Employee Retention

Leaders Only Need to Do This to Retain Top Talent

Successful teams are comprised of like-minded people who trust each other and believe in their mission.
Leaders Only Need to Do This to Retain Top Talent
Image credit: skynesher | Getty Images
Guest Writer
Entrepreneur, Executive Coach, Author, Speaker
5 min read
Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

I overheard a conversation the other day in which an entry-level sales rep said he "crowdsourced" a work issue. Apparently, he had a high-level client who wasn’t returning his calls, so he posed a question to his informal network for guidance. Now, this sales rep is young -- probably mid-twenties. What’s interesting here is the fact that this sales rep sought external advice from his friends and social media rather than from his own manager. After all, why wait for a meeting with your boss (which would probably take another week anyway) or have a “difficult” face-to-face conversation about why clients aren’t returning your calls when the oracle known as Google can answer your questions in almost-real time?

Unfortunately, this manager didn’t even know he is obsolete.

The above situation is not uncommon given the fact that 88 percent of millennials derive their news from Facebook. However, the greater issue here is the challenge for leaders to create a culture of belonging that encourages employees to seek guidance from their manager or team as a means to create greater employee engagement and improved organizational performance. Gallup research showed that only two out of 10 employees claim to have a best friend at work. However, by increasing that number to six, there would be 36 percent fewer safety concerns, 7 percent more engaged customers and 12 percent higher profit. Not bad for such a “soft topic” of belonging. 

The truth is, the “soft stuff” is what makes the “hard stuff” possible. People make technology possible, but only if they are working as a team to solve complicated issues. People innovate and turn a new idea into a product or service when they have the psychological safety to fail and ask questions. However, if people don’t feel like they belong and their contribution isn’t valued, then there’s no incentive for them to work.

I experienced this firsthand as a SEAL when the mission changed from counterterrorism to counterinsurgency. I had continued the fight for 13 years despite getting shot on two out of eight deployments, my parachute not opening on four different occasions and losing more friends than some people can count -- including my best friend. However, once the mission changed, I no longer felt that I belonged because it wasn’t the mission I signed up for.

Don’t let a lack of belonging be the roadblock to high performance. There are three things entrepreneurial leaders can do to foster greater belonging so they retain top talent:

Related: 6 Steps to Build a Strong Team

Screen for fit.

Before Ernest Shackleton set out to be the first explorer to trek across Antarctica, he needed the right crew. To do so, he posted an ad that read, “Men Wanted: for hazardous journey, small wages, bitter cold, long months of complete darkness, constant danger, safe return doubtful, honor and recognition in case of success.” There’s only one type of person who would answer such a call (the word “crazy” comes to mind). However, simply answering this advertisement didn’t automatically guarantee a role in Shackleton’s crew. Every applicant was further interviewed for social cohesion, humility and work ethic. Only applicants that “fit” with the personality of the crew were allowed to join. 

The point is, to create a greater sense of belonging in your company, don’t just hire to fill a role. Hire for fit. When people work with like-minded employees who believe in the same mission and are comfortable challenging it, you create the type of team cohesion that makes good companies great.

Related: 7 Ways to Build a Team With Little or No Money

Conversation is central to the process.

I gave a speech one time on building a team-centric organization. One of the questions at the end was, “Jeff, I’ve lost some really talented people this year to competitors. What have you seen as an effective retention strategy?”

I then asked this person what the dialogue between himself and his employees looked like. There wasn’t any. This person never had the conversations with his team to identify what was working for them and what wasn’t. I hate to tell you, but telepathy isn’t a strategy. You need to actually dig in and have the conversations that make “showing up” possible -- and have them consistently.

Related: Keep Your Talent: 5 Employee Retention Strategies for Long-Term Success

Speak truth to BS.

The good news is, the BS flag does in fact exist. The bad news is, it’s rarely exercised. When you say what’s safe, rather than what’s right, you actually violate your own sense of belonging. What I mean is, everybody stands for and believes in something. When you break those values out of fear of social judgment, you open a gap between what you believe and what you say, which is a gap in belonging within your own belief system.

A sense of belonging isn’t some new-age hippie “thing” reserved for people with tie-dyed hair wearing fluorescent pants. When there’s a strong sense of affiliation throughout the workforce, there are only positive results.

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