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This episode was sparked by a comment on this post asking what the next topics should be. Feel free to add your own ideas!


Employer Brand For Retention

If there’s an ABCs of employer branders, the A almost certainly has to stand for attraction, right? That’s, that’s really why we’re here. Not because that’s what we want to do. But because that’s where the need is most obvious. That’s where the need for a good strong employer brand is most apparent. If you hire an employer brand consultant, chances are the problem they’re trying to solve is an attraction problem, a pipeline problem a reputation problem that is hurting the attraction function, right? If you’re an in house, employer, brand person, that is the thing leadership Looks at that’s the thing they’re focusing on to say, hey, fix this. This is where you’re should be focused. If you’re surrounded by recruiters, that’s where the recruiters are going to focus. Why? Because that’s their job. Their job is to find new talent as they need to fill the talent. No one asked the recruiter, Hey, are you mostly focused on hiring people are going to stay five years? Well, the only way to know if they’re doing that is to take a time machine, go ahead five years and see who those candidates are hiring actually stuck around and says, I don’t have a time machine. And I can’t help you. Now if you do, I want lottery numbers. But beyond that, we don’t think about retention, we might, if we’re having a good day, remind people there’s a great impact of having a strong employer brand on the retention side of the house. But how many of us actively think about retention problems? How many of us think okay, I’m gonna spend 20% of my day focusing on retention problems, or do you just go hey, you know what, if I just do a great employer brand job, the retention problem takes care of itself. Now I’m not going to give you any answers in this podcast, how you doing? But hopefully I can give you some thoughts and some strategies on how you can be paying more attention to retention problem, or at least how to get to the point where you understand and are focused on retention to make a difference. That’s what we’re going to talk about today on the telecast. We’ll be right back. Welcome to the talent cast, the world’s most caffeinated employer brand podcast. I’m your host, James Ellis. And I’ve been doing employer brand for years now. And I absolutely love the industry. I love how it’s growing. I love how it’s changing. And I’ve tried to do my part to elevate the concept to get everybody to understand the power employer brand and have in hiring, attracting and retaining talent. So we try to really focus on driving home the idea that this is a calling and a craft. It’s a lot of getting your hands dirty, but it’s also a lot of big strategic thinking. And that’s where we kind of live that kind of Venn diagram, the intersection between those big ideas and getting the details right. So we talk a lot compelled employer brand and how to do it right and how to think about it and how to look at your problems in a whole new way.

Intro audio

Hey, how you doing James Ellis recording live from Chicago as per usual, I’m just want to remind you that if you haven’t signed up for the newsletter, it is completely different content than this podcast. If you like the podcast, you must be an employer brand nerd like me. You really should sign up for the newsletter. It’s free. Go find the show notes or just go to employer brand dot news. Yes, it’s a real URL, I promise it’s a thing. Let’s get back to it.

All right. retention, right or attrition and here’s my problem. This just so you know, in my head, I flip retention theme and do it retention and attrition. I flip flop them a lot and I’m gonna mess this up. So I’m going to stutter and stop a lot because my brain just is stupid in this regard that they just some very easily goes you have the same except they’re in fact, inverse. Literally the exact opposite and I’m gonna say yes, we would only want to increase attrition. No, no, no, we don’t want to increase retention. We want to lower regretted attrition. And that is a problem I have. Anyway, there you are. Now, you know a little bit more about my brain. You didn’t get paid for that.

Anyway, let’s talk about retention. Because yes, while we are expected and focused to be focused on on attraction to be filling the pipelines to giving people a reason to, to apply for the jobs or reason to engage. And I’ve many, many times said that my job as an employer brand professional is to make people who don’t know me go Hmm, I didn’t know that about you, because that’s a huge win, right? That’s a huge victory in the job you’re trying to do as an employer, brand professional. Getting people to go Hmm, I didn’t realize that is a huge thing. You should be focused on that. And there is a direct correlation, a direct impact by having a strong brand on retention issues.

Let me kind of break it apart. Because I think at some point, if you want to take the retention stuff seriously and by the way, thanks Shelley Jeffcoat for bringing this up in the LinkedIn post. I appreciate that. This one’s for you. If you wanted to take the retention problem seriously as an employer brander, you can’t do it unilaterally. You can’t. And to be fair, as an employer brand person, you can’t do anything unilaterally. It’s a wonder they let you go home at the end of the day, because you say it’s time to go you stretch, you don’t need a permission slip half the time. Being an employer branders a weird gig. That’s all I’m gonna say.

