Improving Employee Retention Starts with Data

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Employee retention is about keeping your people in the organization as long as possible. Organizations aren’t focused on retention just because they want their best and brightest team members to stay as long as possible (although, that’s certainly part of it). But also, it’s incredibly expensive to replace people. In fact, it costs an employer an average of 33% of an employee’s yearly salary for their exit. So let’s dig into how organizations can begin getting the information they need to diagnose root causes of employee turnover and developing employee retention strategies that work.

Getting started

At ADVISA, we start with data. Specifically with retention concerns, it’s critical to gather data on the forces that are either working with you (or against you) in creating employee engagement and loyalty. We can categorize those forces as jobs, teams, leaders, and culture.

Organizations tend to have a lot of data on their business: revenue, year-over-year comparisons, net new business, etc.; however, data on employees outside of salary is often lacking. It may not seem like a big deal but consider what (or, rather, who) drives the business strategy to achieve results. Not to mention, employees are very likely one of an organization’s bigger investments, if not the biggest. It gets back to the adage, “Business problems are people problems.” To know where a potential retention issue is bubbling up, you need data but not from your accounting ledger.

Taking a closer look at jobs

When thinking about engagement scores related to turnover and retention, one of the best places to get data is in jobs. It is the most actionable because it is at the center of how an employee experiences the organization. Fix the relationship with jobs, and you fix a major driver of retention.

When we have a full understanding of what a job is, we can connect it to people. Here are some questions to consider when deciding what data to collect or analyze:

  1. Do people turnover in one role more often than another?
  2. What about data on who succeeds over a relevant period in their job? Can we extract data there to get a better sense of what the job really is, and what type of behaviors are necessary for long-term success?

Assessing teams

There are a variety of surveying tools to measure team effectiveness. Considering comparing data from a team that has very little to no turnover with another than has experienced recent churn as a starting point. What does a “successful” team score well on that others could improve? Similarly, look for patterns. Are at-risk teams in the same division, department, location, etc.? The data can help provide a starting point and offer initial, high-level insights that can better guide next steps.

Additionally, executive leaders (or leaders of culture) have the ability to look across multiple departments or regions, to uncover teams and people leaders who are succeeding in retention. Data is at your fingertips right now as to what’s working and what’s not. You just have to extract it.

People leave managers, not jobs… right?

When the focus is on retention, remember leaders are the culture carriers of the organization. Whether the team is in engineering, design, a nursing unit in a hospital, or a commercial loans department in a bank, the manager is the lens through which employees view the entire organization.

All too often, leaders lack the tools and support they need to be effective. So when thinking about the leader aspect of retention, consider what is provided to leaders in terms of development and coaching. If there is a job or team experiencing churn, consider whether or not the direct supervisor or team leader has the skills they need to effectively lead.

Intentional culture

When it comes to assessing the effectiveness of your culture, you could do an employee experience survey or engagement survey. There are many different kinds of survey instruments to choose from in this field. Most output data on all of the categories I’ve been referencing that solve for retention (jobs, teams, leaders and culture), and often more. There are even industry-specific options.

At ADVISA, we utilize a Leadership and Culture Assessment that helps organizations identify opportunities to improve team, leader, and culture effectiveness by measuring organizational capabilities, leadership capabilities, and loyalty. It’s a low-lift, high-impact starting point for organizations looking to uncover what’s working (and what’s not). From there, other tools can help dig deeper once specific areas of interest or concern are identified by leadership.

Hopefully, these ideas help point you in the right direction in terms of where you could look to gain insights on employee retention. Remember, once you have data, you can better drill down into where the disconnect lies between employees and the organization. Is it a problem with jobs, teams, leaders, or the culture? Or is it a combination of these factors? The data will help you determine the area needing the most attention and can influence how to prioritize those areas of concern.


Want to hear more from Senior Leadership Consultant BJ McKay? Check out his series of Leadership Talks on topics ranging from sales improvement to assessments and hiring data.

And, to dig deeper into employee data, check out this article by Leadership + Organization Development Consultant Andrea Armstrong.