Why People Accept And Quit A Job Made Simple: It’s Just Market Research

The two hottest issues in the Silicon Valley are the attraction and retention of top talent. I am often asked by very tired recruiters “what is the secret to getting them to say “yes” and in “keeping them” so I can get off of this “recruit, lose, and recruit again” cycle? The answer is easier than you think and it is outside the normal HR realm. If you want to get a yes and to keep the best people, use market research tools (or hire a market research firm) to find out:

  • What are the “job acceptance criteria” that cause them to accept a new job?
  • What do they want “more of/less of” in their current job?
  • What are the “triggers” that cause them to consider leaving their current job?
  • Who is at risk of leaving?


Marketing and sales people have used market research tools for years to find out what customers will buy. HR professionals can follow the lead of such leading recruiting/retention firms as Cisco, Microsoft and Trilogy in adopting these tools to recruiting and retention problems. Tools like focus groups, surveys, interviews and “beta” tests can help take the guesswork out of the “art” of recruiting and retention. IT’S SIMPLE MARKET RESEARCH!

(What makes them accept a job?)

  • Ask all that accept jobs “why” & continually update the list. Distribute the top factors to managers and recruiters so that they can close the deal better
  • Ask all that reject your offers “why” and update the list. Distribute the top factors to managers and recruiters so that they can close the deal better
  • Ask your most successful recruiters and executive search professionals what are their best tools
  • “Benchmark” and compare with non-competing firms that have similar jobs
  • Do focus groups with recent hires
  • Reward recruiters/managers/team for sharing secretes of how to make a great hire
  • Do a survey at job fairs/college campuses
  • Ask on your web page (do an on-line survey) “what are your expectations”
  • Hire a market research firm to find out
  • Make candidates to anonymously “force rank” from a long list of possible factors which were the top factors in getting you to a “yes”


(What makes them stay?)

  • Do periodic pre-exit interviews – Don’t wait for them to “pick up the phone” from the headhunter…be proactive. Ask them in a one on one “What are the factors that cause you to stay?”
  • More of/less of lists – Get them to do a quarterly list of the things in the job that they want more of/less of. Then give them more of the good ones and reduce the frustrations. Of course tie all of this to productivity
  • “Dream job” lists (I’ve always wanted to…) – Ask them what is your dream job? Try to give them a “partial” job rotation into parts of their dream job on a one day a week basis. Develop a plan to move them toward their dream job over time
  • Where would you like to be in 1 year list – Another simple list of their aspirations and develop a plan to get them there
  • Tie pay to “staying” and productivity – Money is never the only reason that people leave. Generally management does something wrong first… and then the money begins to get their attention. Fix the job first and then if you give them more money tie it to their productivity so that they don’t end up staying…”rich but unhappy!” Reward managers for sharing “what works” with others on a firms intranet
  • Develop programs that build ties and friendships (affinity groups) – One of the hardest things to leave in a job is their close friends. By developing affinity groups (sports, play, ethnic, gay and other shared interests) you help build bonds beyond the job that are difficult to break. Ask the groups to survey their members about issues and strengths
  • Ask co-workers and the family – Involve others in finding out what makes them happy. Being generous to spouses, friends and children puts more people on the team trying to get them to stay. Give them gifts and invite them to functions so that they become part of our forms “extended family”
  • Develop a “motivators” profile for each EE – Non-monetary motivators are powerful but most managers are not aware of what motivates an employee. Develop a profile (through trial and error as well as asking them and friends) and use it to keep them content
  • Reward managers and teams for retention – Managers seldom do things that are not measured. So reward managers for keeping high performers and key talent
  • Ask on their day of hire why did you say yes? – “Offer acceptance criteria” are early indicators of what is important to a person. Identify them and develop job tasks and motivators to keep them on the job
  • Trial and error – Try different things and see “what works”


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(Why do they leave?) Exit interviews are poor ways of finding out why people quit. The fear of retribution and the desire for good references often skews the answers. In addition you should also try:

  • Use “pulse surveys” – Do periodic e-mail surveys of a sample of employees to get a “pulse” of the organization. This helps to identify new issues and trouble spots
  • Hold focus groups to identify general things that frustrate them
  • Post exit surveys – Months after a separation do a sample survey and ask them why they left and compare to you exit data. Expect significantly different answers
  • Survey retained search professionals about the general reasons why people leave
  • Do post hire surveys to find out why employed people “begin a job search” and the criteria for actually deciding to leave


(Who is at risk?)

  • Look at statistical “probabilities – By looking at their resume you should be able to see their past job change “time.” Us it to anticipate when they get antsy… and proactively try to meet their needs
  • Ask co-workers and those “in the know” who is unhappy?
  • Ask executive search professionals under retainer to help you identify who is at risk of leaving or who is overdue for a job change
  • Hold “One on ones”…and just ask them to stay and get them to warn you if they are unhappy

After the market research is over…what are the causes of accepting and leaving a job? I call them the “Big 6.” Reasons what people accept, quit or increase their productivity are all remarkably similar. Most of these factors are easy to do and managers generally control them.

  • Honest, frequent two way communication
  • Challenging exciting work
  • Opportunities to grow and learn
  • Knowing my work makes a difference
  • Being recognized and rewarded for my performance
  • Some degree of control over my job

Dr. John Sullivan, professor, author, corporate speaker, and advisor, is an internationally known HR thought-leader from the Silicon Valley who specializes in providing bold and high-business-impact talent management solutions.

He’s a prolific author with over 900 articles and 10 books covering all areas of talent management. He has written over a dozen white papers, conducted over 50 webinars, dozens of workshops, and he has been featured in over 35 videos. He is an engaging corporate speaker who has excited audiences at over 300 corporations/ organizations in 30 countries on all six continents. His ideas have appeared in every major business source including the Wall Street Journal, Fortune, BusinessWeek, Fast Company, CFO, Inc., NY Times, SmartMoney, USA Today, HBR, and the Financial Times. In addition, he writes for the WSJ Experts column. He has been interviewed on CNN and the CBS and ABC nightly news, NPR, as well many local TV and radio outlets. Fast Company called him the "Michael Jordan of Hiring," Staffing.org called him “the father of HR metrics,” and SHRM called him “One of the industry's most respected strategists." He was selected among HR’s “Top 10 Leading Thinkers” and he was ranked No. 8 among the top 25 online influencers in talent management. He served as the Chief Talent Officer of Agilent Technologies, the HP spinoff with 43,000 employees, and he was the CEO of the Business Development Center, a minority business consulting firm in Bakersfield, California. He is currently a Professor of Management at San Francisco State (1982 – present). His articles can be found all over the Internet and on his popular website www.drjohnsullivan.com and on staging.ere.net. He lives in Pacifica, California.



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