But you can’t make that unilateral impact, but you can make an impact and I think it’s not so much a Hey, ghosts launched this project, go launch this process, go buy this product and put it in place. It’s really about a mindset that you bring to the table and a strategy or an intention, you have to say I am going to hold myself accountable to retention issues and that to me is step number one. It is very easy. And I absolve you if you have done this in the past completely absolve you Hearing the scope of this podcast. So I’m going to dominate bammo. There you go. You’re absolved of any kind of sin of having said, I’m going to ignore retention, if it’s you want to get into retention games, it’s time to get in retention games, and I completely thrilled you’re going to do it.

But step one is saying, I’m going to get involved, it’s being intentional to say, Look, I’m not going to let retention simply be a byproduct or a knock on effect of good strong employer brand. If my job and the purview I have is to have a strong employer brand, I must also be held accountable for the outcomes it is driving. So if you have if you think you’re building a great strong employer brand, but your pipeline is shrinking, are you You’re doing a great job. those outcomes are how we’re held accountable. That is the metrics we use to say, Now I get that there’s complicated ways you can say is that you know, the size of your talent pipeline is not the most important part is the quality, not quantity. I understand that that’s not a quibble, and I’m getting into that, but you’re going to measure your pipeline size by how many qualified candidates you have. And if it’s going down, you have an issue you should be focusing on your employer brand simply might not be as strong as you think it is. The same goes for the other side of it. If you’re attracting lots of great people, at the same time people are running for the doors, you have an issue. Now, are you the cause of this issue? Probably not. You are probably not causing a mass exodus of talent out the door. I hope maybe you are. It’s certainly possible. But unlikely. So I’m going to go ahead and leave that possibility that you know away and we’ll we’ll kind of ignore that.

But if you see we know that I’m gonna take a step back because one of the first things you should do if you’ve decided to become intentional about retention is to go get the data now who’s got that data hrs got that data? Oh, yes, sir. He Bob HR is good. Yes, ma’am. re Bob is that A non gender specific of yesterday above I don’t know. Yes, yes, ma’am. re Sara, I don’t know that’s, you know what this and not the podcast for this? Is that true? I don’t know.

Go to CHRO go to HR VPS go to HRBP, go talk to HR and find out what are the retention data points. Now, every company holds that data differently, meaning some people are more than happy to show you some aggregate numbers, they’re more than happy to say, look, this is our monthly loss rate. This is our annual loss rate. And that’s nice. That’s kind of like knowing what the average temperature in the winter is. But as someone who went from Chicago to Stockholm this winter, and it got warmer, those averages are complicated and they don’t always show the best possible picture or they don’t always show the most useful picture film about best or good or bad. It’s simply about useful.

So what you need to figure out is what is the Most granular data, you can see they will let you see about retention. Now the way you might want to do this is start by saying, Look, here is how employer brand impacts retention. And this is what I would say. So go ahead and feel free to steal my words as you see fit. I’m going to come down here and be less snarky, and put day job hat on right. I would say, look, if you think there was a retention issue, or even to the point where you might think that enhanced attrition rate a better attrition rate might have positive, best benefits to the business, I would like to show you how I can help. I would like to start by knowing attrition rates and retention rates across the board as granular.

Let me happy because if I understand why and where people are leaving, I can correlate that with who’s coming in and what we’re telling them and I can start to see gaps. For example, If you have a team of developers, and you’re having a retention problem, when we’re so you’re hiring super fast, I’m going to go look at the job posting, I’m going to look go look at what’s being said, by candidates, I’m going to go look at what’s being said on on the review sites, I’m going to go look at how people perceive us in that space and what the recruiters are promising candidates, then I’m going to go interview some of those people who work here and saying, look, are we meeting your expectations? Because that’s a red flag number one, because if you’re not meeting your expectations, expect that candidate to be looking for the exit to if it’s people who’ve been leaving for a long time, I want to talk to leadership to say, look, is this part of a larger strategy? Are we looking to say, look, we need to up you know, down cycle a bit to say, let’s let the more experienced candidates go because either we can’t afford to keep them or we can’t afford to keep them away from the other competition, right? And we’re willing to invest at a lower level on talent because we, you know, for example, we’ve done the hard work of building the platform, now we just need to execute the program and platform that requires a lower level of skill. hiring manager and the strategy, this higher manager is gonna understand the strategy of that.

