Wisdom//

This CEO Has a Near-100 Percent Employee Retention Rate. Here’s the Fascinating Reason Why

It's not endless coconut water.

patpitchaya/Shutterstock
patpitchaya/Shutterstock

CollegeWise is the leading college admissions agency in the world. It scores in the 99th percentile in Gallup engagement surveys. And for the past four years, it has had a near 0 percent turnover rate.

The Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) puts the annual turnover rate for companies at around 19 percent. And a survey of 30 case studies from research papers on the cost of employee turnover showed it costs a company a full 20 percent of a worker’s salary to replace that person.

Other studies have shown replacing someone in an entry-level position can cost a company as much as 40 percent of an employee’s salary (a staggering amount when you actually stop to think about it).

In other words, it could cost you up to $40,000 to replace someone who was making $75,000.

Losing good employees is expensive.

Losing them repeatedly is very expensive.

And alarmingly, according to TinyPULSE’s 2019 employee engagement report, 43 percent of workers would leave their companies for a mere 10 percent bump in salary. “How comfortable employees feel about providing upward feedback to their supervisors is a major indicator of overall happiness,” the report states.

The average employee retention rate is 90 percent–in other words, most companies are losing about 10 percent of their employees every year. But CollegeWise​ enjoys a near-100 percent rate of retention year-over-year.

Why? In large part due to the leadership of its CEO, Kevin McMullin. He models a different kind of one-on-one meeting–and encourages his managers to do the same.

What is this revolutionary model?

“We make it part of every manager’s responsibility to sit down and have one-to-ones with employees where the manager comes only with questions, and it’s the manager’s job to empathize and to learn.”

The manager comes only with questions, and it’s her or his job to empathizeand learn.

Not to problem-solve and manage. Not to criticize and cajole. Not to make suggestions and review mistakes.

To empathize and learn.

This makes business sense for more reasons than just retention.

If you’re an employee heading into a meeting in which you know your manager’s intention (which they’ve proved, month after month) is solely to empathize and learn, you’re a lot more likely to bring up difficult things. And the manager is going to be trained not to get defensive right away, but instead to take the time to understand where you’re coming from.

So, if you’re a manager, you’re infinitely more likely to hear about things before they’re huge problems. You’ll be able to nip things in the bud, rather than have to put out fires later.

You could, for example, avoid a $1.5 million harassment lawsuit.

“The worst thing you can do is to just say ‘I have an open-door policy,’ because that puts all the onus on the employees,” says McMullin. “If the manager goes first, most people will walk through that door and share their feedback.”

By now, we’ve all been exposed to enough social science research to know that managers who listen well keep employees happier–and keep them longer. As the adage goes, people don’t quit jobs; they quit managers.

But it’s not enough to just tell managers they need to listen more, or better, or more often. Having formalized processes like this one codifies it. It embeds listening into the culture.

It makes it part of how you lead.

McMullin knows it’s important that employees get feedback and coaching on a regular basis (and that, of course, still happens). But it’s also critical that employees have a regular space within which to speak what’s on their minds and in their hearts–and be heard. Where they know they won’t be fixed, managed, or talked down to. Just heard.

If you want to keep your people happy, this idea is very much worth instituting. When 
managers don’t wait for employees to make space for themselves, and instead lead the way, employees want to stay.

And happy employees mean more money, less turnover, and increased joy across the board.

Originally published on Inc.

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