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Ask John Dame: Create a culture of trust to retain good employees for the long haul

Q: It is hard enough to find great employees in today’s environment without causing them to leave. Over the past three years we have held steady at a 40% turnover rate. To add to that, one of the organization’s key managers has just left. I think we have a serious problem. How can I stop this expensive employment treadmill that we are on?

A:  With a 40% turnover rate, I’ll bet you feel as if you are an employment agency. That means with close to 400 employees you are turning over 160 people every year. This is a problem!

First, it impacts the organization at a very basic level. Your employees crave stability; however, you are giving them what appears to be chaos. No wonder they move on.

My belief, based on our discussion, is that this issue originates from your senior leadership team. You believe you have developed a culture that is “people-centered,” and yet when I talk with your teammates downstream, all they hear is a focus on making money. There is a disconnect. Foundationally, people need trust as a primary component. Your team does not trust your motives or methods. This leads to a toxic culture and a lot of turnover.

I would look at your entire culture as an ecosystem that needs to be retooled to become healthy. You need culture champions at every level who are “all-in” and willing to help you embed your culture into the organization. Start with being honest and vulnerable about the impact of turnover and the plan to address this moving forward.

By the way, changing a culture is a slow process, and you need to understand that it will take a while to reverse the poor culture currently in place at your company.

Q:  I like my boss, but he is not supporting me in a way that will lead to the best results in the job I am doing. How do I get him to commit to helping me be successful?

A: I agree with you that this would be a very frustrating situation. Many times we find ourselves in a position where our boss or company does not seem to understand or support our best efforts.

From our conversation, the biggest sticking point is that you are bringing opportunities to the table, yet they are being turned down without much discussion. Have a conversation with your boss that digs into what is acceptable or not, so that you completely understand in advance the potential for any opportunity you bring to the table to be accepted.

Moving the goalposts for employees is never a good policy, and it sounds as though your boss is doing exactly that. See if you can get the rules of engagement in place in advance, and I think things will improve.

John Dame is a CEO coach, executive team consultant and leadership strategist based in Susquehanna Township, Pennsylvania. Visit his website at: