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How to Stop Employees Leaving in Waves

in PODCAST

Learn how you can conduct powerful retention conversations to help stop employees leaving in waves, including who to talk to first and must-ask questions.

image of Kelli Buczynski with a worker in the background packing items from their desk into a box to show that this podcast episode is about how you can stop employees leaving in waves

A 480 PODCAST

How to Stop Employees Leaving in Waves

24 minutes | August 3, 2021

00:00:00 00:00

In this episode of the Leadership 480 podcast, Kelli Buczynski, vice president of global people services at DDI, joins us to discuss what you can do to help stop employees leaving in waves. Learn how to conduct powerful retention conversations with your employees. 

Beth Almes:      

Welcome back to the Leadership 480 podcast. I'm your host, Beth Almes. And today our topic is one that is hot, hot, hot: employees leaving in waves and how you can stop it. Most of you have probably seen some of the headlines lately with companies calling it the "great resignation" or a "tsunami of turnover," which all seems pretty dramatic right now.

And if you're a leader, that might be making you panic a little bit, as you worry about losing your team, now we know some things might be out of your control, but you might be surprised how far one conversation can go to stop that wave of employees leaving. So here to talk about the power of those conversations and how to have them is Kelli Buczynski, vice president of global people services at DDI. Kelli, welcome to the podcast.

Kelli Buczynski:  

Thanks Beth. I'm happy to be here.

Beth Almes: 

So let's start with the big question of who, who do you need to be having these conversations with right now on your team?

Kelli Buczynski:  

Such an important question, because I think all associates or employees are important and we want to make sure that they feel engaged and we do what we can to retain them. But when we only have so much time, I think it's really important that we target and focus on the associates that are the high performers. Often they're the ones who are achieving their goals. They're willing to take on more and do more, but they might be less likely to tell us that things aren't feeling so great for them or that they're looking outside of the organization.

Beth Almes:      

Yeah. So maybe those people you rely on, on your team who are taking on all that extra work or are maybe a little less happy about it than you saw.

Kelli Buczynski:  

That's right. And they were okay. Maybe a month ago, but where are they today? Or you haven't checked on them in a few months, but the world keeps shifting around us. And so how are we making sure we stay in touch and, and know where they are day-to-day?

Beth Almes:      

Oh, that's a great point that they could have changed a little bit over time. And as they continue to say yes, when does it get to be too much for them? So if I'm in a leadership role, how do I kinda stop the bleeding here? Do I start handing out raises like what's going to make people want to stay?

Kelli Buczynski:  

Yeah, it's an interesting question because it is certainly an option: what incentives do we have to offer, can pay be something that we adjust.? And I think, you know, we have to use good judgment to make some of those decisions, but often it is more than compensation that is important to people. 

It's about who they work with day-to-day. Do they feel a sense of purpose and that what they're doing is gonna make a difference. Are they adding value in ways that are important to them and that are connected to the company's purpose? And so how are you making sure and having the conversation with them that their job and what they're doing is fulfilling that purpose. That's one important connection for people.

Beth Almes:      

So if I'm not able to, you know, hand out a financial incentive, how do I start to get to the root of any issues that they might be having, you know, with, with their team or with the culture at large?

Kelli Buczynski:  

Yeah, I think we have to focus on things that are within our power as leaders, within our scope of control. And so I think we want to make sure that we're advocating for them, that we're listening, that we're having these conversations. 

I think it's also important to understand what's happening with them in terms of their home work-life balance. What is important to them for flexibility? What can we offer, what are we offering, did their needs change over time and how can we make sure we listen, we empathize, and then we try to help support them in the ways that would be meaningful to them. I think that's my most important point. Learn what is important to them. And then how do you personalize the support that you provide to them?

Beth Almes:      

Yeah, I think flexibility is certainly one that's a key factor for a lot of folks these days. And many leaders may be finding that we can give up a little bit of that control that we previously had when everybody was in the office and things might just be okay.

Kelli Buczynski:  

That's right. And for some of us, our company might set those policies and we may not have as much freedom to change that, but it's about where do we have the freedom? Where can we offer the flexibility and how can we kind of meet them where they are and find that best option for them. 

Beth Almes:      

If I'm worried about somebody or even if I'm not worried about them, I think things are going well. What's the ideal time to talk to them? How do I know that I should be having this conversation now? Or I should wait a few weeks? When do I want to get to them?

Kelli Buczynski:  

Yeah. I always say if there's things happening in the organization, so if you are experiencing some turnover, that's always a good time to check in with those high-performers because sometimes that causes a little bit of anxiousness or anx, like, why are people looking? What are they finding? And so that's always one opportunity to check in. 

