What a wonderful word, representing so many meanings and applications.

Most of my adult life I dealt with the application of retention as it regards to customers. Immensely important was the feat of keeping the customer happy and not letting them wander off to the competition. But in the world of HR, it takes on a slightly different meaning as the retention of customers is inherently called internal customers. Keeping these customers happy is equally as important.

To wit, I am reminded of what happened at an event in while I was employed by Dun & Bradstreet.  Specifically, this occurred while I was attending a local sales meeting. The venue was our monthly meeting geared toward the previous month’s results and stats of approximately 15 sales representatives. The economy was struggling, and customers were wary about their future spending. A reflection of this confirmed that overall numbers were not where they should be. A unique event transpired that sent shock wave throughout the room comprised of seasoned sales associates with an average of 12+ years of service with the company.

An HR Associate with a little less than 2 years with the company took the floor and made a earth shattering statement that went something like this;

I want to let you all know that you can all be replaced, and quite frankly we can replace you with better talent”.

Whatever else was discussed in that meeting was never to be recalled, but that statement resonated and grew legs in the months following. I guess you could say this statement which is commonly coined in the industry as a “Trigger Event”.

Although we all know that managing and motivating people is an art with volumes of literature on the subject, there are also best demonstrated practices on when not to utilize this type of approach.

Considering that the audience of Sales Representatives were just informed that they were inferior; they remained the company’s seasoned professionals, selling their services to the C-level business relationships they had accumulated during years of service.  The did resign in indignation or outrage at being told that after years of hard work and loyalty, they were regarded as little more than cogs in a machine.

When we discuss retention, whether the customer is internal or external, the employees remain key to the continued success of an organization and need to be treated as the valued resource they are. We all know that the most successful employees are not motivated by compensation alone, they are motivated by pride; both pride in the job they perform as well as the company they work for. History has shown that words have started conflicts, lawsuits and even wars, so statements such as undermining or disparaging as a motivational tool must be carefully orchestrated, otherwise it will result in trigger that could spur unrest, loss of retention or even a mass exodus of valued employees.

It’s always harder to create something than to destroy and relationships are no different.  Building a relationship takes hard work, time and effort. But just like the difference between building a house and knocking it down, it remains frightening how simple it is to shatter years of trust and value with a few misplaced words.