Workplace Culture

Can You Help Us Solve the Turnover-Engagement Conundrum?

By Staff Report

Oct. 2, 2014

Dear Metrics-Minded:

I take it from your question that that you are already measuring turnover and engagement by conducting an annual employee engagement survey and tracking your annual turnover rate. I recommend tracking “avoidable” and “regrettable” turnover rates as well.

There are many engagement drivers that coaching cannot address — such as the impact of cultural factors created by senior leaders, pay, recognition and whether job candidates are given realistic job previews or hired for the right jobs in the first place. Still, there’s no doubt that effective performance coaching and career coaching by managers can significantly increase engagement and reduce turnover,

Winchester Hospital in Massachusetts is a case in point. Several years ago, Winchester’s CEO decided to train all managers in the art of conducting “difficult conversations,” supplemented by a thorough self-assessment. The hospital also made sure to measure and monitor manager effectiveness by paying close attention to the results of its annual employee opinion survey. Managers were also given the opportunity to “rehearse” their difficult conversations with HR staff.

A few months after implementing the training and follow-up activities, Winchester’s voluntary turnover rate dropped from 15 percent to 7 percent. The nurse vacancy rate fell to 2 percent from a high of 21 percent and, while most hospitals have nurse shortages, Winchester actually has a waiting list of applicants. Even more impressive were the business results — the hospital achieved a 90th percentile ranking in patient satisfaction and an 87 percent occupancy rate.

To see if there’s a causal link between coaching and engagement, try thoroughly training one department’s managers in effective coaching methods, then require them to conduct “stay interviews,” create individual development plans, and update quarterly performance plans for each direct report.  While there’s no way to control for other factors or initiatives, there is every probability that engagement will be increased and turnover reduced.

Assuming engagement survey scores are reported by department and by manager, improvements can be easily compared with those of units or locations where the training and post-training accountability was not implemented. Better still, if financial resources are available, implement this kind of training-and-accountability initiative across the entire organization and measure retention and engagement over time. Senior executives must see initiatives such as these as investments, not just costs — all the more reason to tie them to metrics.

It should also be noted that every organization has bad managers who abuse, disrespect, bully, and micro-manage their direct reports, or who abdicate managing altogether, or simply avoid confrontation of any kind. Many of these managers can be salvaged through the right kind of feedback and coaching, especially when faced with their less-than-satisfactory turnover and engagement survey results.

SOURCE: Leigh Branham, managing principal, Keeping the People, Inc., Overland Park, Kansas, Sept. 22, 2014.

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