Job Jumpers Need Not Apply

Job Jumpers Need Not Apply
By Howard Tullman

Employee retention may be your company’s biggest competitive advantage. But it’s not something you can achieve with parties and perks.

Even if you’re in the tech industry, the technology itself isn’t what sets the best businesses apart. It’s people–dedicated, passionate, committed and hard-working–that ultimately will make the difference between success and so what. It’s your team members making smart applications of technologies to solve important and substantial business problems that will set your company apart. That’s why finding, attracting, hiring, retaining, and fairly compensating the best and brightest folks is the only way to assure your future.

But it’s not simply about hiring super smart people. It’s about having the people with the right mindset and attitude, people who want to stick around and do the heavy lifting that it takes to make a difference and build a real business. Those things don’t happen overnight. That’s why an ounce of loyalty these days is worth a pound of cleverness. Particularly in the tech space these days, we have a highly mobile workforce with fewer geographic ties than ever before; fewer constraints, commitments, and obligations; and a much higher propensity to jump from job to job, often for the cash and the perks–but also for the sheer accumulation of diverse work experiences.

So, especially for new, young companies, the single most crucial component of the entire HR equation is retention. (That’s why I think it’s so great to build a business in Chicago, where people better appreciate the value of long-term commitment than they do in the Valley, where everything seems to be about quick scores and compensation.) Frankly, if your employees are always looking for their next job, a new title, and a bump in comp, they’re not taking care of your business in the way they should.

The Importance of Commitment

But too many companies make the mistake of thinking that increasing retention is a product of something that you can actively do “to” people. This is the same fallacious reasoning that leads old time college professors to believe that the measure of their success is what and how they teach, when in fact it’s what their students learn that really matters. Today, no one commits to a company any more–they commit to other talented people whom they want to work with; they commit to solving challenging and substantial problems; and–in the best places–they commit to ideas that are bigger and more important than themselves.

These are fundamentally internal and often emotional considerations–not something that’s driven by décor, desserts, drinks, or dogma–and not something that companies can manufacture or manipulate. You need to have people in your business who are loyal beyond reason, because building a new business is tough in every way. And real results aren’t ever the product of rules and regulations and orders–they’re the product of commitment and–even more importantly–of perseverance. So if your workers have one foot out the door and their eyes on some other prize, you’re not building the foundation that you’ll need for the future.

When you’re first starting your business–when it’s just an idea–it’s all about story and contagious enthusiasm. But as you start building your business, it’s all about the long haul–perseverance, perspiration and execution. To win over the long term takes character, grit, and heart. And it takes a firm commitment, not a drive-by or toe in the water approach. And not just in words or cheap talk, but an all-in spirit. It’s like a bacon and eggs breakfast. The chicken makes a contribution; the pig makes a commitment.

Weeding Out the Job Jumpers

Ultimately, it comes down to this: you can set the stage; you can create the surroundings; and you can certainly say all the right things, but you can’t make a commitment for anyone but yourself. And there are very few tools to help you in this process; there are no spreadsheets or budget line items or litmus tests for these kinds of strengths and choices. Although, when you’ve been at it for a while, it’s easier than you would think to figure out who’s not a keeper. So what is it that you can do to tip the scales in your favor?

In the end, all you can really do–as Bruce Springsteen would say–is to try to make an honest stand. Tell your people what you’re trying to accomplish and why. Tell them what you’re willing to sacrifice in order to accomplish that goal and what you expect of them as well. Tell them the truth and the costs of getting there–whatever those costs may be. And hang on dearly to the ones who step forward and sign up.

Howard A. Tullman serves as the CEO of 1871 and the General Managing Partner for G2T3V, LLC and for the Chicago High Tech Investors, LLC; he is Executive Chairman and a Director of Music Dealers and a Director of SnapSheet, PackBack Books, VEHCON, and BCV Evolve. He is a Board Advisor to Hightower Advisors, The Starter School, Built in Chicago and many other start-ups in Chicago. He was previously a Trustee of WTTW in Chicago and the New York Academy of Art in New York. He serves as the Chairman of the Endowment Committee of Anshe Emet Synagogue in Chicago, and an Adjunct Professor at Northwestern’s Kellogg Graduate School of Management in Evanston and at the Northwestern University School of Law in Chicago.