Get Creative to Manage Employee Turnover

Employee turnover

Written by Dan Callahan

I am a Senior Technical Advisor to CGNET. Formerly, I managed our Cybersecurity and Cloud Services businesses, and provided consulting to many clients over the years. I wear a lot of hats. Professionally, I'm a builder of businesses. Outside of work, I'm a hobby farmer, chef, skier, dog walker, jokester, woodworker, structuralist, husband and father.

January 20, 2022

Employee turnover is a big topic these days. It even has a fancy name, which tells you it is a thing: The Great Resignation. Within one Slack community people have said that the rate of employee turnover has increased of late. This may leave you to wonder, “how can I manage employee turnover better?” The short answer is that if you want to better manage employee turnover, you will need to get creative.

A Brief (I Promise) Discussion of Labor Economics

It comes down to supply and demand.

  • How many workers are out there?
  • How many jobs are out there?

All great stuff if we are trying to manage employee turnover in the aggregate. But we are not. We manage employee turnover at the retail, not wholesale, level.

Still, it is a good place to start as we consider the problem. We see the headlines about worker shortages (although these are often at “essential worker” types of positions). We have learned (many of us) that we can work remotely. So have employers. We know stories about employees that shifted to remote work because of the pandemic and moved somewhere else. A better view. Cheaper rent. Closer to the kids.

Previously, location mattered. I could only apply for jobs within driving distance of my house. Now we see that is not always true. I can work remotely for a company in New York if the job lends itself to that.

More available jobs leads to higher demand for workers, which drives up prices (salaries, in this case). You get the picture.

Manage Employee Turnover Before It is a Problem

Remember this Chinese proverb?

The best time to plant a tree was twenty years ago. The second-best time is now.

A short story on how to manage employee turnover.

The day I took over a large product team, an employee came to me to say he was quitting. I asked him why and we had a conversation about the way things were on the team. I shared my plans for improving team morale. He said that he appreciated my thoughts but had already accepted the other company’s offer. He still left but eventually I was able to turn things around. In the end, people were clamoring to join my team. Other managers kept trying to hire away my managers.

I could not reverse the employee turnover trend on day one of my new job. But I could dig into the problem, find out how people felt and why they felt that way.

This is a good place for you to start as you manage employee turnover. How are folks feeling? I know someone who starts every meeting with that question. You can do this one by one if your group is small. If you are trying to manage employee turnover for the entire organization, you will want to add another communication channel to the mix. Microsoft Viva can help with this. So can SurveyMonkey and other polling applications.

Ask folks how they are feeling, sure. Ask them if there are any issues you can help with, of course. But also ask them about their dreams and ambitions. As you manage employee turnover, remember that not everyone leaves an organization because they are unhappy. Plenty of people leave organizations because they think leaving is the only path to achieve their goals. Maybe that does not have to be true.

Manage Employee Turnover by Managing Growth

Early in my career I looked at every opportunity in terms of growth. Why? Because growth yielded new opportunities. Some of these opportunities were promotions. Others were chances to work with new technologies (go look up “fast packet switching”). Still other opportunities let to new skill development. Or working with a new set of customers.

In a Slack conversation, John Talieri of the Annie E. Casey Foundation pointed out that upward mobility is often limited in smaller nonprofits. You cannot move up until someone leaves. Nonprofits are not designed to grow the way startups are. To manage employee turnover in a nonprofit, you must manage growth. Here are some ideas.

Manage Skillset Growth

What does every technical person ask for? They want to learn the latest skills. Maybe they want to know about working in Azure or AWS.  Or they want to learn Python. Perhaps they want to learn Tableau or Power BI. This is one of the easiest requests you can meet.

Go beyond approving their training class expense. Help them carve out time to learn (a lot of training is free these days). Work with them to identify projects where they can put their newfound skills into practice. Show them that you value learning and acquiring new skills.

Manage Learning Opportunities

You can proactively manage employee turnover by managing the problems your staff works on. In smaller IT groups we typically see specialists. This person has good people and problem-solving skills, so they handle user support. This person has in-depth knowledge of servers and applications, so they handle system administration. It makes perfect sense until someone is unavailable for an extended period. Now you are scrambling to fill the void.

So, think about cross-training, yes. But move beyond training. Rotate staff through different positions. You might do it for a day. Or a week.

Exposing people to different assignments will develop greater appreciation for the challenges and needs faced by other parts of the organization. You are growing the experience base of your staff. That helps them. It helps build resilience. And it is a part of how to manage employee turnover.

Imagine New Jobs

You have given your staff opportunities to work in different problem spaces. You have supported them as they developed new skills. Congratulations! Some of them will leave anyway. But they will thank you for helping them develop their career. And new folks, who noticed what you did, will ask to join the team.

When my son was managing a horse ranch, he dealt with high turnover among the ranch hands. They would hire on and leave after six months. Maybe they discovered the ranch life was not for them. Or they just wanted to move to the area and then move on.

My son was able to manage employee turnover by making it a feature, not a bug. He went to the local community college, one that had a livestock management program. He recruited graduates from the program with this offer: work here for two years. Build your skills. Then go elsewhere if you find bigger opportunities. Yes, he had to continually build up the ranch hands’ skillsets. But he found an approach that worked for the ranch and worked for the hands.

Manage Employee Turnover by Managing Job Growth

I mentioned earlier that there is often not a lot of growth in some nonprofits. This means that “moving up the ladder” is not a tool you can readily use to manage employee turnover.

But we know that technology is spreading in the organization beyond IT. We know that we are sitting on a crapton of data. Data that we could use to have greater impact. The people who could use that data might not be skilled in finding data, organizing data, visualizing data. Guess who does have (or could have) those skills? Your staff.

Here is your opportunity to manage employee turnover by creating in-house consultants that can help transform how the organization works. It will be hard to do—change can be a hard thing to manage. But the rewards are great.

  • Your staff will love the creative thinking and new growth opportunities.
  • Your organization might see big improvements in impact.
  • And you might be a hero.


Written by Dan Callahan

I am a Senior Technical Advisor to CGNET. Formerly, I managed our Cybersecurity and Cloud Services businesses, and provided consulting to many clients over the years. I wear a lot of hats. Professionally, I'm a builder of businesses. Outside of work, I'm a hobby farmer, chef, skier, dog walker, jokester, woodworker, structuralist, husband and father.

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1 Comment

  1. Scot

    Great article. I do see smaller non-profits (and I mean under 100 employees) turning to managed service providers, and basically leaving an IT Director and a desktop support person (if even that). An employee departure in that increasingly common circumstance would be a smart pre-emptive move.

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