Thursday Thread: Stockdale Paradox

Ever heard of the Stockdale Paradox? It’s a concept introduced in Jim Collins’ Good to Great, coined after a Senior Naval Officer, James Stockdale, a prisoner of the Vietnam War who tortured over 20 times before he was out and reunited with his family.

His advice on surviving his time held captive? “You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end—which you can never afford to lose—with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”

Though thankfully less grim than what James Stockdale had to endure, we – as individuals, leaders, teams and organizations – have our own brutal facts to face. Our current reality – high attrition.

Here are three tips to help retain the talent you’ve worked hard to hire and train:

(1) Ditch the forced optimism; lead with transparency. The forced optimism does one of two things – and neither are great. It either makes your employees think you’re out of touch with reality, or they worry that their leadership doesn’t think they can grasp the business enough to understand how to cope. Bottom line: it doesn’t do what you’re thinking it will.

(2) Conduct stay interviews. You’ve heard of exit interviews… we’re proposing something slightly different. Of those that have stayed, that have stuck with the organization for the past 18 months – the ones you may be concerned with losing next – ask them what it would take to keep them. But only do if it you’re prepared to act on what you’ve heard.

(3) Re-consider your business structure. Most businesses were not ready for a pandemic. But there’s no denying they’ve all been affected. Take this time to pause and reconsider your business strategy – with the people at the heart of the strategy. If it needs an update (and it likely does), take the time to explain it to your employees. They’ll understand now more than ever.

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