So if you connect maybe regularly once a week or once a month, you don't want to have that conversation every time. But what are you hearing that might give you some signs? And at a minimum, I think a nice quarterly conversation is always a good fallback, especially during the kind of turbulent times and the candidate market that's out there right now.

Beth Almes:      

Yeah. And I think that point you made about high turnover too. I've seen so many folks who often, when other folks leave, it's not always even just, you know, the economic side or what did you get paid somewhere else, but if they really liked their colleagues and they're sad not to be working with them where they felt like they were, they were people who were making them better, are they getting upset over those who left because they just loved working with them?

Kelli Buczynski:  

You're absolutely right. And so those are some things that are kind of reactive. What can we be watching and looking for to have those conversations, but also how can we be proactive? And so we want to have these conversations, especially with those high-performing associates before they even start to think about leaving. 

And that's why I think, you know, sprinkling in questions in your conversations to kind of gauge where they are and to show that you're listening, show that you care and that you understand what's important to them is a great proactive step that we can take. It's going to be much easier to hear their needs and find ways to support them if you can get them before they start taking the calls from the recruiter or start looking, looking out on job boards for other opportunities. So that proactive approach is definitely one of the best tips I can offer.

Beth Almes:      

And I'm curious, you know, sometimes I have heard from folks who have talked about what they needed and it's not until they're, they've got another job offer on their table, that their company comes back at those, oh, well, what can we do to make you stay? 

And then they're saying, I told you months ago what you could've done to make me stay and you didn't do it. Um, but I'm curious, you know, how, in your experience, once people have kind of looked at those offers or decided to leave, is there still kind of a chance to save them? Or does that tend to be, they're probably already out the door at this point.

Kelli Buczynski:  

Yeah. I think everyone is a little bit different, but what I would say is it doesn't hurt to have the conversation. So have the conversation so that you can find out because maybe you're hearing this person has been looking for opportunities for growth and you missed that. You didn't know that, but you know, there's an upcoming project. 

Maybe you already thinking of this person, you could talk about what opportunities there are, plans that we could put in place that might cause them to pause and say, let me reconsider this option, to stay where I currently am.

Beth Almes:      

Yeah. That's a great point that you might, you might've missed or you misinterpreted what, what they wanted in the first place. So you mentioned that there's some questions you can ask employees. 

So as you start to get into these conversations proactively about where they are, what are some of the questions you should be asking? And what are you looking to hear from them when you're getting to these points?

Kelli Buczynski:  

Sure. I think the purpose of asking the questions, having a conversation is really to find out what's motivating the associate or the employee to stay at their company. I know we do this at DDI to just have an understanding of what's important to them. 

And there are great books and articles out there that offer a variety of questions or discussion points. But some of the questions that I like to ask are things like, what do you look forward to each day? What motivates you to get up and go to work? And I think that's really important because it's showing that you are respecting what's important to them. What motivates them, energizes them. 

And then how can you help? Especially if they're not feeling that at the moment, help them find some of those opportunities that match what gets them out of bed. And what's going to give them that energy. If we can make that connection, we have a greater chance of them sticking around.

Beth Almes:      

Oh, I love that question. I think it's not just the bad things or what do you hate here, but what do you like? And if they don't come up with anything, that's definitely a sign that absolutely you're in trouble. For sure.

Kelli Buczynski:  

I also think that sometimes those categories, like what is going to be motivating and motivating and engaging to me as an employee may be more important to me than pay and benefits for others. That might be the number one priority for them. So it's really about understanding that. And you won't know until you ask the question, and then it's about respecting what their answer is and seeing how you can find a way to help support that.

Beth Almes:      

Yeah, absolutely. So what other questions do you get to start to get at their, not just their, their motivation as well as, you know, their path forward.

Kelli Buczynski:  

We often find in our own research and results about our own associates' engagement, that opportunities to learn and grow in their current roles, but also for their future career path is one of the key priorities for our associates. And so asking a question, like, what are you learning here? What do you want to learn? are two good questions that can help you get a sense of what are they are feeling like they're missing out on that would help them maybe do better in their job, but also that, that's kind of the shorter term need, but the longer-term pieces, what do you feel like you can find a career progression here? 

Do you see a future in the role that you're in or in different roles? If they don't see a path forward that could be a potential barrier or flag for us. So then how can you help through performance discussions, development, conversations, development planning, to help make a match to get them closer to the career goals that they have in mind.

