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Relias Vitals+Vision Podcast, Season 1

Episode 1: Organizational Culture and Employee Retention

With Cara Silletto, MBA, CSP 32 min

Leigh talks with Cara Silletto, President and Chief Retention Officer at Magnet Culture, about organizational culture and employee turnover. Cara discusses gaps in an organization’s culture that lead employees to leave their jobs and shares ways to reduce turnover, bridge generational gaps, and create a place where people want to work.

About Cara Silletto

Cara Silletto, MBA, CSP

Workforce thought leader Cara Silletto works with organizations of all sizes to reduce unnecessary employee turnover by bridging generational gaps and making managers more effective. As President and Chief Retention Officer of Magnet Culture, Cara has built an incredible team of generational and turnover experts to provide relevant live and virtual keynote speeches, specialized training programs and consulting, all of which are custom-built to make businesses more profitable.

Workforce Magazine in Chicago named Silletto a “Game Changer” for her innovative approach to solving generational issues in the workplace, and Recruiter.com listed her in its “Top 10 Company Culture Experts to Watch” list. She is also the author of Staying Power: Why Your Employees Leave & How to Keep Them Longer. Today, she’s a highly sought-after national speaker conducting 50 to 100 engagements annually and has already earned her Certified Speaking Professional (CSP) designation. Louisville Business First named her one of their 2018 Forty Under 40.

Key takeaways

  • [5:00] Strategies for identifying gaps in organizational culture.
  • [9:25] Societal shifts and evolving workforce perspectives.
  • [23:20] Leadership elements that promote better retention.

Leigh Steiner:

Welcome to the very first episode of the Vitals and Vision podcast. I’m your host, Leigh Steiner, a partner for Behavioral Health Solutions at Relias In today’s episode, which marks the first of a two part series, will be addressing the strategies for identifying gaps in organizational culture. We’ll explore the societal shifts in evolving workforce perspectives and discuss leadership elements that promote better retention.

Joining us is someone who brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise in these areas. It’s an honor to welcome our guest, Cara Silletto. Cara is a renowned workforce thought leader and the President and Chief Retention Officer of Magnet Culture is a true game changer. Recognized by Workforce magazine and listed among the top ten company culture experts to watch by recruiter.com

Her innovative approach to empowering managers and bridging generational gaps brings a wealth of expertise in solving workplace issues and creating thriving profitable businesses. Cara, welcome and thank you for being with us today. But before we jump into our discussion, could you tell us just a little bit more about your role as President and Chief Retention Officer at Magnet Culture?

Cara Silletto:

Sure, so thanks so much for partnering and having me on today. I’m really excited to be here. So at Magnet Culture, we focus on what is happening in the workforce. My role in particular is to stay ahead of the market and figure out what’s coming next, what works today that didn’t work six months ago, or maybe what did work six months ago isn’t working today. I’m constantly talking with leaders, with employees, managers, owners at all levels to figure out why do people stay and why do people go.

So I’m trying to crack that code for you. I know you all are busy, and so I just live and eat and breathe the retention conversation. And then what we do, we turn around and take that information and those insights. And of course, many of you might have seen me or my team members speak at the conferences, national and state conferences, as well as we go into organizations to do leadership development training and help those managers understand workforce, build the skills they need to manage today’s new workforce, and ultimately reduce that unnecessary employee turnover.

Leigh Steiner:

Wow, I think we have a lot we can talk about.

Cara Silletto:

Me too.

Leigh Steiner:

So, well, let’s get started. Let’s get started on the issue of gaps in an organization’s culture that may in fact be alienating employees or that result in their turnover. Is that a good place to start?

Cara Silletto:

Absolutely. So what I’m finding right now, you mentioned this word gap, and I am seeing as I talk, like I said, to people at all different levels within an organization, I am seeing a widening gap between leaders and our frontline.

