Want a High-Performance Culture? Look out for “Hostages”

Creating a High Performance Culture in your Company

We’ve all seen the LinkedIn meme about investing in employees who might leave your organization. It goes something like this:

CFO to CEO: What if we invest in our people and they leave?

CEO to CFO: What if we don’t and they stay?

It’s an imaginary question, and a pretty cheeky one, at that. But it points to a very important truth about hiring and developing a workforce: you can’t control when employees will decide to leave your company, but you can control their incentives to stay. The most effective and productive employees are the ones that could leave your organization at any time, but choose to stay. And the employees that can’t leave due to lack of development or training — the hostages — will only serve to limit your ability to achieve a high-performance culture.

It’s natural to want a low turnover rate for your organization, and many HR teams use turnover as a key metric to measure overall performance. But here’s why a low turnover rate needs to be a result of excellent hiring and development practices, not hostages:

Empowered employees are less likely to leave

Want to know a secret that high-performance cultures use to outperform other organizations year after year? Here it is: if you invest your employees with knowledge, skills, and opportunities, you won’t always lose them to competitors. Instead, you’ll build a team of employees that feel empowered to do their jobs and choose to do it with your organization.

As Glassdoor’s Chief Human Resources Officer Carmel Galvin put it, informing and empowering employees leads to better performance, not employees who leave. And if your top performers do leave, that’s actually good for your organization, too. A recent article from the Wall Street Journal outlines how the highest performing companies across a variety of industries actively encourage star performers to move on to better opportunities and reap the rewards long after the employees leave.

Hostages damage high-performance cultures

Hostages struggle to feel motivated or commit to their job because they feel stuck, unfulfilled, and unattached to your mission. Over time, you can end up with a roster of individuals who would rather be anywhere else but can’t get away — and it won’t take long for your culture to grow toxic.It’s difficult to undo the damage of a toxic workplace culture, but it can be done. In the case of hostage hires, it requires a commitment to helping individual employees find purpose, meaning, and results in the work they do. For some, that means extra training and advancement opportunities. For others, a sincere show of gratitude. Worried your otherwise high-performance workplace is growing toxic? Read this.

Hostage hiring is the opposite of productivity

Employees have more opportunities than ever to advance their career outside of work through freelancing or moonlighting, and younger employees see job-hopping as a viable way to chase down a higher salary or small promotion. Because of these new developments, opportunities to improve and advance seem limitless, unless they’re limited by how an employer approaches professional development, advancement, and responsibility. The modern work environment is changing. The most valuable employee is no longer the one who works in the same role in the same company for 20+ years, but rather the talented, agile individuals who willingly opt into the work they do. When employees feel empowered in their work, they’re more responsive and engaged with their workplace’s values, and they actively contribute to a high-performance culture. Hostages, on the other hand, are more likely to put in the minimum amount of work to get by.


If you’ve maintained an impressively low turnover rate for the past few quarters, be on the lookout for practices that limit employee development and advancement. Your goal should be to invest in a highly desirable team that could leave at any time but chooses not to — otherwise, your hostages could sabotage your long-term efforts to build a high-performance culture.