If I understand all those things, I understand those pieces and I understand your data, I’ll understand when changes to the employer brand might be an order, and that is when I make maximum impact. Now, the fact that you’ve had that conversation with someone in HR position will blow their minds probably because they don’t often get to think at this level with people like you. So and they want to they really do they are as much as I rail against HR people for loving roles a little too much. They are very smart and they can see these strategies and they can see these solutions. The other piece you want to definitely let them know about is that is the reason you do your job. What employer branding is all about is not having and this is where you will likely have to come up with some examples on your own of how you do your job and what you’re doing. They may see employer brand is the person who writes The job posting the person who writes the ad the person who does whatever magic pixie dust, razzle dazzle attracts people, right? You’re the salesperson, you’re the person with the drunk. You’re the inflatable, wacky flailing arm person in front of the used car lot, right? Hey, look at us, hey, here’s a reason for you to apply. Hey, everybody, bring the kids we’ve got hot dogs and balloons, they may see you as that.

By positioning yourself, as someone who cares about retention, or at least intentional about retention, they will start to see you differently. And what you have to say is, look, the reason someone should join is the reason someone should stay. And if I’m doing a great job on one side of that, I’m not doing a great job on the other side of that I’m not doing a great job, and I need the information to know Am I doing the job properly. And that is a super helpful way of positioning your request.

So they give you the data, you’re losing people here, you’re going to want to look at some stuff and you’re probably going to want to look at this with an HR VP or with someone on the HR side, because there’s a lot of contextual information here that you may not be privy to, and they’re going to want to help, you’re going to need them to fill you in. So for example, what I would do is look at data month, by month, year over year. So for example, everybody knows the month after bonuses go out huge attrition issues, right. Everybody kind of sticking around and waiting to vest waiting for the bonus. They see the cash and they go, yeah, I’m good. I’m out and they walk away and they find the next job or they’re waiting. They tell the next job. Can you delay the six weeks until my bonus cashes? Okay, thanks.

So, you know, after big payouts, especially in startups, especially in companies, where bonuses are a huge deal for your company, you know that you have a retention issue directly after payouts okay. You might also see that you have a big retention issues January February, that’s pretty common, mostly because people see a bonus or they reevaluate at the end of the year and say what am I doing with my life is this where I want to be? Am I happy with I’m doing. And that’s when you start to see people shake out. Recruiters will tell you, that’s when you make the phone calls, because that’s when people are thinking about stuff. There’s loads in places it might be in the summer, it might be in the fall, it might be in the way, it doesn’t mean you have to figure that out.

If you see spikes, you got to know are you looking at data that’s regretted attrition or just return attrition? Did you have to let a team go? Did you have to? I don’t know have to. There’s all sorts of stuff that happens in a company right? And where you had to let people go, or you had to reassign people or there was a scandal or there was an issue or a product failed and you kind of had to gut that part of the company. And that may involve seeing spikes and attrition.

Seeing that’s why you have to see it team by team or department by department or location by location so that you can kind of tell the stories that are causing spikes and dips, because you want to normalize against that. The truth is, if the team screws up, yeah, they weren’t living the employer brand and Okay, maybe to some extent if you squint real hard employer brand had something to do with that. I don’t see it that way. I think that’s just an outlier.

The stuff you should not be focusing on what you should be focusing on is saying, Okay, if my employer brand name VP is about x are the people who are leaving seeing x now, now you’ve looked at the data around your retention issues, your next question should be to say, Okay, I have a painful question, can I see some of the exit interview data now, that will be likely a tougher fight? I’m just saying, you if you have a good relationship with your HR VP or HR VP, whoever you’re speaking to you, you should be willing to engage, you should be happy to say, look, I understand that you might not want to show me personal, personally identifiable data.

If someone made some claims on the way out the door that you don’t want me to see, I understand that. But what I need to know is, is the question the reason they’re leaving, is it always money? Is it always because they don’t like their manager if it’s so about their manager, if it’s about policies about structure, let me see if I can find correlations.

