The Real Truth about Employee Retention

Why would someone want to work for you? No offense (that’s code for “prepare to be offended”) – but is there anything special about you, your leadership style, your company or your culture that separates you from those whom you compete against? Of course, we have to believe how great our culture is if we are to communicate its greatness to others, but is your point of view really the belief held by your employees?

None of us want to be told we’re not special, so any resistance to the questions posed above is natural and common. Even our reaction to not being special is, in fact, not very unique. (Ouch! I think I may have actually offended myself by writing this.) It’s also quite likely you’re doing some things extremely well but don’t realize why the other leader, company or work culture is so appealing or successful.

Many years ago, fresh out of college and working in the financial industry, I noticed that everyone wanted to work in this one particular department. Weirdly enough, it was probate. I remember thinking, “How bad must all the other departments be that they make dealing with dead stockholders the most desirable place to work?” Surely, probate had to be pretty dull and not in any way the choice job, right? As luck would have it, I ended up working in that department. There I encountered a leader who did three things that changed me and probably everyone in that department forever.

  1. He seemed to be on my side even when I was wrong and making mistakes. As a result, my mistakes faded quickly.
  2. He told me how important it was that the stockholders’ beneficiaries got exactly what they were supposed to; it dramatically improved the company’s reputation and built trust that created more investors. So, rubber-stamping (I literally had a big rubber stamp) stock certificates all day was a customer relations job, and I became something I’ve never been in my entire life: meticulous.
  3. He explained the next step was to be promoted to calling beneficiaries to let them know what was coming. It seemed swinging a stamp all day long wasn’t a dead-end job. It actually had a future that evolved my communication skills.

So, to do some fact stacking: Someone had my back better than my older brothers did growing up, I knew how my job helped customers and the company to be successful, and it was leading to an even better future that would maximize my skills.

In addition to doing all this, my department head would always tell me a few things I was doing well before he told me what I needed to work on and improve. I remember hearing another department head complaining that he couldn’t get the best people, that everybody wanted to work in probate. “They’re doing menial task work and telemarketing to dead people’s relatives – it’s the worst job in the company!” he elaborated.

What’s the lesson here? Well, it may seem clichéd to say that people don’t work for companies or departments; they really just work for their boss. Yet, it’s important to note that leadership style is the key to work culture. The simple truth is this: an abundance of great ideas and processes won’t make leaders better with people. So, while doing employee surveys is a great idea, taking the information gathered and using it to make leaders better is the best idea!

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Garrison Wynn, CSP, is a nationally known keynote speaker, bestselling author, and consultant who has been featured in Forbes and Inc. magazines and specializes in how people and organizations can be more influential.

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