The 6 Best Ways to Lose a Good Employee

You've created employee retention strategies and are actively building bench strength and a talent pipeline into your business. Good work! So this month, let's focus on how to lose good employees. It’s not that hard. You and I do it every day. Here’s my list of Six Best Ways to Lose a Good Employee:

1. Don’t ask new hires what worked, and what didn’t.
They’re eager to be with you, so tap into that energetic feedback from new hires early on. After your “official” orientation, a good way to improve turnover is to forget to ever ask new employees for feedback on your recruiting system, your orientation, your training program, and your company goals. Find out what part of your recruiting process or which facet of pure dumb luck brought them to you. Then repeat it in the marketplace.  What elements of your company’s recruiting or reputation were the most compelling, what mattered least, and what had no impact?. Retention consultant John Sullivan (no relation) says: “you can use this feedback to redesign your offers and focus on the “dealbreakers” and reducing the numbers of rejections.”

2. Ignore Tomorrow, Hire for Today.
“Next week” is tomorrow in Modern Time. Clearly define and understand what skills and knowledge your company needs today and in the future. Will you have fewer servers per section, more server assistants? Take a hard look at how the cultural gumbo of restaurant management (mixing generation, opinion, style and technology) is changing the very nature of our jobs.  How will the preponderance of pre-prepped products affect the design, feel, and number of bodies in the kitchen in the next three years? What about the technology, the robotics, the data accumulated, and exchanged? What about the 3-generation sin the workplace?

Turnover thrives on bad training programs and poor communication. Now that Baby Boomers have earned and aged into the Area Director/Senior VP ranks of our industry, and Generation X managers are running units staffed with Gen Y--giving new insight to the term ‘Generation Gap”-- shouldn’t we asking some serious questions about the current relevance of our communication and training materials? Are they aimed and designed for the right mindset? Are we talking down a few generations in tone, style and format? Let’s be careful not to. Unlike the 1960’s, the generation gap today means not a lifestyle difference but more of a technology disconnect between the age groups. Relative to cyber-skills, as author Mark Prensky has said, “You have Digital Aliens training Digital Immigrants and Digital Natives.” Good point. And while I agree that we must evolve from hi-fi to wi-fi, I still know one thing for certain: that no matter what, the restaurant business will always be more about the anthropology than the technology.

3. Don’t let your employees know where they stand—good or bad.
What’s the old saying? ”Never let either good work go un-praised (if you see it, say it) or poor work go unnoticed (make it private and positive).”

4. Not planning for turnover.
Of all the people who will never leave you, you're the only one. Some turnover is good (of the wrong people), but remember, you are NEVER fully staffed, especially if the right person comes along. Know your talent gaps and recruit to fill them.

5. Fail to change with the times (or the times will change you.) 
Here is Sullivan’s Law: the meaning of service is always changing since the customer is always changing. And, therefore, the meaning of any restaurant job or position is always changing because that customer (internal) is always changing too. So make sure that you stay in sync with but slightly ahead of your customers (both employees and guests). Major in timing. If you get too far ahead of your customers, you’ll confuse them. If you get too far behind them, you’ll lose them.

6. Play by the Rules. Lots of them.
A sure way to turnover more people is to over-burden them with rules and regulations. A better philosophy? Strong culture, thin rulebook. And it’s helpful to also recognize the difference between rules and principles. Rules tell your people what they can do.  Principles tell them what they cannot do. And as far as rules go, the bottom line is that only one thing matters anyway and Norman Brinker once again said it best: “Nothing is sacred other than that the guest returns.”

Check out my book Fundamentals: 9 ways to Be Brilliant at the New Basics for hundreds of crative ways to find, develop and retain high-performing team members and leaders. Available at or Amazon.

Jim Sullivan is the CEO of and a popular consultant, author and speaker at manager conferences worldwide.


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