Reducing Personnel Turnover Rate from 50% to 10%.

At the end of 2005, I was approached by a leading tractor manufacturer.
They wanted help in solving a problem: the very high turnover rate of their youngest and brightest.
Of the 15 young college graduates with management potential who were hired in the previous 12 months, 8 had left the company, snatched up by other businesses and corporations.
How could they stop bleeding talent?


We decided then not to pursue a problem-solving approach, but rather to follow a solution-focused approach.

It did not matter why those eight left. What mattered is that others stayed.
We might never know why those who left chose to do so: each one probably had his or her own personal reasons – after all, pay and benefits in that company are in line with the appropriate benchmarks.
Furthermore, my client is a very desirable employer (the company offers good international career opportunities in a high tech field in an area where there are no big businesses [in rural Italy]).
We do know, however, how to help people choose to stay: the secret is to involve them in their own career development.
The client identified 37 people as being particularly talented, who at the same time were at risk of being offered tempting deals by other businesses.

We decided to ask these 37 future managers and executives what kind of activities would help them grow professionally. We decided to ask them what kind of work culture would be best conducive to their professional growth. We decided to ask them to co-create skills-development programs that would make full use of the company’s assets.

Here is how the program unfolded:

  1. the first intervention was a very peculiar “assessment center”; we watched participants perform certain tasks and then we talked about their signature strengths; we used Questionnaires and then we talked about values and goals; we interviewed them one-by-one and we co-created unique self-development plans in what turned out to be brief coaching sessions. Mostly, we asked them how they could best grow in the company while helping the company grow. What kind of behaviors and practices would make this company an interesting place to work in? How could they make that happen?
    The goal was to engage them to be active participants in creating the relationships patterns (i.e., the culture) that would characterize the company they would like to belong to.
  2. the second intervention was an outdoor team building event (actually 2 events: we split the participants into two groups, and each group attended the event on different weekends). That did a lot to strengthen their sense of belonging, and it did wonders to develop an informal network among the participants. Lastly, it fostered positive relationships and curiosity about each other’s jobs, skills and vision.
  3. the third intervention was a 1-day long brainstorming session with all the participants together. The format and the exercises were vintage Solution-Focus. What works? What can we do to make it better? The participants came up with many interesting ideas that were, right there and then, developed into plans and work projects.
  4. the fourth phase was not an intervention at all: it was the participants taking the lead and implementing their ideas and plans.
    They organized monthly meetings where an executive would introduce his or her Department. The participants that worked in the Department featured during that month prepared and delivered a presentation about their work to the group, as an introduction to the Q&A session with the executive.
    These 37 people took the lead for the celebrations for the 70th anniversary of the establishment of the company: they prepared materials and presentations; worked as guides for groups of visitors (schools, delegations, and so on); they worked side-by-side with marketing to make the most of this milestone.
    They created Special Interest Groups online; they shared best practices while working together on inter-departmental projects; they organized visits to Expos.
    Our support was limited to a few brief coaching sessions here and there to coach executives or managers on how to best coach these young talents.
  5. as a benefit and as an element of their professional growth, participants were invited to attend 2-day workshops on stress management, project management and leadership.
  6. further exciting steps are planned for 2009: key inter-functional projects will be assigned to the participants; they will be responsible for introducing new knowledge to the company: a yearly retreat is in the final planning stages; some of them will also be coaching the newest hires! Stay tuned to learn more about these developments.

Bottom line:
since 2006, only 4 of the 37 have left; and in 2008, the 12 newest “young-talents” hired since the program began have started the very same program as the “second generation” (so far they are all in).

Obviously this case study has no ambition of being scientific: we cannot attribute with certainty the dramatic drop in turnover rate exclusively to our intervention; we cannot control the market’s fluctuations and all the other factors that can lead people to make career choices. However, with the comfort of continuous feedback, I can say it is my belief that our intervention was part of the solution.

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