Employee Retention: One Thing The Navy SEALs & The Avengers Can Teach You
I’m a big fan of the Avengers movies. You know the Avengers, the world’s favorite super-hero team and a group of champions who, despite their differences, work together towards a common purpose, often having to save the world or something along those lines.
What I like most about the Avengers is that no matter how tough the task and how dangerous the circumstances, these “co-workers” would never dream of abandoning each other or the cause for something as petty as better perks or the lure of more money. They could never do that to one another.
As I watched the latest movie, something stood out to me, an obvious lesson for anyone trying to crack the code of employee retention.
One team is better than one person. And just to be clear, this is very different than saying, “five is better than one.”
Retention all too often focuses on the individual, or individuals, as they relate to a team.
The struggle is real.
Retention, keeping top talent, is often the key to long-term success, departments and companies. So, it makes sense that it is one of the most discussed issues facing any HR team.
You’re doing retention all wrong.
Often, when we focus on the concept of retaining employees, we simply can’t help ourselves from concentrating on the individual. But what if we stopped thinking about retention not as an individual problem like the Avengers have done, but started thinking of it as a team issue.
The question isn’t how to retain the rock star employee, but how to make the company’s unity strong and its loyalty so deep that no one would ever consider leaving.
Okay, I get it; super hero movies are fictional. So, let me give you a real-life example.
Stanley McChrystal, former 4-star general, in his book “Team of Teams,” discusses the misconception of Navy Seals.
Back in 2009, you may remember that Somali pirates took Richard Philipps captive. It was made into a movie starring Tom Hanks called “Captain Phillips.” To the public, McChrystal writes, the three SEAL snipers picked off three pirates holding Phillips hostage at night and at sea from a distance of 75 yards. The thing is, those shots within the scope of military history may have been difficult, but they were not “particularly dazzling.” What was worthy of attention, he says, was that each of the snipers fired simultaneously at their targets, recognizing the exact moment when they had their shot.
“Such oneness is not inevitable, nor is it a fortunate coincidence,” McChrystal writes. “The SEALs forge it methodically and deliberately.”
Unity, loyalty, retention — whatever you call it — can be and should be taught, cultivated and nurtured.
This unity is built into SEALs during the brutal six-month training program BUD/S (Basic Underwater Demolition/SEAL training), which primarily tests drive and teamwork rather than physical fitness or talent as most people think.
The military knows that when one focuses on the team as a whole versus the individual members, loyalty organically develops, building deeper and stronger relationships. As a result, it becomes harder to just walk away or let the team down.
In the military, keeping your buddies alive gives very focused purpose and cohesion. Sitting in a cubicle hoping for a payout yields none. Your team must have a purpose, beyond money, so it pays to hire people who believe in the purpose and have them be accountable to their peers for fulfilling it; cohesion and retention will result.
Retention programs shouldn’t be built around perks like gym memberships or extra days off. They should be built around developing solid working environments that breed trust, team work and camaraderie. And I am not talking about forced games or silly companywide assemblies.
Okay, enough of the military examples.
One time I took the senior members of my leadership team zombie shooting. It was a Halloween wagon ride that took us through the woods, where zombies would pop out and run towards the wagon. Sound exciting and maybe a bit terrifying? I should mention that we were all armed with paint guns. It was our job to not let any zombies near the wagon. It was alarming, and amazing. The fun, the uniqueness, the bonding that happened was worth every penny. I would have paid a thousand times what it cost for that type of experience with my team — life and death, sort of, on the line. Jessica from accounting — with a paint gun — the only thing between me and a zombie. Priceless.
Retention is about building a team that inspires loyalty at every turn. Team is the key word in this sentence, not individual. Talk about the team, encourage the team, appreciate the team, trust in the team, and do it over and over again.
People don’t leave a place where personal growth is happening, where they take what they do very seriously, but not themselves, and where their they need their team, and there needs them.
Now go about developing this kind of culture and remember the Navy Seal team who took one simultaneous shot together, and not simply three shots from separate individuals.
What’s the best way you have found to build team unity and loyalty?
Chris Mefford is a former VP at the Dave Ramsey organization. He is a respected author and business coach. In his role at Dave Ramsey, Chris helped guide the company to earn recognition as one of Nashville Business Journal’s “Best Places to Work” for eight consecutive years.
Chris has coached leaders from businesses and non-profit organizations nationwide. He offers his expertise and insight to senior executives and small business entrepreneurs to build better corporate cultures, turn around underperformance, hire key employees, implement efficient processes, manage finances, and implement the organization’s goals.
Chris has a passion for small business and entrepreneurs. As a business coach, he has been in the trenches for years. He lives and breathes business every day and has a proven track record of building successful departments and companies.
To get out his message, Chris has started, hosted, and produced two top ten iTunes podcasts for business: EntreLeadership and Leadership University. Contact him to see how he can help you personally reach your goals and revolutionize your business.
Current COO of Standard Behavior Digital. Past VP for Dave Ramsey. MBA. Business Coach. Author. I’m passionate about fixing businesses & growing leaders.