5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition

Human Resources
5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition

Ross Thornley

CEO & Co-Founder
December 21, 2022
5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition

When you invest your time, energy, and trust in someone to lead, it can be painful to watch them go.

As leaders begin to adopt new ways of thinking and behaving in response to rapid changes, the places where they feel stuck become more visible. Leaders are feeling overwhelmed, stressed and frustrated. Many who have been struggling with their own resistance to change or personal barriers often look for exits once they realize that staying may require letting go of old habits.

Staggeringly, and rather sobering research shows that one in five leaders depart within their first 18 months on the job, and after five years, nearly half of all new leaders have left their organization. How crushing is that! And while this might seem very high - it is indeed an average - so many other organizations have much higher rates of leadership attrition. 

What makes this challenge of effective leadership value and retention even harder, is that it isn't uncommon for leaders to drive their team away with their actions or lack of. In fact, according to a study by Leadership Solutions, 40% of new leaders fail in their first year with their new team - and most commonly because of poor management and communication.

It is highly likely employee attrition will remain a significant issue for businesses over the coming years. The 2021 Work Trend Index reveals that a staggering 41% of the global workforce are considering leaving their current employer sometime within the following year. (We have also seen some figures even higher than this in more recent articles and reports). A quick google search will give you a myriad of reasons why, which vary from overwork and burnout to shrinking networks and siloed work teams, but it is clear businesses and organizations will need to make changes if they are going to keep the best and brightest. 

This article outlines five key ways to avoid leadership attrition so that your team members feel valued, appreciated, and successfully navigate the balance between stretching for growth and development and periods of rest to re-energize and reflect.

5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition
5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition
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5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition
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1. Training and Coaching

For many organizations employees are the most valuable asset. Understanding what drives and motivates them is critical in ensuring a solid and sustainable way to retain them.

Employee retention requires making employees feel invested in, valued, cared for and part of a winning team, and not just utilized for their productivity. Recent research from Gartner highlighted that 82% of employees believe it is important that their organization sees them as a person, not just an employee. Training and coaching programs are one of the best ways to keep great employees and make them genuinely feel appreciated and engaged in their work. 

Training and coaching are terms often used interchangeably; while similar, there are some minor yet important differences. Training, by definition, means 'the action of teaching a person a particular skill or behavior', intending to increase an individual's productivity, capability, and performance through learning something new. This has been a focus for many organizations over the years. With investments in learning management systems and skills enhancement programs. However, coaching is often far more personalized, an interactive approach to listening, guiding and enhancing the progress towards goals. It often helps build on an existing skill or skills rather than teaching a new one. Coaching aims to maximize performance by helping an employee reach their peak potential. In many organizations, the purpose of coaching involves developing leadership, creating self-discipline, building a self-belief system, creating motivation, and improving self-awareness. Often becoming a sounding board in difficult situations, to help nurture and unlock solutions from within, through effective questioning.

At times then a combination of training and coaching might manifest in mentoring, adding advice and direction where needed to ensure less experienced employees are able to accelerate their careers as they adapt to opportunities presented.  

Aside from broadening their skill sets and improving productivity, training and coaching have proven beneficial to organizations of all sizes. One study by Deloitte found that millennials (currently the largest working generation) planning to stay with their employer for more than five years were twice as likely to have a mentor (68%) than not.

For many organizations, a widening skills gap and lack of talent pipeline are huge challenges they are struggling to address. It is far more cost-effective for an organization to up-skill, re-skill, or coach existing team members rather than to recruit, hire, and onboard. With many employees feeling that their careers have been on hold for the last two years, offering personalized, and clear learning and development opportunities can be a highly effective way to address employee retention and engagement while plugging skills gaps. 

Check out some of these training, coaching and mentor services here:

2. A culture with a human-centred approach

Does my organization value me? 

Do I feel appreciated by my manager? 

Do I feel a sense of belonging with my team and organization? 

Do I feel like a part of a high-performing, trusting, supportive, caring team with teammates I can learn from and truly like to work with? 

Do I have a defined path to a better future, with career development and growth?

A lot of employers don't pay nearly enough attention to these questions. Instead, they focus on the sometimes more tangible and easier things to do, like pay, flexible working and paid time off. 

Of course, if you were to offer an employee a wage increase, it is unlikely they would turn it down, however; for many people, there are more important things than money. As the old saying goes, money can't buy happiness.

You no doubt know people who have walked away from their jobs having done so without another job lined up; they are just leaving. Escaping a toxic environment. Perhaps a lack of support, and a complete sense of overwhelm. A disconnect from the core purpose. Many are burned out and looking for inspiration, social connection, deeper meaning and belonging. If your organization cannot provide it to them, they will likely quit and go elsewhere.

A powerful solution could start simply, by adopting an employee-centered focus with open communication of business goals, values, and mission. When was the last time your leaders had a conversation about their connection to the company mission? Adopting human-centered approaches like ongoing peer feedback, regularly team gratitude sharing sessions and more frequent performance reviews. Building recognition systems tied to core values and behaviors can make employees feel better supported and more valued, and increase the sense of belonging. 