And what I mean is… They just don’t live in the same world anymore. To be salary versus hourly, to have 10, 20, 30 years of experience versus being a newer, higher, or more entry-level type position, to have resources and flexibility as a leader. You know, if your kiddo has a two o’clock kindergarten program, you can escape and go to that program. But our hourly workers and our front line folks, they don’t have that flexibility typically.

And then you also have, of course, higher wages, higher salaries as we move into leadership positions. And then we know that our lower wage workers, that rate is difficult to live on, and especially to raise a family on and have multiple people living off of that income.

And so there’s a socioeconomic gap. There is a lifestyle gap. There’s a flexibility gap. Of course the generational gaps, because if you happen to have been working for 10, 20, 30 years, you’re probably in a different generation than a lot of the newer folks that you’re bringing in.

So to your point or your question here about that gap in culture, one of the things I’m trying really hard to get the message out about is leaders, especially senior leaders, the higher up we go, leaders have to acknowledge the gap and acknowledge that there are a lot of differences between the leadership team and the front line today. And they have to proactively work to avoid that gap or shrink that gap, to get to know people.

I just find a lot of leaders are making assumptions about what the workforce wants or how they think, in their own shoes from 20 years ago and say, “Well, when I was new here, this is what I wanted. Or “When I was 25 or 30, this is what I wanted.” So isn’t that what 25-year-olds want? Or isn’t that how they should be treated…is the way I was treated when I came into the organization? And it’s just not.

So much has changed in the last even five years, let alone 10 or 20 years, that it is absolutely imperative today for leaders at every level to get out on the floor, go talk to your people. Talk to even the candidates that are choosing not to come work for us. Why is that happening? What are they really looking for? What do they care about? What do they not care about? And what do they even think a job looks like?

I mean that’s a big gap. I have managers that say, “Well last time I checked, being told where to be when, that’s a job.” “Having a boss who tells you what to do, that’s a job.” Right, Leigh? That’s how people kind of define it. And yet today’s new workforce says, “Yeah, but I’m not gonna work for a boss that I don’t like.” I’m not gonna work for a boss who doesn’t understand me or respect my… love for my animals or my hobbies that I have and my second job doesn’t respect that or doesn’t understand why I need a second job.

There’s just a lot of disconnect and a lot of assumptions being made about today’s new workforce. And then policies are set, schedules are set, pay is set. And they’re missing the mark on what the workforce really wanted.

Leigh Steiner:

Right. So that, I mean, I certainly read a lot about and have experienced myself some of those differences, but you talked about, in fact, I think you even said something about maybe the major changes within the last five years. Can you elaborate on that a little bit? What are some of the changes that have? happened in our culture, in our society that have impacted how the workforce views work differently.

Cara Silletto:

Sure. So I think the biggest change, I mean, there’s a ton of things that happened because of the pandemic and things that were trends that were expedited because of the pandemic and lots of shifts.

But I would say as far as that employer employee gap and what can be done to make your organization a better place to work is to really explore this word around flexibility. Because everybody is looking for more flexibility today. And it doesn’t mean work from home because I have a ton of healthcare clients and they say, “Well, Cara, you know, we’re a 24/7 365 operation, and we can’t let people work from home. We need bedside care.” And I understand that.

So then let’s take that off the table and talk about what does flexibility look like. in a 24/7 365 environment? What can that look like? And there’s basic things like shifting your start and end time, okay? So some people, you know, we’ve got seven to seven, will some buildings operate at six to six? So you can shift your start and end times that may be better suited for the workforce in your area, or you can change your shift lengths. So of course we’ve been running for decades with 12s and eights, offering four hour shifts, six hour shifts, 10 hour shifts, and there’s different options. One size no longer fits all.

So this is a big piece that I’m seeing really just change in this last year or two is that people want to be able to pick more of their own schedules. Now that’s kind of a nightmare for 24-7 coverage because we’ve got to hit our numbers and make sure that one person doesn’t We of course have software now for that and you don’t have to do scheduling manually.

