Career Guide

Employee turnover

Here’s what to do about it

In the SEAL Teams, we lost high performers mainly due to hazards of the job.

Rarely did a high performer at the level I was at voluntarily say: “I’m done.”

However, it did happen and it happened to me.

One of two questions always comes up with coaching clients and audiences for that matter after I share my story with them.

They want to know why I kept returning despite getting shot on multiple deployments and surviving four parachute malfunctions and other “stuff”, and they want to know how I did it.

My answer is not “because I was SEAL and that’s what we do”.

The truth is, what compelled me to keep going are the same two things that great managers already know and use to their advantage to build engagement in their teams and minimise turnover.

Those two elements are:

1. Who you have to return to

Jerks or people who generally suck the air out of a room turn work into “work”.

They take the fun and passion out of the daily routine and instead make it a daily grind that you soon want to avoid at all costs.

2. What you have to return to

This is the mission or purpose that you originally signed up for and the fulfilment it brings.

When that mission changes, however, it’s incumbent upon the manager to understand how the new change will impact the team in order to re-clarify roles, responsibilities and fit.

This is why managers have superpowers when it comes to talent retention.

They help employees want to show up and stay because they already understand what drives that employee (assuming there has been an ongoing dialogue between the two).

Employee turnover costs US companies USD160bil a year, according to Wrike, a work management and social collaboration software tool that scales across teams in any business.

And since high performers deliver up to 400% more than their mediocre counterparts, the cost of wasted talent poses a serious threat to the bottom line.

Here’s where I would start if reducing employee turnover is a priority for you:

1. Team functioning

People want to be part of something great; they want to belong to something and work alongside like-minded individuals whom they like, trust and respect.

It’s incumbent upon the manager to set the conditions that allow for such successes to occur.

Teams that function optimally have trust, a shared purpose and a clear identity. This also entails the who and what elements that I mentioned earlier.

2. Candid conversations

I once gave a speech on “winning as one” and one of the questions from the audience was: “How do I motivate that one person on my team who just doesn’t seem like he wants to be there?”

My answer: “When you say ‘doesn’t seem’, have you been in conversation with this employee about it?”

Audience member: “Well... no.”

Boom. Conversations don’t have to be difficult. They can – and should – be exploratory when you use questioning to your advantage.

The reason I would start with team functioning is because how the team functions is rooted in trust, shared purpose and mutual accountability.

If these “soft” elements don’t exist, then having difficult conversations – conversations where you connect rather than just communicate – isn’t likely.

Without these conversations, you lose valuable insight into employee motivations and aspirations – and then you lose the employee to the competition.

When you tap into the human element of your people, higher engagement and productivity become the natural by-products.

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