Why Do We Only Measure Team Health When It’s Too Late?

I have come to love what many dread: exit interviews. People who have decided to leave have nothing to lose, so if you ask the right questions, you can find out why your team culture is broken really fast.

Losing good people is awful, of course, psychologically and for the bottom line. Forbes estimates that turnover costs the company 33% of an employee’s annual salary. After three turnovers, you might as well hire a full-time ghost–one full salary for nothing.

In my work as a consultant and fractional CTO, it’s my job to figure out why people are really leaving. I aks them to pretend it’s not about the money (since it actually isn’t) and tell it to me straight. (Sometimes by really listening and agreeing to a plan of action, I’ve actually got them to stay.)

But there’s another job I see so few of us with a C in our title doing, and that’s preventing good people leaving in the first place.

We’re obsessed with OKRs, KPIs and putting the “M” (measurable) in SMART goals. Yet type “key health indicators” into Google, and all you’ll get is medical stats. (And maybe one day this article, we’ll see.)

So what would KHIs actually look like for your team or organisation? Traditional ones like absenteeism, employee engagement scores, and number of internal complaints? Or do you get creative and implement facial recognition AI to count smiles per hour in meetings? Can you even trust what people write in surveys, or can we get more empirical about measuring so-called “human capital” even though it doesn’t show up on the balance sheet?

Maybe it’s just too hard. But I think counter-balancing all the crunchy performance metrics with an understanding of whether or not you’re about to burn out your team might be worth it. And I think it has a place on the dashboard in the board room, not just in a slide deck circulated by HR once a year that nobody reads.

After all, your car only has one dial for speed, but tons of indicators about the vehicle’s health–engine temperature, oil level, open doors–it even scolds you for not turning off your lights. Why are companies exactly the opposite?

Who’s with me that this is nuts? Let’s make KHIs “a thing” (as the kids say) so normal that nobody remembers where it came from a few years (not a few generations) from now. The next generation is rightly demanding better support for mental health. Listen, or lose talent.

Here’s what I think: decisions (good and bad) make businesses, and people make decisions. Can’t we look after our people at least as well as we look after our cars?