And then another piece of the scheduling that I’m seeing just in even in these last few months is: Don’t put everyone on the same scheduling schedule. And what I mean is, I know that sounds silly, what I mean is, one organization as an example, they said, well, some of our workers want their schedule a month in advance. They want it set. They want it consistent. They wanna know who they’ll be working with, and they really like that forecasting for their family.

And then other people… they can’t possibly tell you when their vacation day needs to be even in two or three weeks. They don’t know what their schedule’s gonna look like. They don’t know what’s up with their kids or the co-parents that they’re dealing with their kids, right? All of that communication. And so if we embrace the fact that one size no longer fits all, we could do something like this one organization did where they created scheduling pods and you were either in the month out, month long, scheduling pod or you were in the flex pod. which only scheduled one, maybe two weeks out in advance. And they had different rules and different criteria for call-offs or switching schedules. You know, they had a different policy for attendance and scheduling plans and things like that, because some people, they don’t want to get dinged because you made the schedule a month in advance and now three weeks in, they have to change something. But then they’re gonna be the bad guy because something came up in their life That is a priority and they have to put that ahead of their shift, right? So just thinking really differently about opportunities that we give people around flexibility It is a whole different way of thinking about it You can’t just say well everybody needs to schedule a month in advance because that doesn’t work for everybody.

Leigh Steiner:

So I would imagine if you’re a manager or a leader listening to this, one of the things you might be thinking is, wow, that sounds exhausting and it sounds scary.

Cara Silletto:

Okay, I hear you and I can understand that. And one of the pieces that I think is missing that absolutely needs to be in place is a person, a staff person, you probably have a staffing coordinator, a scheduling coordinator, whatnot. But if we think about putting somebody in place for retention, you have a recruiter. already probably depending on the size of your organization or many recruiters, you have probably that scheduling person who could work on this type of model, for example. You have HR people who are working on policies and compliance and hiring and firing, you know, all of those pieces of the puzzle. But do you really have a person in your organization who owns retention and can figure out, you know, cause maybe your scheduling coordinator isn’t the person. to go talk to the staff and come up strategically with different ways of doing this. And I’ve seen a lot of our clients, for example, they put in place a regional retention director or a part-time position or a half position that is recruiting and retention so that person can go out and talk to people and figure out what they want. And you can’t, you’re not gonna be able to be all things to all people. You can’t have 10 different scheduling models going because that would be chaotic. But in this particular situation, the organization is doing very well with the two pod model. You’re either in the standard pod that schedules ahead of time, or you’re in the flex pod that gets to fill the extra shifts that don’t have coverage, right? So, you’re in the standard pod that schedules ahead of time, and they can even pay differently. You can put paid differentials on that if you want more people to be in the standard pod and to never call off for their shifts, you can put shift differentials on that. And so we can incentivize people to do what we wanna do. In fact, many of my healthcare clients, they used to pay higher shift differentials for third shift back in the day. Well, now what’s the hardest shift to fill? Second, because everyone wants to be home with their kids for dinner. So maybe a mom and a dad, one will work first shift and sleep third shift, and one will work third shift and sleep first shift, but then they’re home for dinner together. So right now, second shift is the hardest to fill, so we’re seeing the shift differential get higher for second shift. You have to think about how do we incentivize our people to do the behavior we want, right? If we want them to schedule in advance, we have to kind of pay for that stability that we want. or you can either get paid more and be more stable on our schedule, or you can get paid a little less, but you have more flexibility. And you let the employees choose what is more important to them, the flexibility or the pay. Now, of course they weren’t both. I know what you’re thinking. you can say, you either get stricter rules and a farther out schedule and you get paid a little bit more, or you get the flexibility and less points. or whatever you call it, if people call in or have to change their shifts or change their schedule at the last minute, then they get dinged less on that behavior because that’s what happens in their lives. They just know that that’s how their lives are gonna be.

