Amid widespread layoffs riding fast on the heels of the Great Resignation, many companies are still struggling to retain employees and reduce overall organizational turnover. The problem with that mentality is that it’s impossible to reap the benefits of intentional attrition, such as loyal alumni and boomerang employees.
Intentional attrition is a deliberate plan to reduce the number of employees or customers in an organization over time. Schools use this strategy. From the moment eager students apply, they know their schooling will be limited; this should be it. While some students may stay longer than others or even get long-term appointments on campus, most leave after a few years. This is seen in a positive light because it means that the school has done its job.
Most companies don’t work that way. During the interview and onboarding, the discussion assumes that the employee will stay with the employer forever. Certainly, both sides realized that the average tenure of a modern worker about four years. But in practice, they sweep that fact under the rug. When the employee leaves, the process feels awkward, like a high school breakup. Neither side recognized the moment or prepared for what was to come.
Fortunately, some employers have embraced the idea of intentional attrition, commonly known as an up-and-out system. For example, in companies like McKinsey & Co., attrition is not negative. This is normal. Employees know at the beginning of their time at McKinsey that even if they perform at their highest capacity, they will not improve. With so many senior positions available, some McKinsey team members will be motivated to leave.
This up-and-out policy provides a sense of transparency and, ironically, a sense of security. Reportedly, only 1% of McKinsey job applicants receive an offer. For many, this makes them eager to jump into the experience and lay an excellent career foundation that will likely mean advancement elsewhere. When they leave, they also become part of a thriving alumni community that continues to guide their career aspirations.
How Alumni Make Powerful Employer Marks
You don’t have to look hard to find articles written by former McKinsey employees who are happy with praise the brand. These positive alumni reviews are important, especially since the owner brand of any company directly influenced by the current and past experience of the employee. Consequently, a positive owner brand can reduce any negative aspects that may also leave some people behind. When former employees praise the employer they left, people take notice.
Some of those people are equally ambitious, hard-working job seekers looking for a place that will bring them purpose and a sense of belonging. So they apply for openings and continue the cycle of up-and-out. In the meantime, alumni keep in touch and refer to their former work lives positively.
This process creates a moving, efficient oil process. People come into a business, give it their best, and either get promotions or leave on good terms. Some may become boomerang employees, returning years or decades later to further enhance the experience and capabilities of their former employer. The owner brand naturally continues to be stronger and more productive as a result.
Making Planned Attrition a Normal Process
As with any organizational change, taking the sting out of losing great people takes time and effort. However, if you can create an organizational process that does not punish workers who resign, you can create a very positive culture that will positively affect your employer brand. Remember the school analogy? What if you thought of your company as a place where rising talent can learn and grow? As a career accelerator, you can set up an up-and-out system. Try these steps to get started:
1. Recognize that it is not forever from the beginning.
If you are positioned as a career accelerator, you have an obligation as a “stepping stone” to help employees get opportunities at other companies. The trade-off is simple: You expect exceptional performance from your employees. In return, they understand that they must be honest when they are preparing. No ghosting of you or suddenly tendering their resignation. And you create an environment where they feel comfortable being honest.
McKinsey invests heavily in its people through what chief people officer Katy George describes as “develop skills or go.” Thanks to McKinsey’s education-based, up-and-out reputation, coveted employersincluding Google and Apple, are willing to give a second look to McKinsey alumni who submit résumés.
Put some heart – and resources – into your training, mentoring, and apprenticeships. This means giving people real, useful life skills and tangible lessons they can apply immediately. It also means providing the necessary tools to quickly unlock value and, above all, learning experiences that they can remember and value over time. Also, try to keep assets, resources, and knowledge libraries available to people even after they’ve left. This is another way to build a reputation based on value and support.
You will accomplish this goal if your training goes beyond learning the necessary skills to advance in a current role within your company and instead includes the tools, skills, and capabilities that position in it for future success wherever they are. Remember, peer-to-peer mentoring builds strong relationships and imparts knowledge. As such, your investments in these types of programs actively strengthen the connective tissue between partners even if they continue to go elsewhere.
2. Focus on promoting internal candidates and boomerang employees.
As a career accelerator with an up-and-out mindset, you need to continually move people across the corporate landscape. After all, some of your performers want to invest more than two, three, or four years in your workplace. However, they won’t stick around if you can’t offer movement.
To build a foundation for greatness, you need to prove that you are serious about recognizing solid impressive work. This means promoting from within as much as possible or, in some cases, rehiring former employees who have increased their skills, credentials, and networks – or who may even regretted their decision to leave.
The more predictable the dynamic flow of talent in your company, the more new employees will realize that your employer brand is a springboard for long-term career success and support is earned.
In most organizations, ambitious managers tend to want to retain – and inadvertently keep out – great talent. However, this is a development failure and should be discouraged. To effectively stop this evil practice, you can publicly recognize the value of a manager by how many people they have developed and improved throughout the year. This, then, aligns with everyone’s goals more quickly.
On a tactical level, the internal job board should be clear and accessible. Internal applications must be prioritized, and any awkwardness around applying to leave one team in favor of another must be neutralized at the cultural level by celebrating and encouraging these actions as positive social rules. If internal mobility is encouraged and regularly discussed during evaluations or regular reviews, you will naturally see more internal mobility, which will reduce the regrettable loss of external competition in a more predictable way. way.
Finally, tracking internal movement versus regret loss will help you quickly measure the value of this new, more predictable internal flow of talent.
3. Involve your alumni.
Many people leave work only to be replaced and forgotten by their former employers. At McKinsey, however, the company is quick to publish articles on unicorns launched by its alumni and even offers alumni special company recognition through the McKinsey Alumni Center. Similarly, celebrate those who have given great work to your company.
To really start growing your alumni community, a simple “gated community” of any kind — a newsletter or Slack workspace, for example — is a good place to start. Put together a program that makes it easy to stay in touch, share news and events, privileged access to assets and resources, and even alumni swag. All of these offerings help people get involved over time.
Additionally, how you offboard people is key to consistently seeing alumni engagement increase over time. Create a positive farewell, celebrate their future successes and opportunities, and thank them for their specific contributions. Keeping in touch and celebrating personal achievements – and maybe even featuring or profiling alumni as they move on in their careers – encourages people to remember their time at your company.
Sometimes, alumni communities arise organically, run by others who want to keep in touch with colleagues. These can be great places to reach out and provide support and benefits. Doing so can be an effective way to quickly grow numbers and increase positive sentiment and brand awareness.
Over time, your alumni community will begin to really grow. Although you need to be part of it, remember that the community should serve your alumni more than your company. Your alumni community is the only group of people associated with your organization that is guaranteed to continue to grow. These are influential players in how the outside world perceives your employer brand.
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Can it be challenging to take this new approach to what the employee experience means to your business? Absolutely. It takes faith and the ability to hire strategically from the start. But once it’s there, you start to see a change in everything from engagement to culture. All because you are not afraid to say hello.