Retaining Employees through Respect and Development


I was recently in Toronto and I heard a story on an AM news station that really caught my ear. I have searched on the station's website and the web, but I can't find the exact story, but I found this newspaper article that references the same study.

The one surprising statistic, based on a Canadian survey, was that a really high percentage (80%) was looking for new employer and would gladly jump ship given a new opportunity. This is going to be more of concern for employers as the economy picks up. If you've been using “voluntary turnover” as a measure of staff morale, you might be kidding yourself — maybe employees are staying put because they have no other options… for now.

Does this number surprise you? Do you think it's similar in the U.S. or your country? What can companies do to counter these employee feelings and retain their best talent? A few classic Lean principles can play a big part.

From the newspaper story:

Six in 10 employees intend to pursue new job opportunities in 2010, according to a recent survey, and another 21 per cent said “maybe” and are already networking toward it. Another 6 per cent of the 904 North American workers polled by staffing service provider Right Management Inc. said a move is unlikely, but they've nevertheless updated their résumés. Just 13 per cent said they intend to stay put.

The story cited more results from the survey that said that being treated with respect goes a long way toward creating employee loyalty. That shouldn't be a surprise to Lean thinkers who know that “respect for people” in one of the two “equally important pillars” of the Toyota Way.

The survey said also that loyalty is higher when you invest in people's career and development. So when Toyota places “human development” in the center of their diagrams about the Toyota Production System, that development isn't just good for the employees – it's also good for the company. It's a virtuous cycle, not philanthropy, when you invest in your employees.

Some companies think unfortunately, that developing people (such as giving them formal Lean or Six Sigma training) means the employee will just jump ship. I've actually heard this used as an excuse for not paying for employee development activities. If people are going to leave so readily, shouldn't you look for a root cause for why they are leaving? It's easier to blame a departing employee as “disloyal” than it is to look in the mirror as an organization to think about why people are leaving.

A lack of respect will drive people to leave. Development and training increases their willingness to stay. You'd think respect and development of people would be a no-brainer… so why isn't it? Short-sightedness? What do you think? What are you doing, as a leader or manager, to keep people happy and to keep them from jumping ship when the economy recovers?

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Mark Graban
Mark Graban is an internationally-recognized consultant, author, and professional speaker, and podcaster with experience in healthcare, manufacturing, and startups. Mark's new book is The Mistakes That Make Us: Cultivating a Culture of Learning and Innovation. He is also the author of Measures of Success: React Less, Lead Better, Improve More, the Shingo Award-winning books Lean Hospitals and Healthcare Kaizen, and the anthology Practicing Lean. Mark is also a Senior Advisor to the technology company KaiNexus.


  1. I think that statistic speaks volumes about the majority of command and control companies. It’s downright de-motivating when an employer preaches our people are our greatest asset, but the real culture reinforces the notion that people can be replaced and should “know their place.” Employees need to be challenged and appreciate it if they know someone is helping them towards a development goal.

  2. Thanks for the comment. You’re right. Command-and-control is demotivating and Lean is an alternative. Unfortunately, some try to use lean tools in the old command-and-control environment and that can be just as demotivating.

    Read this story, if you haven’t already seen it, about a company where people ARE motivated thanks to a real lean culture:

    Too many hospitals, by comparison, are squarely command-and-control, just as bad as any manufacturing company. That’s one thing that truly lean hospitals are working on changing is that old c-and-c culture.

  3. We have begun the employee development program, “LeanCor Academy” with a “train the trainer” approach. Without investing in your employees’ potential, they will wonder, “What’s in it for me?”


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