Beth Almes:      

I love the nuance of that question of what are you learning here versus it's not always about the next job or promotion. I love that. It's not always the expectation of, well, I need my title to be XYZ or I need to be doing this job. It's really, there are so many things that they could be doing, whether it's in their current role or, or with, or in the development for a future role or something else, but it's really about what they get to do everyday and what they get to learn and the skills. And it's when they feel like their skills maybe are stagnant. You're not learning anything new. You've already got it covered. That it's really more frustrating even than a specific job title.

Kelli Buczynski:  

Absolutely. And also what is their learning style, their preferred learning style, because for some people, if they're not going to external conferences, that's going to be a gap, but for others, it could be the chance to work with a peer and learn from them or take on a new project. So it's, what are your learning opportunities? How do you want to learn them, learn those skills or build those skills? I think that's also a good connection point there.

Beth Almes:      

Yeah. I think that's a really good distinction to have some people, if they're not doing formal learning, you know, you've sent me to a conference or I got to go to a workshop that feels like they're not going to be able to pick up the skills for others. They're like, I can just pick this up in the way of work. I just want a project I can work on and try to learn on the job. So tell me some of the other questions, you think are important to ask in these conversations.

Kelli Buczynski:  

I think a really good question is why do you stay here? So what is it about the company, the role, the team, the leader, the culture. There's so many nuances of that question about what's keeping you here. And I think if we ask them to answer that question, they might not always have a ready answer. And so it's important. 

I always give the advice that you want to take your time. I want you to really think about that because it's important for me to hear and I want to know why you stay. And if we can think about those examples of what is it, is it the type of work? Is it the customers they work or the people on their team, that's really going to help me make sure that they're having opportunities where I can have control to make sure they're getting that right mix of what's important to them and why they're staying.

Beth Almes:     

I think that's such a good question. It does occur to me as I, as I think about that, that it would probably require some trust tbetween you and your team member before you're asking that question. I can imagine in some cases if an employee is unprepared to hear that question, it might come off a little bit like, oh, this is too personal, and they're going to give you an answer like, oh, you know, I love my job and the customers, but they're not sincere about it, but I imagine there are ways you can build trust in advance to make sure that they can give you an honest answer there.

Kelli Buczynski:  

I do think trust is an important part of that and should be part of, I think every leader's responsibility is creating that environment where people feel comfortable talking about their personal needs and their practical needs of what's important to them at work. And if you're in a new partnership between a leader and an employee that might take a little bit of time, it might not be a question I lead with in that early relationship. 

But if we've built that trust, if I know that they, they really do hear the sincerity and they know that my goal is to help find those matches for them where I can. I think it can be a great question to really dig a little deeper and make sure I understand that, but you're right. I do think it takes trust. And so what can we be doing as leaders to help create that environment and make people feel like this is a discussion because you want to learn more about me. You want to understand what's important and that together, we're going to keep talking about how we can impact that for the longer term.

Beth Almes:      

Yeah, that's a really good question. So do you have other questions you tend to ask in these conversations or have worked well?

Kelli Buczynski:  

I do. I think trust is an important part of it. When was the last time you thought about leaving us and kind of what promoted it, and sometimes you gotta be prepared for the answer like this morning, I had a really bad, had a really rough morning. Okay. Tell me more, you know, what was it, what was happening, is that how you feel most days could be a great follow-up question or is this a little bit of a blip and I'm not sure this is how I feel every day. 

So just encouraging that conversation about what are the moments or the things that prompt you to think about going somewhere else. And so that can tell us a little bit about urgency and what prompted us is going to tell us, why they would look outside and maybe engage with someone else.

Beth Almes:      

Well, that's a really good question. And I can imagine this one definitely takes some trust because having that conversation with your boss, I mean, maybe you've had a job offer recently or you were thinking about it, that would be tough to share, but from the leader's perspective, if you can get someone to share that sounds, I can just imagine of, you know, if you're looking at a job, what interested you about that job or what excited you about it? You can probably dive in there a little bit deeper to say, oh, I had no idea you were even interested in that.

Kelli Buczynski:  

Absolutely. And I think that's a key point I would highlight across all of these questions. Is there discussion starters, conversation starters, it's about the follow-up and, and asking more with that ultimate goal of really focusing on what's important to them and then my role as the leader. 

So my last question that I think I always would want to follow up with is, okay, so thank you for sharing. I learned a lot through this conversation. What can I do to make your job better for you? And I think that's such a good question to really talk about what they need. 

Maybe it's more feedback and coaching. Maybe it's more opportunities to take on new assignments. Those are things that could be within my control as a leader. And so I want to know specifically what can I do? I think that's always a good follow-up kind of question for them.

