Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 7)

Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 7)
In Part 1 of this series, I postulated a formula for some of the “known” elements. The formula suggests that each of this factors can contribute to the success – or failure – of a retention strategy. Successful Retention = f (Objective Expectations, Compensation, Training, Recognition, Feedback, Organizational Culture, and…) The last identified part of the formula is Organizational Culture. And it could easily be the most important as organizational culture has been identified by significant research as a “retention killer.”

Understood And Misunderstood

Organizational Culture has steadily grown in awareness of its importance in recent years. Over fifteen years ago, leadership guru John Kotter recognized some key factors about culture:
  • Organizational culture can have a significant impact on a firm’s long-term economic performance.
  • Organizational culture will probably be an even more important factor in determining the success or failure of organizations in the next decade.
  • Organizational cultures that inhibit long-term financial performance are not rare; they develop easily, even in firms that are full of reasonable and intelligent people.
  • Although difficult to change, organizational cultures can be made more performance-enhancing.
At the same time, Organizational Culture has been seriously misunderstood by many. From a key HR organization leader who stated that she didn’t need to measure culture because she could “see it in the employee cafeteria every day,” to organizational leaders who speak of their “culture” in terms of “values” or “desired culture.” Much of this is confusion over “culture” versus “climate.” And it’s a critical distinction. Signs of an organization’s “climate,” like a child’s temperature, are easy to read. However, it doesn’t measure the real underlying issues. Organizational Culture is best described as the “behavioral expectations” within an organization – the “expectations” that employees learn within just a few days – or hours – on how to behave, how to “fit-in.” “This is how we do things” is learned quickly by employees. (Human Synergistics) Cultural expectations can be positive, focused on factors like “Achievement,” expecting employees to “set challenging goals,” or “Affiliative,” expecting promotion of teamwork. Cultural expectations can be passive-defensive, focused on factors like “Approval," expecting employees to “go along with others,” or “Avoidance,” taking few chances. Expectations can be aggressive-defensive, focused on factors like “Oppositional,” expecting employees to always be “finding fault” or “Perfectionistic,” setting unrealistic expectations. J. Clayton Lafferty, a key developer of a strong model for organizational culture, co-authored a book entitled “Perfectionism: A Sure Cure for Happiness.” As noted by Kotter, organizational culture is clearly shown to be related to long-term economic performance. But it’s also been related to the quality of customer service, in both positive and negative ways. The “Constructive” factors are positively related to quality customer service, the “Passive-Defensive” factors are negatively related to quality service, and the “Aggressive-Defensive” factors can be either positive or negative. That may sound confusing to some but it actually points to the importance to truly understanding the impact of cultural factors. “Competition” is an “aggressive-defensive” factor. Too much is devastating to quality service, too little leads to a non-caring attitude toward serving customers. It’s another typical “Goldilocks” scenario – it needs to be “just right” – a good example of the complexity and challenge for organization leadership. In this series on retention, I’ve made frequent references to the work of Marcus Buckingham and Kurt Coffman from “First, Break All the Rules.” It’s important to note here that the 12 steps identified by the Gallup research, starting with “Do I Know What’s Expected of Me?” are directly and positively related to the “Constructive” factors of organizational culture.

“Retention Killers”

But the key piece for retention is the research that identifies some specific factors of organizational culture as “retention killers.” Picture this scenario: a new employee, fresh from the confidence of successfully completing their formal education, is eager to “make their mark” with new ideas for their job, for their new organization. But the new ideas are quickly shot down with comments like “that’s not the way we do things around here,” or “don’t rock the boat,” or simply a dismissive “you’re too new.” This environment very often explains why a potential top performer starts looking for a new job very quickly. “I’ve quit; I just haven’t told anyone yet.” Organizational culture factors of “Perfectionism,” setting unrealistic standard, “Opposition,” always finding faults, and “Approval,” focusing on gaining acceptance are documented “retention killers.” Getting to know your organization’s culture helps you determine if the behaviors expected of employees support – or detract from – high performance and retention. Diagnosing your organization’s culture with an “employee attitude survey” is no more accurate than a “health questionnaire” preceding a physical. A serious culture assessment needs to be as thorough as an MRI – conducted with sophisticated measurements and interpreted by trained, skilled professionals. Assessing your culture brings to light opportunities for change and improvement that can nurture and sustain your high performers over time… both now and in the future.


Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 2)Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 3)Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 4)Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 5)Solving The Retention Puzzle (Part 6)

About the author

Jim Schreier is a management consultant with a focus on management, leadership, including performance-based hiring and interviewing skills. Visit his website at     Disclosure: This post is sponsored by a CAREEREALISM-approved expert. You can learn more about expert posts here.Photo Credit: Shutterstock
Man on laptop enjoys summer while working full time

There you are: sitting on the beach, covered in sunscreen, reading your favorite book, drinking your favorite drink under the cool shade of an umbrella. Life doesn't get any better than this. Suddenly, a door slams, a phone rings, a printer turns on. You jolt back into consciousness. You're at work, sitting in your cubicle, without even a hint of sunshine streaming in from outside.

Read moreShow less