3. Invite Radical Candor Communications

Effective communication is the foundation of a thriving culture. And measuring thriving, over simple engagement is now becoming more widely adopted. With pioneering firms making this shift such as Microsoft. When strong communication is a priority for an organization, the leadership sets up systems that not only streamline communication but address and solve problems quickly. Including the employees much earlier in the thought process, leads to more diversity and ultimately helps solve critical issues.

Business leaders and managers who fail to create a strong foundation for open, and radical candor communications, waste valuable time and resources through miscommunication. Creating unnecessary problems, increased workplace conflict and stress, contributing to the likelihood of burnout, and exits.

Creating an environment of safe, open dialogue is essential for retaining top-tier talent within your organization. Listening to questions, addressing concerns, providing feedback, offering support, and importantly implementing suggestions are the baselines for effective leadership and requisites for high-caliber performance and employee retention.

Calling out unacceptable communications is foundational to building a strong culture, one where authentic communications are a ‘culture add’ enabling each of your team embers to not only have a voice but to truly be heard. A top tip is to build a culture of conversations over surveys. 

4. Improve mental flexibility

Burnout, toxic cultures and purpose disconnect continue to fuel the retention crisis, especially among those in leadership positions.

Leadership consulting firm DDI found that "leaders who are feeling burnout are now nearly four times more likely to leave their positions within the next year." The length of the pandemic and the sustained effort required to keep companies afloat through uncertain times have increased exhaustion and stress. Meanwhile, the lines between the work/life balance have blurred.

Flexibility has become a big topic - with workers demanding greater flexibility and a better work-life balance. But what if we could cultivate a flexible mindset to promote good health and better mental and emotional well-being? Many see workplace flexibility as the place and time in which work is done. We encourage you to think broader when considering mental flexibility. According to wiki  cognitive flexibility is - “an intrinsic property of a cognitive system often associated with the mental ability to adjust its activity and content, switch between different task rules and corresponding behavioral responses, maintain multiple concepts simultaneously and shift internal attention between them.”

If we think of our mind like a muscle; the more we stretch it, the more flexible it becomes. With practice and awareness, we can develop a more agile mind which helps us live more resilient, creative, and fulfilled lives.

Mental flexibility, or cognitive flexibility, is about personal adaptability and a person's willingness to shift their thought patterns to respond to given situations in a less regimented way. TO hold two opposing thoughts at the same time, and not end up in a padded cell!

Developing a more flexible mindset allows us to adjust to the different tasks, roles and responsibilities we are presented with each day with less stress and anxiety. Meaning more productivity and fewer people heading for the exit sign.

One way to improve your mental flexibility is to bring in some ‘improv’ principles and specialists. Ask us about our many improv coaches and the magical power of ‘yes, and’ to bring the lessons from the theater to drive real leadership value in the workplace.

5. Developing your own, and your team's ‘Adaptability Intelligence’ to improve retention

Organizations must address employees' need for connection and well-being. The relentless shifts, uncertainties and complexity in our workplace today have pushed ‘adaptability’ to the number one most desired and important skill for workplace success. Through building adaptability - the ability to successfully respond to changing circumstances - we can enhance performance, drive innovation, and sure up retention numbers. 

Adaptability boosts well-being, turns adversity into a learning opportunity, and helps create an environment where employees can thrive. 

Adaptability operates and drives results at four distinct levels:

  • Individual. Adaptability can improve well-being, accelerate career development, and reduce burnout. Through adopting adaptable mindsets, improving resilience, cultivating hope and creating psychological safety across organizations.
  • Interpersonal. Adaptability improves the ability to be empathetic towards others, increasing the capacity to display compassionate leadership and turn complex interpersonal issues into relationship-building opportunities. Breaking down the natural immune system to change.
  • Team. The level of trust in and care for teammates contributes to the perception of psychological safety - reinforcing or weakening overall team adaptability. The greater the psychological safety, the more quickly belonging, engagement and innovation follow. The ability to deal with stress can be greatly improved when people feel supported. 
  • Organizational. Organizational adaptability provides employees with an overarching sense of identity and distinctive culture. It creates a cultural core that helps individuals thrive during times of uncertainty. Ensuring sustainability, growth and succession throughout an organisation's history and future.
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5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition
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5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition
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The Great Adaption 

Building adaptability begins with leaders dealing with change gracefully. And they need help to do this well. Leaders must bolster their own well-being and transform their relationship with change by building adaptability into the foundations of your daily business.

It is our mission to help solve your challenges and strengthen employee engagement, creating a thriving culture. Drive up well-being & improve retention. We’re launching the new AQ Practitioner Program, a new AQ (Adaptability Quotient) Pilot Program + Training/Certification. 

We’ve taken over 175 coaches into a similar program and now we’re adding more value for you too.

This 8-week AQ pilot program delivers:

1. Establish the root cause of people and environment well-being issues.

2. Solve environment issues to strengthen employee engagement, & improve retention.

3. Build an adaptable workforce and workplace culture to sustain and grow through change.

4. See and understand the data of your employees' relationships to change, adapt your change initiatives accordingly, and maintain engagement, wellbeing, and jobs!

Bonus: Identify where improvements can be made fast to employees’ abilities to navigate change, at both an individual, team and organizational-wide level.

To find out more visit our AQ Pilot program

5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition
5 Strategies to Help You Avoid Leadership Attrition
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