Leigh Steiner:

Well, go back a little bit and talk about that they want both. And I know I’ve read some of what you have written in the sense that money isn’t always the driver or certainly the primary driver despite the fact that that’s what we may think it is. Talk a little bit. Dive into that subject matter.

Cara Silletto:

Yeah, sure. So on many topics, the pendulum swings back and forth. All right? And what are we seeing in the clothing stores right now? They are going right back to the 70s and 80s kind of mix. I just saw a woven pair of pants that looked like a blanket that my grandmother had on her couch. You know, I mean, it was gorgeous, but it was such a throwback. And so just like, you know, the fashion kind of swings and swings back or it’s circular and just comes back every 30, 40 years. So does the pay conversation.

And what happened from a generational standpoint is the millennial group, which by the way, millennials are not the young spring chickens that we once were. I am one of the oldest millennials. I was born in 81 and I’m. turning 42 this month, okay? So a bit out there a while. And the youngest millennials are 26-ish, going on 27. So they’re not the newest hires as far as the younger hires. That is Gen Z.

But if we look at what millennials wanted, and I did a ton of generational work this past 10 years around millennials wanted to make a difference. They wanted to follow their passion. Their parents who… did not love their jobs and stayed working with bosses they didn’t like, they said, hey kiddos, don’t put up with it. Follow your dreams, follow your passion, be happy, quit if you’re miserable and go do what you wanna do.  So the millennials had more of that passion and they wanted to go after something that would make them happy in life.

Well now Gen Z is here and I gotta tell you the pay…the pay pendulum is swinging back because the Gen Z-ers tell me that they see all these broke millennials and I mean broke as in no money, right? They see all these millennials who have tried to follow their passion and some of them of course have been successful financially and been able to buy a home and whatnot. But Gen Z is seeing that a lot of the millennials ahead of them, their older siblings, their cousins, their even bosses, supervisors at work, they’re struggling to pay the bills and they’ve been doing this for 10 or 20 years. And they, you know, they’re struggling to buy a home because of home prices skyrocketing and the inflation impact from the past few years and things like that.

So now Gen Z is saying, wait a minute, of course I want to be happy. Of course I want to make a difference and follow my passion, but you got to show me the money because I am not going to be, you know, a starving artist type of lifestyle. just to follow my passion. In fact, I can do my passion on the side. I can volunteer, I can do other things, and I am gonna need enough money to live the lifestyle that I want. And that’s subjective based on each person of what their expectations are.

But I will say, because of the focus on economics, I mean, even our regular news and TikTok and things like that are talking about inflation and… economics and the house prices and different things like that. So Gen Z is very, very aware that costs are rising and I am going to need more money to live. I am going to need more money to advance my life, to get a more reliable car, to go move to a safer neighborhood than where I am now, or to get out of my parents basement. You know?

So I will say that pay is definitely rising. In fact, it used to be well below meaningful work, challenging work, culture, environment, and on most statistics and a lot of the employee surveys that are out there now, I’m seeing pay creep back up into the top three, top two position of where folks are looking for their next opportunity.

So we do have to take that seriously and figure out, especially in a world that revolves around reimbursement, you know? we’re going to have to figure out how to compete against those big retailers around us, the warehousing and logistic groups around us that are just offering much, much higher wages. So we do have to do that, but I think to your point, Leigh, the culture is just as important. So now I used to for years say, Okay, okay, you can’t pay as much as everyone else. Well, just create a better culture, create better leaders. That’ll get them to stay.

And I gotta tell ya, in these next few years, I think we’re gonna see culture and pay neck and neck as the top two things that companies just have to do both. They have to be a great place to work, and they have to have reasonable competitive wages compared to other employers around them.

Leigh Steiner:

But you’re really emphasizing how critical it is to have eyes on the retention issue at all times. Because…things change and the workforce changed.

Cara Silletto:

It does.