Beth Almes:      

I love that. And I think this might be one of those areas where you might be surprised. I mean, it might be something you can't control as more money is, is the only thing. And you've got no more budget, but, I've heard some things lately in some of our surveys and some of the studies I've seen of like one of the big things we often hear from, in places that are like, can you just please prioritize better? 

I've got 30 things on my list you've asked me to do, could you please try and sit down me and tell me what you need done first or something like these are some really concrete suggestions for you.

Kelli Buczynski:  

I can see that too. And I think it's really about knowing that we understand what's important. We listened and we really are, you know, taking it seriously. We want to make a difference.

Beth Almes:      

Yeah. And I think, I'm sure if you referenced back even if it's something you can't control right now, or if you can, referencing back to that in future conversations as well to say I heard you, and I'm still thinking of you, even if I haven't necessarily been able to transform what you've been asking for. It's on my mind, I haven't like brushed this under the rug, which leads me to my next question about what do you do after you have this conversation. So if you've kind of had this little bit of heart to heart with one of your employees, what comes next? What do I need to do to follow up?

Kelli Buczynski:  

I think it's so critical that we do have the follow-up that we do show that we're taking their suggestions, their requests, the information that they shared with us, and that we're going to take some action. And so I've read some of the articles that talked about how you put together a plan to get them to stay. 

So this conversation was sparking the discussion. So then create the plan for what you can do. And so how can you tie, if they said, for example, they want more feedback and coaching, maybe you were meeting with them once a month. Maybe you start to meet with them every two weeks. Maybe you're taking more action or being more prompt as a leader to give immediate feedback after a meeting or a big project. Those are some things you can take immediate action on. 

And then the next time you check in with the associate, you say, you know, I heard it was really important to get you more feedback and in a timely manner, I've been doing that in these ways. Is that meeting your needs? How does that feel? Do you see the change there that you wanted to see? I think that's an example of how you take action and then follow up to see if it's meeting their needs.

Beth Almes:      

I love that nod to your own humility, a little bit as a leader to have is what I'm, here's what I'm doing, is that meeting your needs? That's a very honest question that I don't know that a lot of leaders are, are often asking directly to their team members. And I just love that you brought that up.

Kelli Buczynski:  

Well, thank you. I think it's part of my leadership style to create that space where we're all taking opportunities to learn and grow. And if I'm not meeting someone's personal needs, I want to have the opportunity to, and this whole conversation today is about knowing sooner rather than later. 

And so if they see progress and I get more feedback, then I'm hopefully having that opportunity to impact their willingness to stay and their desire to stay before they really get closer to looking outside the work discussion.

Beth Almes:      

Yeah. Like I think the human aspect of it too, is that these leaders are human and sometimes it's easy to say, well, they asked for this and I gave it to them and they never saw it. But when you can say, here's the things I tried to do to address that, did it work or not? They might even appreciate that you tried, even if it wasn't exactly what they need and you can adjust from here. But I think that acknowledgment of, oh, that's what they were doing. They might not have even realized that you took some specific steps to address what they asked for.

Kelli Buczynski:  

I can see that too

Beth Almes:      

Well. That's great Kelli. So this has been really helpful. I have one final question that we ask everyone on the show. Tell me about a moment of leadership in your life that really changed you, whether it was a moment of positivity or even a negative one that made you think of, I would, I never want to go down that path.

Kelli Buczynski:  

Sure. The one that comes to mind for me is I was a leader of two direct reports, but it was in a small group, you know, and in a job, in a role in a department that I'd been in for a while. And I had been approached by a mentor of mine, a more senior leader in the organization to take on a new responsibility in a new product line at DDI, for example. 

And I, wasn't confident in my abilities and, you know, to make such a big leap. And I really wasn't sure if this was the right fit for me. And so through a great conversation, we had, I, I trusted that leader. I had more confidence in myself and I took that opportunity. And for me, it's one of the leadership moments because I've looked for those opportunities. 

It made a difference in my life then is what I'm saying, because then I find opportunities that I can do that for others. How can I instill confidence? How can I help them feel comfortable to take a leap that maybe they normally wouldn't, but inspire them to be the very best they could be. That was such an important lesson for me that I wanted to pass that on. And so I look for those opportunities to inspire others.

Beth Almes:      

Dovetails so nicely too, with our conversation today. So often what people are looking for is not just the basics of work, although we do need those, but how can they grow, looking for those opportunities for growth and making sure that people are excited and ready for those next steps is such a key factor in retention. 

So thank you so much for joining us today. Kelli, I hope so many leaders got great tips from you on how to have these retention conversations, to encourage their teams, to stay with them. And thank you to all of our listeners for spending some time with us today and remember to make every moment a leadership count.

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