Talent retention is an oxymoron. The more talented people are, the less likely they are to be retained. Let me explain.

My dad worked for the same company for 35 years before he retired. But that was a different era. These days, the average employee tenure for someone in my generation (Gen-X) is maybe 5 – 7 years. The average tenure for Millennials is only around 3 years. Increasingly, people want to take more career steps, make more shifts, and even have more careers during the course of their lives.

More and more humans in general want to be moving forward and collecting new experiences. So staying in the same job for too long, or in the same company for too long, is considered a compromise on a growing higher value of variety and progression for humans in their development. And this is especially true for the most talented players on the team. The better someone performs, the more opportunities elsewhere they will see and be offered.

You’d think that HR professionals would know this already. But I often hear them continuing to talk about talent retention as though finding the right combination of “total rewards” will somehow magically stop the humans on their teams from being human. My response to them is a case in point … the highest HR position in the world’s best company.

Laszlo Bock instituted free meals, take your parents to work day, and special salaries for superstars (of which he was one!). He transformed the performance review, invested heavily in hiring right and finding the right fit on the team … and in spite of winning Best Place to Work more than 30 times during his tenure as SVP of People & Operations at Google, he resigned after only 10 years. He was the best HR head in the best company in the world, and he couldn’t even retain himself!

So let’s take that to heart. Forget about retention and invest in succession planning, streamlining the hiring process, and becoming more intentional about enculturation and exiting our talented teammates. Acknowledge the myth! Look for talent engagement rather than talent retention, so that for however long they are with you, your best stars shine at their absolute brightest, knowing that this step in their lives is a meaningful and life-giving career move.

P.S. In these days of opportunity, variety, and talent-driven self-development, if an employee has been with you for longer than Laszlo Bock stayed with Google, you might want to start wondering why. 😉