5 Reasons Tenure Kills Culture

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If your organization confuses loyalty with tenure there is trouble on the horizon. Put simply, tenure kills productivity, and ultimately tenure kills culture. If your business rates tenure higher than performance as a measure for employee evaluation, it’s time for you to consider updating your talent management practices. So, what’s wrong with tenure you ask? In principle very little; but in practice virtually everything. Think of any organization that has mediocre talent, where management has frustrated you with consistent under-performance, or where cavalier attitudes and a sense of entitlement overshadow a focus on productivity & performance, and I’ll show you an organization that embraces tenure…

An old business saying that sums-up my feelings about tenure goes like this: “The only thing worse than an employee who quits and leaves is an employee who quits and stays” – I refer to these types of folks as office squatters. You see, tenure is not synonymous with loyalty, but rather is more often a measure of compliance and survival. Ask yourself this question: who is more loyal; an employee who has been with the company a long time but is an under-performer, or a less tenured employee who always goes the extra mile and consistently exceeds expectations?



Let me be clear – I don’t have anything against long-term employees so long as something other than length of service in a vacuum is what accounts for them still being employed. I’m suggesting that healthy organizations value performance and contribution more than tenure. If you’re still not tracking with the difference between loyalty and tenure, please take a moment and read a previous post entitled: Leadership and Loyalty. Following are the top 5 reasons why tenure as business practice simply constitutes flawed business logic and will kill your culture:

  1. Tenure is Outdated: In case you haven’t checked your calendar lately it isn’t 1950…Outside of government and academia (this should be more than enough proof that tenure is counter-productive) most people don’t work for 30 years for the same employer.
  2. Tenure Suppresses Talent: Just because “Employee A” has performed a task longer than “Employee B” doesn’t necessarily mean that “A” is more skilled than “B.” Furthermore, just because “A” has been with the company longer than “B”, doesn’t necessarily mean that “A” possesses more talent, upside, knowledge, or adds more value than “B.” When an organization promotes based upon tenure, and not based upon recognition of talent, merit, performance, etc., the company is not leveraging its true talent base. Not recognizing, developing, and rewarding talent is the fastest way I know of to drive talent out of your organization and directly into the hands of your competition.
  3. Tenure Breeds Obsolescence and Mediocrity: The sad reality is with very few exceptions, if you have someone on your payroll who has been with the organization in a similar capacity for an unusually long period of time without increasing in role or responsibility, you likely have a mediocre employee producing mediocre work. Walk into an organization that embraces tenure and it’s akin to traveling back in time 40 years. These companies have placed themselves far behind the both the talent and technology curve because tenured managers hire employees with obsolete skill sets and together they create mediocre solutions. This is a dysfunctional cycle that can send companies into a death spiral of obsolescence.
  4. Tenure Inhibits Change and Cripples Innovation: Organizations that favor tenure also tend to be prone to majoring in the minors. The mandates for compliance along with the accompanying maze of bureaucratic processes and procedures, will often take precedence over doing the right thing. Tenured organizations also tend to embrace comfort zones and are often built upon the “DITWLY” (Did It That Way Last Year) principle. All of these traits preclude the advancement of change initiatives and cripple innovation.
  5. Tenure Kills Brands: As an organization expands and continues to promote mediocre talent up through the ranks, you’ll notice that growth will eventually slow, quality and customer service suffer, and eventually these negative attributes will be reflected in declining brand equity. Think of any negative brand connotations you have, and you’ll likely find an organization that embraces tenure. The Costco experience isn’t what it used to be, US auto manufacturers continue to struggle, the banking industry has been crippled, and government agencies (pick one…USPS, IRS, DMV, etc.) often evoke feelings of hatred at the mere mention of their name.


The bottom line is this…as an employer you need to possess an extreme bias toward performance. Reward talent, initiative, innovation, loyalty, attitude, creativity, work ethic, contribution, and leadership ability – not tenure. Meritocracy or Mediocrity – the choice is yours…

Thoughts?



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