Leigh Steiner:

So when you go into an organization, let’s say my organization has seen the light and recognizes that retention is a huge issue and I need to do something really smart about it, what are some of the first things you do? I mean, I hear you talk about probably creating opportunities or expectations for leaders to talk with their staff. What does that look like? I hear you talking about perhaps creating retention officers whose eyes are on this. It sounds like you’re also talking about there has to be some data collection done over time and you have to create incentives. So I mean… and there’s a lot more than that. But talk about if you come into an organization, what are the things you do?

Cara Silletto:

Oh, absolutely. So some of the biggest pieces of the puzzle, two of them that we constantly are working on with our clients because they immediately realize there’s a gap as soon as we talk to them. One is management effectiveness, the leaders at every level, are they equipped to manage and retain this new workforce? Or do they still say silly things like, because I said so? Or they think, well, they’ll just go anywhere for a buck more an hour.

And it’s so much bigger than that. They’re not looking inward to themselves and saying, am I flexible as a leader? Do I understand that one size doesn’t fit all? Do I even know the difference between millennials and Gen Z? Because that’s a whole new world. Do I have the communication flexibility to know that when I’m talking to an extrovert, or praising an extrovert on my team, that’s done in a different way than praising and communicating with an introvert on my team.

And so I have to be able to flex. First, I have to be able to even identify who’s an introvert, who’s an extrovert, you know, understand different behavioral styles like disc. You know, we do a lot around the disc behavioral styles. So understanding that. Then being able to read the room, which is your emotional intelligence, that’s our number one requested class right now is EQ. And so being able to read the room and then flex your approach, flex your style, because one size doesn’t fit all.

So management training, management development, really putting the right people into those management positions instead of just the next person in line or somebody who… Maybe just because they’re great clinically, you think, oh, well, they should be a nurse manager. No, not necessarily. They might not be as great on the people and communication side. So really thinking about who you put in those positions and then giving them the tools to be successful. That’s one big area of the retention puzzle.

The other area is onboarding because we have been known over the last 10 years to just shrink the onboarding. We used to do weeks of training and preparation and shadowing. Do you remember shadowing, Leigh?

Leigh Steiner:

I do.

Cara Silletto:

When we used to have enough people that you could have someone shadow for three days and watch someone else do the job and learn from them. And then of course, as we got shorter on staff, we got shorter on onboarding and really cut out a lot of the critical processes to onboarding. So that’s a piece that I’m seeing a ton of companies bring back more effective onboarding. Because as we know with a lot of our hourly workers in particular, that 30, 60, 90 day turnover is what’s killing us. That we just can’t even get them to that magical 100 day mark that helps us really keep them for months after that.

And so if we focus on why, why would someone come in and after three days, not come back after their break? What happened? What in the world was it? And managers who are more self-aware, they will say, what did we do? What did we do to cause that? Managers that are less self-aware are gonna say, oh, well, they just couldn’t cut it. They couldn’t cut it.

And do you think that new hire goes home and tells their friends, oh, I just couldn’t cut it? You know, they’re never gonna think like that. They’re gonna say, that company is ridiculous. They threw me to the wolves. They just let me sink. They didn’t give me proper training. They didn’t let me shadow anybody. I had nobody to ask questions to because everybody’s too busy for me as a new hire. I’ve got nobody, I’ve got no process, I’ve got no real tools here to know what I’m doing. And then I made a mistake and I got in trouble. They yelled at me because I made a mistake because I wasn’t prepared to be out on the floor by myself. Right, does this sound familiar to anybody?

So the really great companies and great leaders, they’re starting to realize, okay, those people are quitting. You know, there’s some people who, pardon me, but some people just suck, okay? There are some people out there who really do not wanna work. They wanna game the system. They just wanna be on their phones.

