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 weekand 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)


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