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Connecting the Dots Between Coaching and Retention: An Insurance Policy Against Turnover

Half of all people who are quitting jobs and moving on would have stayed if their employer had “done something.” The bigger question for employers who are losing some of their best people is – done what?
Burak Koyuncu and Greg Leskew
As organizations continue to navigate the choppy waters created by the “Great Resignation,” there is a reality that many are only now coming to realize: this is a problem that poses two distinct challenges.

On one side, you have the frantic rush to hire top talent by whatever means, and at whatever cost, are necessary. Salary offers are doubling, even tripling, in a bid to lure people to organizations.

On the other side, employers must find ways to keep their best people from falling prey to the siren call of rapidly escalating paychecks. Although turnover has always been a huge issue for employers, the current hiring frenzy – which has been triggered against a backdrop of a chronic global shortage of skilled labor – has made the problem even worse.

The double-whammy of turnover

For any organization that is growing or transforming, turnover is a double-whammy: at the same time as hiring managers scramble to find new people with new skills, they are losing some of their best, existing employees.

Gartner, one of the world’s largest technology research and consulting firms, has tracked employee turnover for decades. In a late 2021 report, Gartner found that 91 percent of CEOs identified employee turnover as their chief concern, and that more than half of surveyed workers said they had received at least two other job offers in the last year.

Given the costs associated with voluntary turnover – the total costs of losing a single employee have been pegged at nearly $20,000 USD – retention has become just as important as recruitment in talent strategies, if not more so.

To effectively manage this two-headed monster, employers need to find a strategy that not only supports the integration of new hires, but promotes the retention of existing top talent. A strategy that needs to equip leaders and managers to engage in meaningful conversations about career and wellness.

In other words, a strategy that is built on coaching.

Coaching: an insurance policy against turnover

The link between talent retention and coaching may not jump out at you, at least at first. But when you start to connect the dots between strategies that have proven to be most successful in convincing top talent to resist the Great Resignation, you end up with a critical need for leaders and managers to make deep, meaningful connections with the people they are leading.

And right now, we have a significant deficit in deep, meaningful connections.

Consider this dynamic: a late 2021 survey by Gallup found 52 percent of voluntarily exiting employees – the people who are driving the narrative around the Great Resignation – believe their former employers “could have done more to prevent them from leaving their jobs.”

Think about that for a second. Half of all the people who are actually quitting jobs and moving on would have stayed if their employer had “done something.” The bigger question for employers who are losing some of their best people is – done what?

If you listen carefully to what your departing employees are asking for, the “what” is a meaningful conversation with their managers.

The growing importance of the “stay conversation”

Many HR professionals agree the “what” is a preventative course of conversations between top talent and managers. In other words, a “stay conversation,” a series of one-on-one chats where managers and employers can discuss passions, career goals and what they might need or want to be more engaged and successful in their current roles.

“One of the best ways to outmaneuver turnover is to have frequent, meaningful conversations with employees," Gallup said in its survey report. “Now more than ever, leaders need to enable supportive conversations with employees about their wellbeing, job expectations, development goals and more – factors that influence employees’ willingness to stay.”

Unfortunately, many employers still rely heavily on annual performance reviews to define the relationship between leaders and the people they lead. The reality is that formulaic reviews are not giving your people the meaningful exchanges they crave, and they’re not giving employers the insight needed to retain top talent. Performance reviews tend to focus on past behaviors and often overlook careers aspirations, motivations and other development plans.

Once again, Gallup research has shown that those annual reviews do not engage employees. And only 23 percent of employees in a recent survey agreed that their manager provides “meaningful feedback” to them on a regular basis. Those that do have those conversations are 2.8 times more likely to be engaged. And engaged employees tend to stick around with their current employer.

Connecting the dots between coaching and retention

This is where we can make the strongest connection to coaching. Leaders and managers do not feel equipped or prepared to engage in meaningful conversations. A 2021 survey by The Adecco Group found that more than half of all leaders and managers felt they were “not equipped” to have meaningful wellness conversations with employees to discuss issues like burnout.

To fulfill this critical role in talent retention, leaders and managers need two different kinds of support, both of which involve coaching.

First, they need coaching to help them become better leaders and managers. Meaningful wellness or career conversations require leaders to demonstrate empathy, compassion and self-awareness. These are the competencies of the emotionally intelligent leader, and the core values that can be cultivated between a leader and a coach. Coaching gives leaders confidence to go forth and connect with their employees in new and more profound ways.

However, leaders also need to develop a coaching mindset, which is defined by the International Coaching Federation as the capacity for a leader to be open, curious, flexible and focused on the needs of the people they are leading. With a coaching mindset, leaders resist becoming directive and learn how to ask questions and really absorb answers.

Although it is possible for a leader or manager in a coaching engagement to absorb these competencies, coaching mindset can also be taught as its own discipline. In other words, even in those instances where leaders and managers may not have access to their own coach, they can still learn and put into practice the best principles of the coaching mindset.

The solutions to chronic turnover are within reach

The best news of all for any organization concerned about losing their best people to the Great Resignation is that a solution is readily available. We are currently living through a golden age of coaching, where organizations work with leaders across all levels to build the best practices of the coaching mindset.

To fully realize all the benefits of coaching, all we really need to do is start having the right conversation.

Originally published in HR.com on May 2, 2022.