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The Retention Roadmap: Plotting Your Course to Proactive Employee Retention

Emily Diaz

Employee retention isn’t merely a challenge—it’s an ongoing effort that requires continuous foresight and strategy. At our second annual Thrive by 15Five conference, I had the privilege of moderating a breakout session titled “The Retention Roadmap: Plotting Your Course to Proactive Employee Retention”. The session brought together industry experts Kirsti Grant, Chief People Experience Officer at Auror,  and Caren Mix, Director of People Operations at Nettwerk Music Group,  to delve into the intricacies of building proactive retention programs and overcoming the challenges inherent in the process. Read on for some of the key takeaways from the session.

What are the early warning signs of turnover risk?

Many organizations commonly perceive employee turnover as a reactive challenge to be addressed after it occurs, often overlooking the possibility of proactive strategies to mitigate its impact. However, a more forward-thinking approach involves identifying and addressing potential turnover issues before they escalate into significant problems. By recognizing and responding to early warning signs, such as decreased engagement, communication breakdowns, or shifts in job satisfaction, organizations can implement preventive measures. We spoke to the panelists about the early warning signs of turnover that they look for, and how they combat them.

Kirsti’s insights emphasized a holistic approach to identifying turnover risks. Beyond traditional metrics, she underscored the crucial role of people leaders who, due to their proximity to employees, can observe nuanced changes in communication, collaboration, and decision-making. Developing strong leaders who can identify these signs, and then empowering them to act quickly so that these types of signs don’t have a negative impact on others is key. Managers, she said, play a critical role in identifying early turnover risk. 

“The first step is really being able to look at the effectiveness of managers,” Kirsti said. “Develop strong leaders who embody your culture and values, drive high performance, and genuinely enjoy and embrace the responsibility of leading people.”

Caren added a historical perspective, detailing how leadership buy-in on “red flags” was initially challenging but became more concrete with the implementation of engagement surveys giving her and her team the ability to back up these red flags with quantifabile data.

“Early warning signs would be waved off as speculative,” Caren shared. “Having data through engagement surveys now quantifies the ‘fluff’ for our leaders and has made them take notice of the connection between those red flags and the bottom line.”

Common challenges organizations face when trying to proactively retain employees, and how can they overcome them

Measuring success in a more proactive retention approach emerged as a common challenge.

Caren highlighted the importance of leadership being approachable and transparent, particularly amidst structural changes within her organization from a flat organizational structure to a matrix model. She recounted how their Founder/CEO actively engaged with the entire team, conveying the vision for Nettwerk’s future and connecting the changes to future success in their industry. This transparency not only addressed uncertainties about processes and role clarity but also emotionally connected the team to the organizational vision, fostering excitement and confidence, which helped build loyalty amongst the team, and ultimately contributed to improved retention.

Cultivating trust is another major component to proactively retaining employees. “Proactive retention strategies can become really challenging when there is a lack of trust,” Kirsti shared. “Work hard to build a foundation of trust through transparency, authenticity and inclusivity and in really challenging times, this can lead to some of your strongest cultural moments.”

Kirsti explained that, at Auror, trust has been cultivated through transparency, authenticity, and inclusivity, leading to some of their most robust cultural moments, even in challenging times such as the Covid crisis. Kirsti further addressed the challenge of maintaining a fair and consistent approach, citing the introduction of a company-wide progression framework and transparent salary bands as a solution. This initiative ensured clarity for the team regarding expectations and potential for growth, while emphasizing the ongoing challenge of obtaining trustworthy compensation data. 

Collaborating with managers on improving employee retention

Managers majorly influence an employee’s experience, and therefore they play a key role in whether or not an employee will stay with the organization. Thus, it is critical that HR leaders collaborate and partner with managers to deploy tactics that can proactively improve retention on their teams.  

Caren advocated for relationship building and creating trusting connections through initiatives like the Best Self Kick Off. Kirsti, echoing Caren’s sentiments, saying this approach helps in building robust relationships rapidly. Both panelists advocated for a coaching approach to management that goes beyond simple task management and delegation.

“Encourage relationship building and the importance of creating a trusting connection with reports,” Caren said. “Adopt a coaching approach to management where you are going beyond task management and creating an environment of growth and development.”

Proactive burnout prevention

Employee burnout and retention are inextricably linked, making it impossible to improve retention by addressing burnout. Many organizations address burnout reactively, but a shift to addressing it proactively, before it becomes a major issue, can make a world of difference.

Caren suggested a metric-driven approach and continuous pulse checks to gauge team well-being, prioritizing the resolution of underlying issues rather than superficial remedies, like a pizza party. She said, “Engage in data & metrics. If it’s not engagement surveys, find another way to poll teams with continuous pulse checks. THEN proactively prioritize addressing the gaps in drivers like capacity and rest before they become big enough issues that someone would consider leaving the organization over.”

Kirsti underscored the power of tools like 15Five check-ins in showing that the leadership team is actively listening to the concerns of employees. “We have shown the team that we are listening through our actions and that continues to encourage the team to be open with where they’re at,” she shared.

Leveraging technology for proactive retention

Effective performance management technology plays a pivotal role in proactively retaining employees by streamlining and unifying various components of the employee experience. For instance, utilizing a tool like 15Five can give HR leaders an overview of check-in completion rates by team and goal attainment rates by manager. This aggregated and analyzed employee data equips leaders with valuable insights, enabling them to make informed decisions to address potential issues before they escalate. By identifying patterns and trends early on, companies can implement targeted interventions, fostering a positive work environment and reducing regrettable turnover

Kirsti underscored how pivotal utilizing 15Five has been in addressing issues early on. “There is a direct correlation between someone’s submission rate in 15Five and their engagement at work, and there’s often also an issue with the leader’s engagement with them as an individual. It often cascades too – so if I have a senior leader not engaging with their leader’s feedback, I see how that then has an impact on the next layer of leadership. You throw a performance challenge in the mix and you can see things quickly spiral.”

Caren echoed Kirsti’s statements and shared that, through dedicated initiatives, Nettwerk saw a positive uptick in engagement and retention. As she shared, after a recent sprint with 15Five, Nettwerk observed that 24% of Nettwerk’s participating managers improved their performance readiness, 16% of Nettwerk’s participating managers improved engagement on their team, and 32% of Nettwerk’s participating managers improved their team’s intent to stay, signaling continued improvement in the outcome of retention.

Get the guide to reducing regrettable turnover

Losing too many great employees? A high regrettable turnover rate can be detrimental to an organization, which is why 15Five decided to develop a guide that focuses specifically on combating it. 

Learn about the different types of employee turnover, how to identify regrettable turnover, and how to start taking steps to reduce it with this practical guide for HR leaders.

Download it now >