The Retention Myth

Last week, the Kitchener-Waterloo tech community was excited to welcome the Netflix HR Guru Patty McCord. As keynote speaker at Communitech’s Tech Leadership Conference, Patty’s talk was crammed with authenticity, humour and incredibly valuable lessons. Among many gems, her thoughts on retention really hit home.

While most tech companies point to employee retention as a measure of successful HR and leadership, Patty dismissed this notion entirely. She sought to make Netflix a great company to be from.



“Most tech companies have a four-year vesting schedule and try to use options as ‘golden handcuffs; to aid retention, but we never thought that made sense. If you see a better opportunity elsewhere, you should be allowed to take what you’ve earned and leave. If you no longer want to work with us, we don’t want to hold you hostage.”


Tech companies evolve, and as they grow they hire people who believe in the mission, and who are great at the things that need to be done. At the same time, talented people move into roles where they get to accomplish important things. The move to where they are valued and where they get to use their strengths. As long as these objectives are being met, everything is great – but as soon as a company can’t utilize your best talents, it’s time to move on!

The growth of a company is a journey, and so is every individual’s career.

Expecting that the changing needs of your business will align perfectly with the evolving strengths and career goals of any one individual is unrealistic. At various points along the way you need people with different strengths. You need innovators, builders, tactical execution experts, change leaders, and people who can scale-up process and operations. These are often very different humans.

Yet leaders can take it personally when an employee leaves to pursue the next evolution on their path.  Even when that next step doesn’t exist in their company or if they as managers have failed to discuss future plans. Many people feel stuck in companies that can no longer utilize their best abilities. When employees feel under-utilized they becoming disengaged – without realizing that it is ok, and not disloyal, to seek growth and fulfillment in another setting.

An employment relationship isn’t like a marriage – where ideally the two parties grow and evolve in tandem. A business will grow and an employee will also grow but not always in the same trajectory. Unlike a marriage, it is ok to just be good at the first 2 years, and then move on.

So how does a company manage this? How can employers encourage people to follow their path without the trauma of turnover that disrupts the business?

The answer is in conversations that are transparent, honest and safe.

Imagine if your managers and teammates could talk openly about their career ambitions and their strengths, and the needs of the business. If each employee knew that their best talents were needed and valued, and that their career goals would be fulfilled – of course they’d stay. And the employer would have the ability to tap into their employees strengths to help grow the business.

Without a manager fearing that the employee will resign without notice, or the employee fearing for the near-term security of their job, everyone could work together to ensure that there was minimum disruption – to the business and to the individual’s employment.  There is a lot of anxiety around the “what if” possibility of an open conversation revealing that there may soon need to be a parting of the ways. This might seem like a big leap of trust, and perhaps unrealistic, but the alternative is surprise resignations, and unfulfilled, disengaged or insecure workers.

So take a small leap at least. To the leaders, talk to your people about their strengths, and how (or if) they can do what they are best at. Talk about career goals and whether you can offer growth in ways that matter. And to every employee, know what you are best at and identify the areas you want to grow – then talk to your leaders. Whether your paths align or not, everyone will more quickly and happily reach their destination.