But what I have found is it’s less people than you think it is. Meaning we just need better mentoring for folks. We’ve got to communicate what the expectations are because if you just think to yourself, oh well, they should know better. They need to get off their phones. They’re at work. Well, they don’t know that. They haven’t had very many jobs or maybe their last job allowed them to be on the phone. They don’t know that they can’t be on the phone here.

So… We have to bridge those gaps, again, that expectation gap, and make sure that we are properly training, properly mentoring, properly onboarding folks to really do the job well, because in a lot of cases, we are the culprit. We are scaring them away because we shoved them out there by themselves too quickly, and they honestly, too, a lot of young people today don’t have the coping mechanisms to be less their own and to figure it out.

You know previous generations, I mean I remember my dad saying he practically raised himself. I mean his siblings help but his mom and dad were not very active in his young life, are not you know not there with him and helping him figure things out and at five six seven years old he was walking himself to school and he had to figure that stuff out. Then you’ve got of course the latchkey kids from the Gen X generation. that again at 10, 12, 14 years old, they had to figure it out. But with the younger.

Leigh Steiner:

We also had fewer jobs with, it seems to me, with less variation. And what you’re talking about is, at least I know when I was commissioner of mental health, we were using a method called job previewing. I don’t know if that’s done much anymore. Where you try to help people see what this job is really going to look like.

Cara Silletto:


Leigh Steiner:

Is that part of it? the portfolio also of companies that retain folks?

Cara Silletto:

We recommend that you provide, and I put an extra word on that one, Leigh, I say realistic job previews.

Leigh Steiner:

Yeah, it’s great.

Cara Silletto:

Because I think some companies say, oh yeah, we give a job preview, but they’re only telling the good stuff, the rainbows and cherries. And they say, oh, it’s so wonderful doing this job, it’s so meaningful and all of that. And they don’t always… do the good, the bad, and the ugly, like, you know, and share all the details.

So I recommend that folks do a realistic job preview, which is a lot like the shadowing. You know, it’s just letting somebody shadow before they’re onboarded necessarily. And I know there’s some legality around that and safety issues and whatnot, but you can absolutely sit down and talk to someone or have, if it’s a CNA position, for example, You can have a CNA sit with them and say, this is what a day looks like for me. And you still wanna make it positive and highlight the positives of the job so it’s an attractive position, but we have to be realistic.

Otherwise they will come in and spend our training dollars and then just walk out after a week or two or a month, which we don’t want that to happen either.

Leigh Steiner:

I really appreciate the emphasis on providing a realistic job preview. I wholeheartedly agree that companies should prioritize transparency by openly addressing the challenges and the drawbacks of the job rather than solely focusing on the rainbows and the cherries. So this approach really assures honesty and helps candidates make informed decisions.

Leigh Steiner:

Thank you for joining our first episode of Vitals and Vision. We hope that our conversation with Cara Silletto shed light on some of the more crucial aspects of organizational culture and employee turnover. And we encourage you to listen to the second part of my conversation with Cara, where we talk about the importance of leaders possessing emotional intelligence, the value of open communication and trust, and key factors that contribute to employee retention.

Leigh Steiner:

Remember, success starts with a clear vision and vital strategies. Stay tuned for more inspiring episodes on vitals and vision.

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Meet your host

Leigh Steiner, PhD, is a Partner for Behavioral Health Solutions at Relias. Leigh has extensive national, state, and community experience in organizational development, executive development, coaching, and consulting. She served as the commissioner for mental health for the state of Illinois from 1989 to 2002. Leigh has also served as an adjunct lecturer at Southern Illinois University School of Medicine and as a lecturer at the University of Illinois at Springfield.

Related Resources

Creating a Realistic Roadmap for Retention


In this valuable session, Cara Silletto, President and Chief Retention Officer of Magnet Culture, audits your organization's effectiveness and attractiveness as an employer. Then, she supports your creation of a realistic retention roadmap identifying which areas of the business can function as they are, which need a simple tune-up, and which must go into the shop for an extensive overhaul.

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