Minimizing the Effects of Staff Turnover

April 15, 1998 · by James P. Cramer

An old Dan Fogelberg song says “Changing horses in the middle of the stream gets you wet and sometimes cold.” With the economy still steaming along and talented professional staff increasingly scarce, design firms are finding that lucrative incentive

An old Dan Fogelberg song says “Changing horses in the middle of the stream gets you wet and sometimes cold.” With the economy still steaming along and talented professional staff increasingly scarce, design firms are finding that lucrative incentives from competitor firms are causing defections among the ranks of even their most entrenched employees. Recognizing that staff defections are unavoidable, business tycoon Michael Bloomberg firmly believes a good manager knows who everybody’s replacement should be and the best managers always have somebody who’s better than they are. What are the steps savvy principals should take to prepare themselves for the inevitable?

Never abrogate responsibility for client maintenance. Too many firms leave all the client cultivation to the marketing and project management people.

Keep abreast of the reading file. Too many principals view the principal-in-charge role as merely a box on the organization chart. Regularly reading client proposals, meeting minutes and correspondence minimizes the knowledge gap.

Make sure the client’s entire project team has regular access and involvement. This strengthens trust and confidence in the firm’s depth and ensures that the project and the client won’t transfer with your ex-employee to their new job.

Be proactive in the face of adversity. When you find out an employee is leaving, call their clients and tell them in person. This gives you the chance to put the best spin possible on the situation.

The best defense is a strong offense. Have regular one-on-one meetings with key technical and management staff. Most staff leave because they feel underutilized and unappreciated.

Asking for regular, honest feedback and involving them in the firm’s plans for the future helps minimize defections. As to the payoff of a loyal staff Bloomberg says, “When people think that the firm name is their name, they work harder, they’re more flexible, they’re longer term and firmwide thinkers and they help others in the organization.” Sounds like a pretty good return on investment.

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