Sometimes turnover can improve quality

Turnover is usually a bad thing.  It can be a sign that you don’t pay enough or employees aren’t enjoying their work.  You’ll spend days and months finding a person to replace them.  But there is a silver lining to turnover: It can be an opportunity to improve quality.

Now for this to actually improve quality, you have to listen to the nuanced language your new hire is using.  You have to pay attention to everything they’re confused about and then ask yourself, “Is he confused because he’s new, or is he confused because it’s confusing?”

You see, when you work at one place too long, all the problems around you start to fade into the background and become normal.  The first time you learned that the QA server’s name is “” and that the staging server’s name is “” you said, “WTF“, but then you bookmarked the address and eventually forgot it was weird.

An outspoken new hire will make everyone revisit these problems because they’re not used to them.  They will have to ask the people with seniority where everything is and hopefully those people will feel a little silly about some of the answers they give.  They’ll have an opportunity to observe that “WTF” vicariously.  This will all go to waste if it’s ignored because eventually it will become normal to the new hire, too.

You may be thinking, “This has nothing to do with turnover.  It has everything to do with seeing things with a fresh pair of eyes”.  So far that’s true, but a lot of the time it’s those old employees that prevent “WTF”s from being fixed.  They may have their ego tied to the way things are because they don’t want to acknowledge that they made a mistake in the past.  Or maybe they aren’t able to see how confusing something is because it’s so familiar to them now.  When these people leave, it’s easier to incorporate change (for better or worse, actually).

Turnover can also improve the quality of work in the person that leaves.  It’s easier to get complacent with your skills if you know you can stay at a place for a decade and not have to improve yourself.  I’m not saying everyone who stays at one place for a long time does this, but some people do.  When you leave a company, you are usually forced to brush up on your skills.  You have to prepare for interviews and you have to learn how a new code base works.  When you get a new job you’ll have to learn new processes and new ways of doing things.  You may not have to do that if you stay at one place for a decade.  Sometimes you can get by by doing pretty much the same thing every day.

I’m jealous of a new hire’s ability to see everything with a fresh pair of eyes.  I wish there was a way I could reset my brain and look at my own code that way before I check it in.  Don’t ignore what the new hires are telling you when they’re confused.  There can be a lot to learn from their ignorance.

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2 thoughts on “Sometimes turnover can improve quality

  1. Giang says:

    Hi Daniel,
    I enjoyed reading this as I share the same thoughts on the topic :)
    But sometimes the turnover doesn’t lead to good results…especially for the project if the leaving guy is a ‘key’ person…

    • Daniel Kaplan says:

      Hi Giang,

      I completely agree with everything you’re saying. I was just pointing out a silver lining to the situation.

      Thanks a lot for reading!

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