Why ‘Natural Attrition Rate’ is a myth
It’s the most dismissive of phrases “Our attrition rate is in line with our peers in the industry”, or the even more abstract “We’re not concerned, it’s a natural attrition rate”. For those who don’t speak Middle Management (or HR spiel) this means ‘Lots of people are leaving our organisation but it’s okay because lots of people are leaving other organisations too’.
It one of those answers given at those All Hands meetings when the dev/ engineering/ sales team ask what management are going to do about the latest round of resignations. It’s essentially a non-answer. It’s used to pacify and avoid embarrassment.
It’s symptomatic of a deeper problem. It’s essentially an admission of guilt that the organisation you work in is no better or worse than the rest. Worse still it’s clear that those empowered to improve things are blind to the problem, or even worse an admission that they don’t care. Why would they? Middle management can be quite comfortable if you don’t rock the boat.
Why are your best people leaving?
The truth is that your best people are leaving because that’s the only mechanism you’ve given them to improve their work situation. You hired those smart, intelligent and creative people precisely because they are smart, intelligent and creative. Your best engineers are born problem solvers, they look for the most efficient method to improve systems. Your top performer in sales excels due to their relationship building and persuasive nature. So don’t be surprised when they apply their innate skills to improve their career prospects.
Your organisation is a system, if that system rewards longevity then good luck with that. If the system is optimised to promote those political animals then your calendar will soon be full of meetings where your org will be paralysed by indecision.
Why don’t the management team care?
Maybe I’m being harsh. Maybe the organisation hasn’t been structured in a way for those in a senior position to affect any sort of change. Maybe the wrong people have been promoted into the right positions. Maybe the right people have been promoted into the wrong positions.
It’s not actually a problem for the management team to solve, your people are smart so empower them to improve the organisation. It’s very rare that a top down solution is the right approach. It’s time that your management team gets out of the way.
What does Attrition really mean?
Benjamin Schneider, a master of organisational psychology outlines his ASA framework as Attraction, Selection, and Attrition.
This is why someone was attracted to work at your org in the first place. Perhaps your culture was where they wanted to be a part of or your focus on engineering excellence. Whatever the reason something about your org resonated with things that are important to the applicant.
Of those applicants that were attracted to your organisation, you now have the opportunity to select the ones who are best suited to the positions you have open.
This is the opposite of Attraction. This is when members of your team find that they have increasingly less motivation to perform at their best at your organisation. In fact they are being attracted elsewhere.
The reasons that people were attracted to your company in the first instance will change. Unless the influencers in your org (which isn’t necessarily management) don’t invest time to understand the drivers are for each individual then this can disenfranchise the team.
Give your team the space and the autonomy to affect change. When the change happens, embrace it.
The key here isn’t to worry about NextCo trying to poach your team, it’s to be assured that when they are approached they aren’t tempted. After all, where else offers so much autonomy?
Focusing on your attrition rate is a false metric, the only thing it tells you is the inability of your org to adapt to the changing dynamics of your team. If you’re proud that people are choosing to leave at the same rate as your top competitor then you don’t need me to tell you that there are problems.
The only thing natural about your attrition rate is that if you don’t work on your relationship with your team, it’s only natural that others will.