So I can say, Great. This is where I need to do some work. So for example, your employer brand is all about the ability to innovate, just make it great that works. You can play it off, you’ve got a lot of ways you can use that maybe it’s innovation and respect, great, comma, whatever. Turns out there are two teams in which people are leaving at a much higher rate than normal. Your recruiters are trying to fill those roles as fast as possible. the hiring manager will tell you it’s because the recruiters are doing a bad job bringing people in and they don’t quite stick around and blah, blah, blah, but your HR VP might say, Yeah, I think that’s a story being told to kind of absolve themselves of any kind of wrongdoing.

But I think the issue is that people while everybody says they’re leaving for more money, I get the sense that there’s something more now. Maybe you asked to introduce a question, a question that gets more to the heart of the employer brand. For example, you might say If our employer brand is about respect, and innovation, are there places in which you are seeing people in your team not living up to that brand promise, who kettle of fish, that is going to be a fantastic way to kind of start pulling out or asking the HR VP district pulling out more information as it relates to the employer brand. They’re just going to look because without you and without this intervention, what they’re going to ask is, Why are you leaving, and they’re gonna say, I found a place with more money, and they’re gonna say, is there any reason why any way we could get you to stay if we offered you more money, and everybody knows you never accept a counteroffer? So they say, No, it’s not that and the truth is, the money is an excuse. In that case, 99 times out of 100. The money’s an excuse. If they were happy with where they were more money wouldn’t necessarily made them any happier. What they were looking for was more autonomy. What they were looking for is more work life balance, what they were looking for, was more freedom, what they were looking for was more something else, and it’s not always easy for 100 For exit interview in, give him hrbp to ascertain that core reason. Y

ou, if you had an hour with that person, every every exit interview, maybe you could find some reasons why but frankly, anybody could. You don’t have that opportunity. But what you could do is ask to insert a single question to create a bit of a litmus test to say look, if we claim or a and be innovative and respectful, are you seeing that? And that there forces people to focus their information flow and say, okay, you’re not asking if it was money or not money and when they say Money Money is an easy way of saying, I don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings like my boss is a dick and I don’t want anybody I don’t want to be have to be the person who says that, because there’s gonna be people who happily say My boss is a jerk. And I’m not gonna be the one to say focusing on the VP pillars and claims inside that team inside that department is a way for you to say okay, do I have work to do Where is that work to be done.

Now, having Put that in there, you understand that it’s going to take a long time for you to get data back. That’s helpful. retention is inherently a long game is inherently a long strategy game. It takes time to see it and make an impact. I would caution you trying to see ways of buttressing or band aiding retention issues. I’ve seen companies who just look at the the, with the symptoms, and they say, ah, me more money, they need more investing, they need a faster vesting schedule, they want this they everybody talks about money, we want to give them more money, but we can’t give them more money. So we’ll give them something else that feels like money or speeds up the money process or whatever. They want more access. Okay, great. We’ll give them more time to do X. There’s a very, especially in competitive talent situations like developers and machine learning people or AI people or you know, wherever your super high talent might be to throw things out To force retention. And it misses the core lesson of employer branding. And that is, look, ultimately, teachers teach and they could get other jobs where they make twice as much money, but they choose to teach

Why? Because they care about something more than money, or they care about something more than that amount of money. And the truth is, while not everybody would do that people do. And in fact, I would kind of suggest them a figure 10% of people are purely motivated by money, and they will chase $5 and they will go anywhere, they will take any job with Satan, if it pays $5 more than the job with, you know, anybody nice. That’s just how they are. And that’s just how you’re going to do it.

The truth is, you are never going to win that fight anyway, unless you’re one of those companies, Facebook, where you could absolutely fight dollar for dollar and most of us can’t. Don’t worry about it. We’re never going to win that fight anyway, but you can extract ideas as to what matters to these people and that it should be one in forming your MVP in your employer. brand. That’s why you do what you do. That’s how you do what you do. It’s what your culture is about is what you’re valuing. It’s what your values are. It’s how your values are expressed to one another into the customers and the product and all that other good stuff.

So if you’ve got a gap, you now have two choices. One, change the brand. Again, long strategies. I don’t mean rename the company. I mean, maybe it’s time to evaluate one of those pillars. It’s just not doing the work you thought it was going to do. Or when you first establish re VP and did all your interviews and do your qualitative and quantitative researches you over indexed on something you shouldn’t have that slowly over time kind of eroded and now you’re left with a vestigial employer brand pillar and that is a really complicated sentence. Clearly. I did okay, on my verbal essays. You know, you’ve left with the stuff that doesn’t apply anymore and you have to occasionally refresh your employer brand you have to evaluate Is it still doing the job And the retention side is one of those ways. The other side is to simply say, Okay, look, some of these fights we can win. And some of these we can’t. I would posit that because again, you are not going to solve this problem by yourself. You simply can’t. But what you can do is bring an employer brand perspective, a promise perspective.

