Why Exit Plans Are Better Than Retention Plans

Andy Porter Andy Porter, Audacious Ideas, Career Paths

I’m becoming more and more convinced that if you want to build an organization that can sustain high performance over a long period of time you need to encourage your top performers to leave your organization. No, that’s not a typo, I did in fact say “encourage your top performers to leave.” In fact, rather than create elaborate retention plans, what if instead you were to create “employee exit plans?” And guess what? Whether you agree with it or not, the “one and done” phenomenon in college basketball is an interesting model for organizations to consider—which, in my simple mind, goes something like this:

Attract top talent. Give top talent an opportunity to rapidly develop their skills and gain experience. Give top talent an opportunity to be showcased. Team experiences success (in some cases tremendous success). Send top talent off to the NBA to further advance career. Repeat.

Sounds like a (successful) exit plan to me.

As a college basketball fan, you may long for the days of rooting for the same kids for 4 years. But you can’t argue with the success of the one-and-done model. The first three players taken in the 2014 and 2015 NBA drafts were from Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State. By any measure, some pretty successful college hoops programs.

Now to be clear, I’m not advocating exactly for someone to join your organization and leave after a year. That’s probably not practical. But this notion that an organization should retain its top talent for all eternity feels like an outdated approach (at minimum) and potentially detrimental to the employer and employee (at worst). Why?

  • Retention plans will more times than not benefit the employer more than the employee. The employer gets to keep people focused on what they want them to be focused on (most likely) which potentially limits the development of new skills (and personal “value”).
  • Retention plans can distort an organization’s perspective on what top talent looks like. You like Joe. Joe has a skill set you don’t possess yourself. Joe delivers for you. So you want to keep Joe. But what you don’t know is if Jill (down the street at your competitor) can run circles around Joe technically.
  • Your organization may not develop a reputation as a place for top talent, because, well, you don’t recruit for top talent very often because you’re too busy “retaining.” If you’re a top high school player, you can be sure they all want to—at minimum—have a conversation with Kansas, Duke, Kentucky and Ohio State.

My advice? Consider ways to experiment with developing your people to leave your organization and using those same people as ambassadors to attract top talent to come to your organization. My guess is that, not unlike what we’ve seen in college basketball, top talent is attracted to the places where they can rapidly develop new skills and increase their value. Even if it means they end up leaving the organization.