Leadership Development for Retention? My story...

Look, I get it.  I would have said the exact same thing as the CEO of my company with way too much going on to even think about pulling anyone off their desk for a second to go be "groomed" by someone!  These guys need to buck up!  We have goals to hit!

However, I did.  And we went on to double our budget and my Directors followed me from company to company for the next decade where I used the tools I learned over and over again toward our successes.  In fact, a recent gallup poll says that "personal and professional growth and development is the number one thing people under 40 are looking for.  They say that for 87% of millennials, what a company provides in this area will be the difference of whether they take a job or leave one!"

But let's back up to my story...

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It was about 15 years ago that someone did this to me.  I'll never forget wondering why we were "outsourcing" of "management training."  But I knew I was excited to be on the list of people chosen to partake in it.  Admittedly, like any good "A player," I was told I should always have a Plan B, so as much as I really wasn't unhappy, I found myself in talks with other companies and considering my options.  But now... now that my company had handpicked me for this program and was going to invest in me, I had to see where this was going to go!

I remember it all started with a 360 review.  "YUCK," I thought. I am screwed!  Tech support and accounting probably hate me but if they just ask my employees and bosses then I'll be fine, I thought.  But, as the days leading up to the Leadership Development crept up and the conversations were had, I knew that the folks on the list were going to have to deal with my "type A" attitude toward others (especially corporate) once I got into this program.  

So there I was... 

Sitting around a U shaped table with a bunch of peers who had the same look on their faces. "What am I going to possible get from this?" I remember thinking ("I wonder what's for lunch?" I remember being my second thought).

As "class" went on I realized I had a lot more in common with my peers in the room then I would have ever thought.  But their problems, for some reason, were really obvious on how to solve, so I helped them.  But wait, it was my turn.  And the solutions were similar, but I wasn't doing them.  Hmmm... "maybe I don't know everything..." and the exploration and inquiry began.

Toward the end of the program I remember thinking how, at a minimum, these were skills for life.  I thought about how where there is smoke there could possibly be fire, and what could be the worst thing that would happen if I applied some of this stuff?  I remember thinking how it didn't matter how high I "climbed the ladder" if I was stepping all over people and making them feel badly on my way up.  I remembered how my "dirty little secret" of thinking I wasn't really qualified for the job I was in and that I fooled everybody somehow, was just a myth that all young successful people think when they see early success!  We ALL felt this way in the room!


If I couldn’t learn how to go from “me” to “we” why would anyone ever want to work with me?

The most important take away was that it wasn't all about me. 

It was if I couldn't learn how to go from "me" to "we" why would anyone ever want to work with me?  What did I have to offer them? Why did I think I was competing with my staff and, by the way, how crappy would it be to work for someone who is competing with you when they don't need to?!  I realized, at that young age, if I were going to be a true leader - no matter what my title - It would be about "our" results not my results.  It would be about how I made them feel.  Later, I would realize these behaviors would lead me to be able to forecast my businesses correctly knowing I could count on certain people to be there, actually still in their role, by the time the goal needed to be met.

The latter thought is what leads me to today. 

I can remember worrying about people bailing on me back when it WASN'T cool if you had been a "job-hopper."  I can remember thinking "I must make my employees feel like I work for them.  To serve them.  To inspire them.  But even if I'm not perfect, Johnny won't leave anyway because he's only been here 6 months and he wouldn't want that on his resume."

So, if I was that worried about keeping people happy, productive and engaged so they will stay back then, I would be petrified today!  Did you know the average shelf life of a millennial is only 1.6 years?  Do you know that no future hiring manager really cares how long they were at their previous role?  There were times as a recruiter that I found myself so ready to speak to why Mary had a couple six month stints on her resume and NOBODY asked me!

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Do you know the peer pressure employees feel when everyone else is interviewing elsewhere and everything else sounds "sexier" because the grass is always greener?  And by the way, their friends are always interviewing!  With today's shelf life, you've either just started a job (and therefore have your other competing prospects still calling you or at least still in your head), been somewhere just long enough to get comfortable but are starting to receive peer pressure and recruiting calls (mainly because the recruiters know the honeymoon period is OVER after 90 days to 6 months) or on the last third of this time frame - you've been there a year and it's time to go!  You almost don't even know why but everything sounds better than the future here!

