A good deal of the work I’ve done with my clients has involved helping senior-level managers and C-suite executives transition out of long-term positions with companies that are “no longer working out” for them.

While helping my clients with these transitions, I almost always have to introduce them to the new reality that average employee tenure is nowhere near as long as it used to be. Then, I have to help my clients prepare for and adjust to this new reality.

Ironically, all the work I’ve put into helping people adjust to shorter employee tenures has led me to start thinking about how companies can improve retention and combat shortening employee lifespans.

Why It Is Crucial to Bring Retention Back to the US Workplace

For starters, it just makes good business sense. A more consistent workforce allows for more growth, stability, and sustained performance for the company overall.

Second, the writing has been on the wall for years now, with respect to the dissatisfaction on both sides of the equation: Companies are unhappy with their quality of hire, and employees are unhappy with their quality of employer.

Having spent perhaps tens of thousands of hours looking at retention on both sides of the coin, I believe the time is ripe for companies to start creating workplace “family” units that allow their employees to prosper together. I also believe the companies that blaze this trail will experience success on a whole new level, slaying their competitors.

Companies That Play Well Together Stay Together

Some people might disagree with me, arguing that this is just the way things are now. There’s no going back to the employer-for-life days of the past.

To prove that employee retention is not only still powerful but also still possible, let us turn to the NBA.

The average basketball fan might not focus on employee retention in the league the same way I do, but let’s look back for a minute. Consider the era of players like Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, and Michael Jordan. In those days, it was normal and respectable for great players to play for one or two teams during their entire career.

Two or three decades later, nothing could be further from the truth. Anyone who follows the sport today knows that top players have no qualms being traded or chasing another opportunity with a better team. LeBron James, Kevin Durant, and Chris Paul are all prime examples here.

There is, however, one organization that has bucked the trend: the San Antonio Spurs.

Since Greg Popovich was appointed head coach, the Spurs have been a dynasty of sorts. Highlights include 20 consecutive full-length seasons of winning 50 games or more (an all-time NBA record), 21 consecutive seasons of a winning percentage of .622 or more (another all-time NBA record), and winning five NBA championships.

There is no other team in the NBA that even comes close to the Spurs’ consistently exceptional performance.

Jim Collins, best-selling author of Good to Great, spent years researching the specific criteria that distinguished “good” companies from “great” companies. For Collins and his team, elite companies are those that have sustained great results for at least 15 years. Though some of the dynamics and structures of a more traditional business organization may differ from those of a professional sports team, the highlighted performance statistics of the Spurs organization over the past 20 years have unequivocally proven them to be an elite organization.

After all this, you might be wondering: “What on earth does this have to do with employee retention?”

I’m glad you asked.

Popovich, a key leader of the Spurs organization, currently holds the longest tenure of any head coach — not just in the NBA, but in all four major US sports (baseball, basketball, football, and hockey). Even more fascinating to me, the Spurs’ top three players stayed with the team throughout this entire era from the moment they were draft. Two of the three even played their entire careers with the Spurs! No other championship teams can claim such long player tenures.

Many factors have come together to allow the Spurs to create such a phenomenal culture, but we can identify a few key ones here.

One of the prime factors, I believe, has been the Spurs’ focus on the character and quality of their players, rather than on pure talent alone. When scouting and drafting new players — a.k.a., recruiting and hiring new employees — the Spurs have consistently maintained this focus.

Another major factor is that the Spurs play exceptionally well together as a team. They may not be the most exciting or dramatic team in the league to watch, but you better believe they get the job done. That said, the Spurs are also consistently one of the most-viewed NBA teams on television. For example, in 2016-2017 season, they were second in the ratings, trailing right behind the Golden State Warriors.

The team plays so well together in part because of the deep level of respect, honor, and appreciation each player shows his teammates. They take their work and commitment very seriously, but they also know how to simply play and enjoy their time together.

Team leaders have led by example all the way. Bringing employee retention back to the US workplace really begins with the leaders of the company and their own commitment and character — and the Spurs are no different. The two pivotal events that set this winning streak in motion were Popovich stepping into the head coach role and Tim Duncan becoming team captain.

The Spurs are one powerful example that proves employee retention is still possible — and that a commitment to retention can create unbelievable results. No other comparably successful NBA teams have come close to matching the Spurs’ record, in terms of either winning consistency or player retention.

So, let us emulate the Spurs’ example in our own companies. Let’s take our organizations to new heights by building great teams that play well together in the long run.

Want to read more of Scott’s thoughts on why the organization that plays well together stays together? Check out his article in issue 3 of Magazine, where he makes the case for why it’s time to bring recess to the office.

Scott Engler is the author of The Job Inner-View and Legends of the Recruiting and Career World. Read his latest, The Problem and the Solution, on his website.

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