How Attrition Actually Makes Everyone Stronger

I hate to lose. Just ask my brother – we fought over everything from air hockey to driveway basketball to flipping baseball cards. We are both very emotional, or as I like to say, passionate.attrition pull quote

Losing in business is no different than losing to a family member – when it happens, it stings. For example, when a team member leaves, we don’t call that losing, we call it “attrition.” Recently, one of our young and promising teammates decided to leave. I’m not going to lie… it hurt.

As a leader, how do you handle this kind of loss?

Lead people to run toward, not away, from career decisions

First, I want to understand why the person wants to leave. I am not going to sell him or her on staying, but I do want to understand if the individual is running away from something or running toward something. I’ve found that’s the best way to successfully manage your career and brand equity.

Running toward something takes transparency by the employee and the leader. It takes an ongoing, active dialogue about what is needed from both parties, in terms of how each of you is performing and what is needed for career growth and improvement. This is a serious investment that requires:

  • Having career discussions outside of an evaluation period
  • Being open to feedback
  • Being willing to improve

One of my most important responsibilities is to help my team grow personally and professionally, even if that growth means they may leave the team I lead. I encourage people who work for me to look outside of their current roles at least once a year. This perspective helps them better understand their own value and relevance as an employee.  And it helps me learn how and where we might improve.

Through active communication like this, leaders gain an awareness of reality. If someone on your team has an opportunity to run toward something, you have more time to plan for how you will address the gap on your team.

If this is all handled professionally and through transparent dialogue, then attrition is actually an opportunity. It becomes something that each party expects, because they understand that when people and companies grow and mature, they may need (and make) new relationships.

And if the person does ultimately leave, you now have an advocate who is an alumnus, singing the praises of the organization and its leadership. For the individual and the leader, you have new opportunities – perhaps new industry experiences or more room for a different kind of growth. Everyone wins.

Communication and transparency are key

I take attrition seriously, and so does my team. We never just say, “Sally is leaving.” We say, “Sally is leaving; she is joining XYZ Company and this is why.”

Don’t get me wrong, losing is hard. But you don’t want to lose because you didn’t try. The worst kind of attrition is one based on an ill-informed decision. Usually, it means they left for the wrong reasons. That hurts – and as a leader, that loss is as much your fault as it is theirs.

In the end, you have to create an environment that welcomes discussions of opportunity and possibility – even if it may cause someone to seek opportunities elsewhere. It’s how we all grow.