So let's talk about these phases.  The latest people science says that employees are happiest when they feel "psychologically safe."  Well, when the hell are you going to feel that way?  In which of the above stages?  There's not even time to feel this way anymore.  It's like a constant game of corporate kung-fu or PR since either you just got there or are trying to find you way not knowing what the future holds or if you should even stick around for it.

So what could make them feel safe?  

A plan! 

A career plan and succession plan.  We can't be scared that someone is going to ask for more money or want a different title because, believe me, if they are not having this conversation with you, they are having it with someone else!  You don't have to have all of the answers to the future to have this conversation either.  You just need to have a concept of what they are looking for and for them to know that you truly are an "agent" for their career and will keep doing the PR necessary to have their back and make sure they advance wherever and whenever possible. They need to trust that you are this person for them.  They they need not look elsewhere.  And you need to be this person for them, even if it means letting them go to another division if they stay with the company.  Remember... think BIGGER, as I've said before.


I know, I know, you are thinking how much can they care about a software?  In fact, I just had someone ask me that last week who I was coaching.  But what I was able to tell him was that it wasn't about the end product being meaningful in his life so much as it was about where he was going, both personally and professionally, with the experience of being in this role at this time.  I go back to how I felt about being picked for a the leadership development program and how my engagement went up ten-fold when I realized they were investing in me.  They were taking the time to spend money, time and resources to make sure I was getting everything I needed to be stoked and productive at work.  Again, at first I looked at it as "cool, I'll take these life skills anywhere" so I was glad to be in the training just for that.  But after I came back, the sense of loyalty I had to the company for sending me to this, the amount of appreciation I had that we invest in people, and the camaraderie I now had with my fellow peers, well let's just say I went onto becoming the youngest VP ever there, sold millions of their services, and groomed their next generation of leaders (who I signed up for that same Leadership Development Program ASAP!!!).  Bottom line, I was ENGAGED and blindly loyal for the new few years.


Would you want to be a role in which you are not hitting your goals?  Worse, where the goals are not clearly defined?  Where there is confusion on the accountability of goal hitting?  In other words, when Mark got fired, it seemed to be because he didn't hit his goals ever. But, for some reason, Billy is still here and we all know he produces at the same rate.

Would a new employee feel safe asking for help earlier on - before they did hit a goal or when they started to feel it was unrealistic?

Is your company culture that it's ok to come close but not hit your OKRs?  Or worse, that it's ok for some people and not others?  Can you honestly say that your current management team knows how to have this conversation with the result being clarity of what's expected and not just entering numbers and letters into the new software that tracks reviews?  Would a new employee feel safe asking for help before they did hit a goal or when they started to feel it was unrealistic?  Again, if they can't discuss this with their immediate supervisor they will discuss it with the recruiter that's calling them.  People love to complain to recruiters who will gladly listen about how unfair the goals were and how unachievable everything is.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn't, but could a realistic closing of this communication gap have helped solve the problem and make the employee feel safe?  I have found many, many times that this is the case.  But admittedly, I would not have even know how to close the communication gap had I not been through a good leadership development program!

The bottom line is....

It's not just about having a good software that can track the goals or even a good executive team that can set really good, well defined, achievable goals.  It's about the layers of management underneath them feeling good about these ambitious goals themselves and then being able to lead by example and inspire the folks underneath feel the same way!  It's about being fully motivated, blindly loyal, and committed and successful at their day job.  It's about going home over the holidays and feeling good about where they are in their career, what the future could look like and knowing what they need to do to get there.

Trust me, I know more then anybody how easy it is to overlook this when you are going a mile a minute!  But I truly believe that the reason we were able to stay focused and win the 100 Fastest Growing Companies in Silicon Vally award was because I was in your shoes, too, and knew that while my people needed this grooming and handling, I couldn't give it to them at the rate it was needed.  I needed to extend my reach and thus, I out-sourced it as well.  It was the best decision I ever made.

THAT is why I am excited to now play this role with my clients. :)



Aisha G. Quaintance
CEO, The Quaintance Consulting Group
Teams. Leaders. Missions. Amplified.


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The Quaintance Consulting Group is a boutique firm specializing in teams development, executive coaching, consulting and leadership training and performance.  Run by Aisha Quaintance, an award-winning entrepreneur, author, speaker and performance coach with expertise in recruiting, leadership, sales, performance and retention.

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