5 Steps to Stop a Negative Trajectory

Every organization is by default on a current trajectory. If it’s a positive one, then carry on! If it’s not, here are five steps you can take to shift and move towards your desired trajectory. For some people, these 5 steps may be new and for some they are a simple refresher.

#1 Recognize your Current Trajectory and your Desired Trajectory

Let’s say it’s the beginning of July and you notice that employee turnover has become more frequent. Ten people have left since the beginning of the year. You might think, “Well, that’s bad, but the rest of the year will probably be better.”

What you’re not recognizing is that your current trajectory is not your desired trajectory. And you need to act now to change it!

In the drawing above, the x-axis represents time and the y-axis shows the number of employees you’ve lost. You can see that if you stay on your current trajectory, by the end of December, you’ll be down 20 people. Not good.

#2 Identify the Gap

If you employ 1,000 people, you might be okay with losing 10 people over the course of the year, but not 20. There’s your gap; however, it’s going to take some time to close it.

In the diagram, 1 is your Current Trajectory and 2 is your Desired Trajectory. 1A is where you are now. While you’re figuring out how to close the gap between your current trajectory and your desired trajectory, you might lose another one or two people along the current trajectory (1B).

The good news is that by identifying the gap now, you’re no longer just observing that you have an issue. Instead, you know that you need an intervention.

A drawing like this is a great tool to use with your supervisor, or team to help them visualize what will happen if you don’t act now.

It creates a sense of urgency.

#3 Prepare a Plan to Close the Gap

Before you create a plan, you’re going to need to identify the root cause of the problem.

Start by collecting data (e.g. exit interview notes, percentages of staff leaving from each department) to understand why and from where people are leaving.

Once you’ve gathered and organized your data, look for patterns like:

  • Are more people leaving one department than another?
  • Do they share a supervisor?
  • Do they have similar workloads?
  • Has this happened in previous years in the same time frame?
  • Don’t be afraid to keep asking questions to get to the root cause of the turnover.

You might want to organize your data into a 4-quadrant model, like the one we used in How to Make Change Stick, to help you see where the problem lies.

What you’re honing in on is: What has changed that may be causing the turnover?

Something set off this trajectory. Once you’ve made a correlation between the data and the issue, you can create a game plan to fix it.

As you prepare your plan, you’ll want to focus on changing one variable at a time. This will allow you to see if the change has the desired impact.

During your search for the root cause, you probably found that there were multiple variables that contributed to your current trajectory. You want to choose the one that will have the greatest impact for the least amount of effort.

Try using a pairwise comparison to narrow your choices.

Let’s say the root cause of your employee turnover is three-fold:

a) A new supervisor
b) An increased workload
c) A rise in the cost of living

To use a pairwise comparison, you’d ask:

  • If I change a, will it impact b and/or c?
  • If I change b, will it impact c and/or b?
  • If I change c, will it impact a and/or b?

In this case, training the supervisor would be the best place to focus your resources because it would impact the workload. On the other hand, changing the cost of living wouldn’t impact the other two options.

Plus, to take action on a plan, you actually need to be able to make the change. If you’ve discovered that one of the reasons people are leaving is the high cost of living, you have two options: move your offices, or raise wages. If you’re not able to do either, you’re out of luck. On the other hand, you can train and mentor a new supervisor.

#4 Implement the Plan

To implement a plan, everyone has to be on board. You can’t have one person off creating a plan and then telling five other people, “You have to do x.”

Luckily, you’ve already collected and organized your data. Data can be hugely helpful to create buy-in. Allow the staff who might be implementing the plan to look at the data and discern what they think it might be saying.

Data will also help you to create action steps, select the best people to assign to each task, and develop a timeline for implementation.

It might sound crazy, but data can almost always help you get where you need to go. It’s such a fundamental tool, and yet, many organizations don’t use it in this context.

#5 Measure to Ensure That the Plan is Bringing the Desired Results

As you implement your plan, you’ll want to look at the new data each month and see if you’re making progress. Is the turnover in fact going back down? If it’s not, you need to stop, look back, and ask, “What did we miss?”

Although recognizing that there is a gap between your current trajectory and your desired trajectory might feel overwhelming at first, know that you have the tools to make a change.

Acknowledging the issue is an important first step. Then you can take the necessary steps to change your course.

Onward and keep tapping your talent!


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