To Retain Employees, Tell Them The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

You may be familiar with the exchange between Tom Cruise and Jack Nicholson in the movie A Few Good Men, with Cruise demanding: “I want the truth!” to which Nicholson retorts: “You can’t handle the truth!”

To me, that exchange represents both a challenge and an opportunity related to staff retention: Your employees want to know the truth. To borrow from another famous movie, employees want you to tell them The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.

Management constantly reinforces the good: We are the largest X; we have X offices; we made X in profits. But if the leaders don’t divulge their challenges, employees are left on their own to figure out the bad and the ugly — of which every company has its share.

I used to frequently tell employees that contrary to the common phrase about the grass being greener on the other side of the fence, there actually is no green grass, not here or anywhere else. I emphasized to employees that our company needed to be the place they chose to be, because they wanted to make it better.

Social media and sites like careerbliss.com offer unfiltered, real-time assessments of companies, and these communication outlets often transmit information before management does. Whether the integration of an acquisition is particularly challenging, a major account has been lost, profits are down, or turnover is high, employees learn, one way or another, what is going on.

Management can gain credibility by candidly acknowledging current challenges. When company leaders offer straightforward, consistent and timely communication, they positively impact retention on four counts:

  1. Being truthful establishes credibility and demonstrates trust in employees’ maturity.
  2. By being first to deliver unfiltered messages, management can head off possibly inaccurate versions of the story and clearly outline the intended course of action.
  3. An honest dialogue builds employee confidence that company leaders are aware of and working on issues that cause turnover.
  4. Most important, candid communication accelerates employees’ decision as to where they want to be.

The question for your employees is this: Where do you choose to be? Where do you want to try to make the grass greener? Where do you want to take ownership of all aspects of the company, not just the good ones?

Not only can your employees handle the truth, they already know the truth.

Candid conversations backed by visible, timely, and measurable actions establish credibility, increase morale, and improve retention.

Jack Unroe
Jack Unroe is the founder of WorkPlaceTalent. Unroe serves as onshore advisor to Interactive Manpower Solutions (IMS), an India-based, worldwide provider of offshore recruitment services. He can be eached at jack (at) workplacetalent (dot) com.

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