Keep Your People

The Startup Manager's Guide to Employee Retention

“Cedric”, B said, “I have two things to tell you.”

My heart sank.

“I want to leave the company.” he paused. “And I want to leave next month”.

Nobody likes losing good people.

Losing stellar employees means losing all the value they bring to your team … and losing all the hours you’ve spent training them. It means being afraid that your other employees are going to see your star leaving and think that something is wrong with you, or with your company, or with the future of your team.

Losing people sucks.

“Maybe it’s because we’re a startup” you think. “You know, because we can’t pay as well. Or because there’s too much work. Maybe all startups lose people.”

And so you pray that the next person who leaves doesn’t leave at a bad time.

You hope that an employee leaving doesn’t set off a cascade of departures.

And you try your best to plug the holes in your team.

But let’s pause to imagine the alternative scenario:

What if you knew how to keep your people?

What if I told you that employee retention is … a skill?

What if, with this skill, you could tell who was most likely to leave your team at any given time?

What if you had the tools to act early to prevent them from leaving?

And what if — when you can’t prevent them from leaving, you can at least find out early enough to prepare for their departure?

Being able to treat retention as ‘just another’ management problem is a Big Deal! You’re able to plan ahead. You’re no longer as worried about people leaving. You know who are your biggest flight risks, and focus efforts on them pre-emptively.

Keeping your people doesn’t have to be a mystery

It’s possible to understand why people leave. It’s possible to pre-emptively act to keep them, before they realise they’re at risk of leaving.

And it’s possible to prepare — way in advance — for an employee’s leaving in the situations where you can’t retain them.

I know, because I’ve done it. And I’ve taught my managers to do it as well.

Hi. My name’s Cedric. I was put in charge of the engineering office for a Singaporean software startup … in Vietnam. This was a country that I had no knowledge of before I landed. I learnt management the hard way — breaking techniques down to first principles and adapting it to a culture I was unfamiliar with.

By the end of my tenure, I was never surprised when a teammate wanted to leave. I trained a team of three managers to replace me, taught them all I knew, and left them to handle the S$4.5 million dollar company we had built together.

Retention was no longer a mystery — it was something we had learnt to manage.

How do you increase employee retention in a small company?

The answer is to understand why people leave jobs. Once you have a model that works, you can better evaluate your team — what they’re motivated by, how likely they are to leave you, what you should do to keep them.

Keep Your People is a book about this model. It covers a framework with which to think about employee retention in small companies, explained in terms of simple principles, and operationally applicable for employee retention in any growing startup.

What does Keep Your People Cover?

  1. That there are only six major categories of reasons that cause people to leave companies.
  2. How personal growth rates affect retention, and how to deal with high-growth and slower-growth employees.
  3. How autonomy is table stakes for employee happiness
  4. How work fits into their lives, and how to find out.
  5. How to think about employee compensation, especially when you can’t pay top-of-market.
  6. Does having a vision or bigger purpose count?
  7. How relationships with their peers and their direct manager affects their decision to stay.
  8. What not to do when people leave.

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Keep Your People will come out in early April 2019.

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