Staff turnover is a natural part of leadership life. There are many reasons for it, and we can’t always help it when our people choose to leave, especially if they are resigning to take on a better opportunity.
However, it’s no fun when your people leave, because it can create a pile of extra work which you may not have planned for.
That’s why in this post, I’m going to take a look at some ways you can try to limit the impact of staff turnover in your team.
We can’t necessarily stop it, but we can put steps in place that can prevent it from being a catastrophe!
Why Does Staff Turnover Happen?
As you might expect, staff turnover happens for many reasons.
Hopefully when your people are leaving, it’s because they have found a great opportunity which your organisation is simply unable to match. In other cases, people leave because they’re unhappy with the team or the leadership, or performance issues have resulted in somebody being let go from the company.
And of course, there are the restructures that result in rounds of layoffs which send many potentially good people out the door.
However, some leaders are also dealing with temporary workers, where they are only supposed to be employed for a season or a limited period of time. This presents another challenge, because these workers need to get up to speed quickly, and when they leave, you need to up-skill the new batch of workers fast!
What to Focus On to Manage the Impact of Staff Turnover
When it comes to managing the impact of staff turnover, there are a few areas I think we should focus on.
Remember – we can’t stop it altogether, but we don’t want to find ourselves in a situation where our team can’t operate or is at risk of failing to deliver on its key priorities.
When I think about reducing the impact of staff turnover, I like to keep the following factors in mind:
- Skill mix: We should aim to minimise the risk of losing key skills when our people exit, leaving our team unable to function effectively.
- Attitude: When team members have a “it’s not in my job description so I won’t do it” mentality, this can reduce the ability to cope with turnover. We don’t want them working completely outside of their core role either, but there is a happy middle-ground to be found!
- Speed: Ideally, we’d like new people to be able to “hit the ground running” as much as possible. Obviously there will be some start-up time required, but hopefully we can reduce it to have people working productively as soon as they can.
- Capacity: If your team are working at 100% every week, you have no room to move when it comes to workload. Any issues with staff turnover will set you back, so we need to consider how to manage the work with the resources we have available.
Now, let’s take a look at some steps you can take to try to cater for these factors and have your team cope effectively with any staff turnover.
1. Document What Your Team Does and How It Does It
This seems deceptively simple, but many teams struggle with this problem.
“Kelly left and she was the only one who knew how to administer the system”
“We don’t have any processes written down, it’s all in our heads”.
Do either of those statements sound familiar? If so, you’re not alone – it’s a common issue!
To reduce the impact of staff turnover, we need to write things down.
What things? Here are a few examples:
- Processes. The processes your team uses to do work are important. It could be serving customers, creating products or any number of other important services. These can be documented in a simple way using a process map. This article from LucidChart shows you how you can do this.
- Procedures. Processes are generally captured at a relatively high level, to show to the basic steps of how to do something. Procedures are much more detailed, with step by step instructions. You don’t need a procedure for everything. However, you should create one when the work needs to be repeated, and when certain steps are very important to produce the desired outcome.
- Overview documents. It can be helpful to maintain a document (or web page) that describes the operations and structure of your team. Processes and procedures are good, but sometimes providing a higher-level context can be useful to help new people understand.
When we have processes, procedures and an overview of the team, we make life simpler for ourselves.
Why? Because everything becomes more repeatable. When someone new starts, they receive the same information as the last person.
Otherwise, you’ll be relying on your existing team members to pass on the information. They may miss steps, or forget certain details from one staff onboarding session to the next.
Note: Sometimes documenting these aspects can feel threatening for team members, because they start to realise that they are replaceable. “If I write down what I know, I won’t be needed anymore!”. You may need to spend some time reassuring your team members if they feel threatened in this way.
2. Clarify Roles and Responsibilities
When you first enter a new team, it can be confusing. There might be many different people working in various roles, and sometimes it isn’t really clear what everyone does.
In addition to the processes mentioned earlier, it can be useful to clarify the roles and responsibilities in the team too.
One way to do this is through what’s called a RACI matrix. RACI stands for:
- R = Responsible: The person actually doing the work.
- A = Accountable: The person who will be ultimately held accountable for the work, or approve it. This is often a manager (probably you).
- C = Consulted: A person who should be consulted for their input about the work. These people could be outside of your team.
- I = Informed: A person who should be informed of the outcome or progress of the work, but they shouldn’t really have a say in how the work is done.
Create a table and write a list of the people or roles at the top, and the tasks or functions of the team on the left. In each entry in the table, you need to put one or more of the RACI letters, as shown below.
For further guidance on how you can create the matrix and clarify roles in your team, I’d recommend reading this previous article: Roles and Responsibilities Unclear? Do This.
3. Manage Staff Turnover By Cross-Skilling Your Team
A major problem in many teams is the reliance on people who are a “single point of failure”. In other words, they are the only person with the key skill or experience to perform a task.
When this person leaves, you can find yourself with a major headache. That’s why you need to take steps to try to minimise the impact if this person does choose to leave.
I once managed part of a large program in an organisation that employed PhD-level mathematicians who held key knowledge in specific areas. If these people had left, we would have been in big trouble!
One way you can approach this problem is to try to cross-skill your team members. This means making sure that multiple team members have overlapping skills in key areas, rather than relying on just one person to know the information.
You can do this by buddying up team members with others that have the key experience needed, and having them help the team member learn the skill or knowledge. If this isn’t really an option, you may need to hire the skills in. This could be either as new team members, or temporary consultants or contractors.
However you do it, you need to build redundancy in your team to minimise the issues associated with key experience walking out the door from staff turnover.
4. Encourage Flexibility
Sometimes I work with leaders who are leading team members with a “it’s not my job” attitude.
In other words, they won’t do anything unless the task is specifically in their job description. While this is understandable on some levels, it can also be very unhelpful.
Ideally, we want team members to pitch in and help when times are tough. Sometimes tough times happen because of staff turnover.
This all comes down to team culture. So who sets the culture? Leaders do.
Where possible, we want to encourage people to maintain a degree of flexibility in their roles. Some ideas to help with this include:
- Role modelling the behaviour. Be flexible to encourage others. If you won’t do it, why would anyone else?
- Set and stick to priorities. Focus on the most important items, instead of trying to do everything. Know the order of what’s most and least important. That means when staff turnover impacts your team you can cut the less important items, to focus on the most important.
- Plan for 80-90%. Instead of having your team work at maximum capacity, try to allow them to work on side-projects that help to improve the team, for 10-20% of the time. This will give you a buffer, so that when staff turnover strikes, you can pause the side-projects and still hopefully have the capacity to get the job done. For more on this, listen to this podcast episode: Thoughtful Leader Podcast #64: Overwhelmed? Start Working at 80%.
The workplace is dynamic and ever changing. Flexibility and adaptability will help you to manage when staff turnover is starting to bite.
Learn More: How Leaders Can Build a Resilient Team.
Staff Turnover Can Be Hard to Deal With, So Minimise the Impact
Many of the steps above are preventative measures, and leaders often overlook them because they “don’t have time”.
When times are good, you have lots of resources and you’re hitting your targets and these steps are often forgotten. But times won’t always be good.
It’s useful to start thinking for the longer term, instead of focusing just on the here and now. This will help you to put plans in place to reduce the impact of staff turnover in your team.
After all, why ride the rollercoaster at work, when you could take steps to make your life much more relaxing?
How do you manage staff turnover at work? Let me and all the thoughtful leaders know in the comments below!