Don’t Let Them (Your Best Employees) Go

Especially now that dozens of next-generation SaaS companies have IPO’d, you can start to see the turnover more viscerally than you can observe at quieter, privately-held start-ups. ¬†You see the VPs moving on every week.¬† 12-18 months after almost any IPO … folks leave. ¬†It can be tough even on a larger organization, but the final realization of a seemingly now fixed valuation for their stock options and RSUs is often a reason / excuse / nudge for folks to Move On to The Next Thing.

I think in most cases, as long as your best employees stay 4-5 years … it’s OK. ¬†Once you get bigger, the best you can do for your lay employees is hire great VPs, create the best culture you can, and inspire your troops. ¬†But one thing you always want is for your very best, core¬†folks to stay 4-5 years. ¬†The folks you rely on to carry something core in the company. ¬†It takes a year to figure¬†something out (sales, next-gen product, marketing, etc.), the next year to optimize it and get the first next-level managers in place, and then you want a couple of years to just scale the heck out of a great hire’s skillset. ¬†At least 4-5 years total, if you can keep her that long.

But if you lose someone truly great after 18-24 months, someone that truly owns a core function at your company — that’s just devastating. ¬†Yes, you learned a lot, and hired some good people under her. ¬†But man, you lost that great leader just when it was Getting Good.

Ok, so beyond a vague recommendation to Not Be Complacent, what’s actionable here?

Just a few thoughts:

  • Ask them to stay, in general. ¬†Unless it’s all daisies and unicorns, 4-5 years is a long time. ¬†Even your very best leaders may take a meeting for another job. ¬†It’s OK. ¬†Make sure they know you think they are simply invaluable. ¬†Period. ¬† And if you see any hint of leaving, don’t take it personally. ¬†Ask them to stay. ¬†More on that here.
  • Promote your best people as quickly as you can. ¬†Your best people want to grow. ¬†The org chart has structural limits. ¬†But wherever possible, promote them.

  • Ask them to stay, when they leave. ¬†Your best people may even think about taking another offer. ¬†If it isn’t truly better than the role they have with you — ask them to stay. ¬†Even when they tell you they are leaving. ¬†They may change their mind.
  • Don’t let salary and comp issues fester. ¬†Your best people may be passive-aggressive on comp. ¬†You can’t do the impossible. ¬†But don’t let your best people accidentally become mis-paid or underpaid.
  • Get them help. ¬†Your best people often do more with less. ¬†And they¬†end up under-resourced versus the folks that are less great. ¬†Listen and learn about their #1 stress point. ¬†And go solve it for them.

Ok these aren’t the most profound insights, this checklist. ¬†It’s mainly meant to cause you to think and reflect on your best 5-6 leaders. ¬†Because I think what you want is a culture of Zero Voluntary Attrition.

Think about how you can pull that off. ¬†How can you create a growth environment where leaving simply isn’t “allowed” because you and the company have done everything you can to retain them.

You need to spend 20%+ of your time recruiting. ¬†We’ve talked about this here. ¬†But also maybe, take it as an action item each week to come up with One Zero Voluntary Attrition Idea. ¬†What’s one thing I can do this week to improve the odds none of my best people leave here? ¬†At least not for 4-5 years. ¬†If you come up with one good idea a week to keep one of your best employees …¬†every single week,¬†and implement it … I think magic will happen.

Put that on a post-it and attach it to your monitor.

(note: an updated SaaStr classic post)


Published on September 30, 2020

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