Why Focus on Managing Employee Turnover? Why Now?


Having written a book about such a narrow topic as managing employee turnover, I’ve been asked on numerous occasions – and with very valid reasons – “Why?”

“Why this book?”

“Why now?”

These important questions demand a response from this author bold enough to believe his book about managing employee turnover is a valuable (must) read for all managers.

My response to these questions is 3-fold:

Why focus on managing employee turnover?

1) “People are our most important assets.” The mantra’s been repeated so often even I am beginning to think the horse is dead. Its a phrase thrown around like “nice weather we’re having;” or “how ’bout them Cowboys?” Although its cliche’, the phrase is accurate, and it can be defended. The Resource Based Theory (c.f. Barney, 1984, 1991, Penrose, 1959, etc.) asserts that organizations can sustain a competitive advantage when they combine resources, or bundles of resources that are valuable, rare, inimitable, and difficult to replicate. Crook, Ketchen, Combs, & Todd (2008) do a great job of summarizing the theory. Suffice it to say, in short, that Crook, et al, (2008) objectively analyzed over 120 studies of over 29,000 organizations and found strong empirical support for the theory. And suffice it also to say that our people, our human capital, our social capital, our organizational cultures are all valuable, rare, inimitable, and difficult to replicate resources that are eroded with almost every instance of employee turnover.

That’s why.

Why now?

2) We are in a historically unique economic-work force environment. Unemployment is high. Yet organizations constantly clamor that they cannot fill key jobs. Common sense and basic economics both assert that these two should not occur together. When unemployment is high, organizations should easily fill key positions. When organizations have unfilled key positions, finding a good job should be easy (hence employment should be high). This unique economic-workforce environmental paradox is likely a concerning (alarming?) signal of a potentially urgent social/economic/strategic condition. All the more reason to manage employee turnover. Keep key employees.

3) The possible pent up turnover caused by 2) above may translate to one or both of the following:

a) A rancid workforce. A workforce within some organizations who is unsatisfied and unhappy but sees no current alternative to the present work environment. These employees are creating a culture of poor customer service, poor quality, absenteeism, and disengagement. &/or

b) A turnover bubble. People tend to hate talking about bubbles before they burst. We are more comfortable believing that there is symbiosis in the status quo. After the bubble bursts, its all about “shoulda’ seen that coming, but no one did.” One thing I’ve learned about bubbles is that they tend to occur in unexpected places (the dotcom bubble, the real estate bubble, the tulip bubble, the higher education bubble?, the turnover bubble?). A turnover bubble? They do exist. I know a man who recently experienced an abrupt 75% sales team turnover. I, myself, once had 67% of my administrative staff unexpectedly walk out the door on the same day.

Managers can cultivate their workforce to keep them from going rancid. Managers can monitor and manage turnover to avoid a bursting of a potential turnover bubble.

That’s why now.

A small investment in time  (Managing Employee Turnover can be read over a weekend and implemented the next Monday) and money (around $30) now may just help you strategically manage your workforce tomorrow.

© 2012, Dr. Phil Bryant

Dr. Bryant is an Assistant Professor of Management at Columbus State University and co-author of Managing Employee Turnover.

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