Liz Lemke over at transforming talent. She has a whole she did a whole episode. She got a newsletter. She did a whole episode, the concept of social contracts and this idea of what do we owe each other? What do we expect from each other? What do we expect from institutions around us? And really one of the core ones is that we don’t talk enough about is what do we owe what our employers owe us. There was a time in which they owed us a future they owed us. If you work with me and you stick around long enough, I will give you a pension and you will be able to retire and live comfortably for the rest of your life. That was the contract under which my father got his first job and then over time, it kind of fell apart. And to the point where when I showed up, it wasn’t even there. And by the time you know some of you showed up, you’re gone. What are you talking about? I never even heard of a “pension?” What did I don’t understand is that a Peruvian dish, I don’t understand.

The contract changed. That’s, you know, that’s suddenly the inclusion “Hey, go make your own 401k. And hey, you pay for it, and we’ll throw a kick a little in, too.” the contract changed. It wasn’t so much about the employer was offering the future the employer was offering the freedom of money to make your own choices, except when it wasn’t that complicated.

The trick is, the contract continues to evolve. So what is the contract you are holding as an employer, with your employees? That is a conversation you should be having because that gets a lot to the heart of what you’re offering your value proposition, what I’m offering as a future, what I’m offering is innovation when I’m offering his chance to challenge yourself or test yourself what I’m offering is flexibility and freedom. What are you offering? Do people want what you’re offering? Do they care about what you’re offering? Would they expect to get more In other places, that is how understanding those questions is how you are going to be able to frame the larger retention conversations. Because what you should be doing is saying, look, let’s put together a team when we think regularly about retention, and that means it’s a cross functional team, you and some, maybe your hrbp best friend now, hiring manager, I’m one of those teams that’s that has retention issues, or maybe one that doesn’t have retention issues. Maybe you figure out why they don’t have retention issues. Interesting.

Someone from leadership side, one or two people who are just smart, who aren’t quite leadership yet, and just say, look, let’s talk about retention issues and start with a conversation of here’s our EVP. Do people who live to leave here still believe in the EVP? If they don’t, where do they not seeing what are they not getting? Because the EVP is a frame or a lens through which you see the company and your work and your value being valued. And if it’s imperfect, you need to fix it. You can’t fix it alone, and you certainly can’t call lack the information by yourself to understand that it’s broken. But that’s how you do it. Now, please note at no point have I offered a solution for retention. fully aware of that. I can’t know what the problem is. I can’t know how to solve it. But what I can do is suggest that you play a very intentional part of understanding and talking about retention because you have something to add, right?

Again, retention is usually a function of let’s throw a perk at it. Let’s throw a thing or throw a bandaid on it. And you can’t think like that. That is literally your superpower as someone who generally thinks in a systemic strategic kind of way, you have the opportunity to say okay, sure, sure. Sure. perks are nice, but the half life on the value of a perk is about as short of that as a housefly, right? It’s cool for a day or two and then you forget about it, or worse yet, it’s cool for a day or two, and now you expect it and now it’s not even nice. It’s unexpected to have right. Go talk to anybody in the valley who just had their lunch break taken away or their free lunches taken away. Their gonna act like it’s the Bataan Death March, a act like this is the worst, most inhumane civil rights violation ever. And the truth is, you got a great perk and you act like it’s now expected, and it’s an obligation by the company. And no one told you that. That’s the trick.

So that’s how I want you to think I think you should think about retention, especially as an employer brand person, you have a voice here, you have a perspective and you have value in changing the outcomes to the company. If you have a silver bullet, maybe not. If, however, being part of the retention conversation and the solutions that are being driven, it reinforces the value of employer brand, that’s a win for you and the win for the company because you’re treating problems holistically and not as symptoms to be kind of taped over and painted over. And that is where real employer brand power happens.

All right. Thanks, everybody, for listening. I hope that was useful for you. I’d say it’s a weird question. So thanks Shelley for bringing it up. Now weird weird, like weird but more like unusual. I’m glad we had a chance to kind of dive in So that stuff. Thanks so much for listening.

I’ll talk to you next week.

Bye bye.