Slowing the Turnover Carousel

Just a generation ago most people spent their entire careers at the same company. Today employees are likely to work for 5 different companies… before they’re 40.

The debate about why this is happening is rich, but for today, lets look at the “so what?”

This month we’ve been talking about legacies, your legacy, and challenging you with the question, “What do you want to be remembered for when you leave the workplace?” As difficult and disruptive as the turnover carousel is for companies, it also presents you with a perfect opportunity to build your legacy. You may be one of the only people at your company, or in your department, who has been around since the beginning and who fully understands the rationale behind key decisions and how core values really get played out.

Here are a couple of ways you can blend your desire to leave a legacy with your company’s need to “slow the turnover carousel.”

Blacksmiths Do It; Carpenters Do It…Should You Be Too?

Throughout much of human history, formal education has been a difficult thing to come by for most people. It wasn’t until the 19th century, when public school systems and universities began to pop up, that formal degrees and diplomas signifying that a person has the skills and abilities to work in a particular profession became available.

Yet, there has always been a need to educate and pass on knowledge. Blacksmiths, carpenters and farmers have historically taken on apprentices, or taught their own children their craft so that knowledge and skills would continue on, and each community would ensure that there was at least one person who knew how to perform crucial functions.

Man In Motion

John Hansen was a budding athlete in five different sports with dreams of being an Olympian when, tragically, he suffered a spinal cord injury at the age of 15, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Rather than suffer through the injury as most people would do, Hansen turned the tragedy into a new avenue to master. He worked through rehabilitation, graduated high school, and became the first person to graduate with a physical education degree from the University of British Columbia. He helped his teams win national championships in wheelchair volleyball and basketball, and competed for Canada in both the 1980 and 1984 Paralympics, bringing home a record six medals in racing.

In 1985, having already mastered the world of Paralympics, Hansen embarked on his most audacious journey yet, mastery of the entire world…literally! With fellow British Columbian Terry Fox’s Marathon of Hope as his inspiration, Hansen started his Man in Motion World Tour, a 26-month, 40,000 km journey through 34 countries to raise money for spinal cord research. Despite little media attention when he began, Hansen arrived in Vancouver’s BC Place Stadium on May 22, 1987 to cheering crowds, and with almost $26 million for research and quality of life initiatives raised.

Autonomy or Automaton?

It wasn’t too long ago that the only way for someone to find autonomy in the workplace was to either move way up the corporate food chain, or start their own business. Most people’s lives were dominated by the 9-5, 5 day-a-week work schedule of the typical corporate job. They were automatons, chained to their desks or their phones. But the internet and Global marketplace have changed all that. Now that so many important company processes are online, and so many clients are scattered all around the world, just about anyone can work from anywhere and anytime they want.

Jeff Gunther, and his software company Meddius, provide a perfect example of autonomy at work. All employees are empowered to work whenever and wherever they want. As long as they get their work done, Gunther doesn’t care whether they show up in the office or complete their project at 3 in the morning. Everything goes. This allows him to focus on what he believes in the key function of management: “Creating conditions for people to do their best work.”

Look For The Helpers

After the type of week we experienced last week, it would be easy to feel depressed about the direction humanity is headed. With man-made bombs intentionally going off in Boston, Iraq, Pakistan, and Afghanistan, and an unintentional bomb exploding in West, Texas all this violence and hate is enough to give you the sense that things are going very wrong. But, as is usually the case in life, focusing on these scenes of destruction really doesn’t give us the full picture. Even during all the turmoil there were people doing good things, helping total strangers, proving just how great people can be when they are motivated by a sense of purpose. As I watched the news coverage for the Boston Marathon bombing, I couldn’t help but be reminded of a famous quote by Mr. Rogers:

Shortening The Stack

When Jack Stack and his colleagues bought Springfield Remanufacturing from the failing International Harvester Corporation in 1983, he stepped into a company that had huge problems. Sales had slowed to a trickle, overhead costs were through the roof, and the company’s stock price was an abysmal $.10 a share.

To put it lightly: Springfield Manufacturing was in a crisis.

Yet within 10 years, Stack had turned the company around, increasing sales ten-fold and sending the company’s stock price over $20 a share. How did he do this in such a short amount of time? By stepping into the situation with a solid set of professional values. He believed that the biggest gap in business was between management and the workers, and that without closing this gap it was impossible for a business to succeed. He believed that every person at every level needs to feel responsible for the well-being of the company, or else the business will be like a tall stack of pancakes; eventually it’s gonna fall.

Calling For A Pinch Hitter

Strong leaders are courageous, powerful, outgoing, and decisive, but the one of the most remarkable traits of strong leaders is their ability to step aside and let others lead when the moment calls for it. Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of you and your team, and the willingness to use the best person for the job, are two of the key weapons in a strong leaders’ arsenal.

No one highlights the importance of stepping aside more than TOMS shoes founder, Blake Mycoskie. When TOMS started, Blake and his three interns ran the company out of his Venice Beach apartment. Resources were so tight that four employees had to share a single cordless phone. In his book Start Something That Matters Blake describes how, when one day a sales rep from Nordstrom called, having one phone became the perfect opportunity to show when to step aside.

Find Your Inner Dimon

When times get really tough, and your organization is in crisis, being a good leader may not be enough; you’ll need to be a strong one too. In my latest Change Bytes newsletter, “Stepping Up: Are You a Strong Leader?” I told you about some of the important characteristics of strong leaders. From well-founded values to knowing when to step away, strong leaders are decisive and firm in fluid, difficult situations.

Arguably the most important characteristic of a strong leader is simply stepping up to the challenge, and having a willingness to make hard decisions and take responsibility for the actions of your company and colleagues. No matter your feelings about large corporate banks and their role in the Great Recession, it is clear that JPMorgan Chase CEO Jaime Dimon is a strong leader. In the wake of the 2008/2009 stock market crash, bank stocks were hammered, and many of Dimon’s fellow CEOs lost their jobs. Not only did Dimon keep his, but his out-spoken and candid television appearances eventually earned him the reputation as the unofficial spokesperson for the entire industry. While other CEOs hid in their offices, issuing written statements about the health of their companies and the Banking Industry, Dimon stood before the United States Congress—not once, but twice!—to answer difficult, sometimes angry, questions about his company’s responsibility for the Recession.

Crisis Leadership and Shock Trauma

If you’ve ever been in one of my Leading Change workshops you know that I believe that business change environments dictate the style of leadership you should adopt. For instance, Business As Usual is best served by 'Champion' leaders, while Crisis situations require a more directive 'Captain' in charge. Traditional leadership models often fall short during intense organizational change.
Some interesting ideas about Crisis leadership have come from researchers at the US Army Research Institute who spent ten months observing the Shock Trauma Center in Baltimore, Maryland, a world-renowned urban facility that treats more than 7,000 patients each year with severe, often life-threatening injuries. They wanted to find out which leadership strategies fared best for teams working in "highly dynamic and stressful situations". The Shock Trauma Center was the perfect petri dish.

The center's trauma teams are made up of three key leadership roles: the top-ranked position, held by the 'Attending' surgeon; the second-ranked 'Fellow' position, followed by the third-ranked 'Admitting' resident, with the players changing from day to day, week to week and month to month. A trauma team's lifetime is short - about 15 to 60 minutes - with individual leaders coming and going while the leadership positions remain rigid, but flexible.