Manage Smarter 169 — Clint Pulver: Increasing Employee Retention

Featured image for “Manage Smarter 169 — Clint Pulver: Increasing Employee Retention”

Clint Pulver is an Emmy Award-​winning, motivational keynote speaker, author, musician, and workforce expert. A Professional Drummer for over 20 years, he's played with top headlining fellow musicians in venues like the Vivint Arena, the Stadium of Fire, and the Kodak Theater in Hollywood. In 2010 he founded the UVU Drumline known as the Green Man Group, which he directed for six years and went on to direct the Drumline for the NBA’s Utah Jazz until 2015.

Clint was featured in Business Q Magazine as one of their “Top 40 under 40” as a premiere Corporate Keynote Speaker. He has appeared on America’s Got Talent and in feature films with actors such as School of Rock's Jack Black and Napoleon Dynamite's John Heder.

Known as the Leading Authority on Employee Retention, Clint helps organizations retain, engage, and inspire their team members from the front desk to the board rooms and everyone in between. He expertly helps audiences navigate generational complexities, communication challenges, leadership missteps, and cultural cues. As the president and founder of The Center for Employee Retention, Clint has transformed how corporations like Keller Williams, AT&T, and Hewlett Packard create lasting loyalty through his work and research as “The Undercover Millennial”.

In this episode, Audrey, Lee and Clint discuss increasing employee retention:

  • Undercover Millennial―What that is and how Clint shares insights gleaned from more than ten thousand undercover interviews with employees across the country
  • The number one driver of employee turnover (spoiler: it has everything to do with you!)
  • What you can do to stop an exodus
  • The best methods currently for identifying talent
  • New tips on increasing employee retention
  • His career as a professional rock drummer

It's not about being the best in the world, it's about being the best for the world.”

Clint Pulver

Connect with Clint Pulver on increasing employee retention:

Increasing Employee Retention


This Manage Smarter episode is brought to you by SalesFuel's CoachFeed, your AI-​powered assistant sales coach. Improve your sales people with automated regular coaching in just two minutes a day with CoachFeed. For more information, visit coachfeed​.com. 

Welcome to the Manage Smarter Podcast, with C. Lee Smith and Audrey Strong. We're glad you're here for discussions on new ways to manage smarter, hire, develop, and retain talent, improve results, and propel team performance to new heights. This is the Manage Smarter Podcast.

Audrey Strong: Boy, we got a treat for you today. A guy who's got an amazing childhood story, that literally one person changed the entire trajectory of his life. And he's an expert in management and retention. How do you get from that to that? We're going to explain. Welcome to Manage Smarter, everyone. I'm Audrey Strong, vice president of communications here at SalesFuel.

  1. Lee Smith: And I'm C. Lee Smith. I'm the president and CEO of SalesFuel. Audrey, my good friend, Jeffrey [inaudible 00:01:00] always likes to say that the only thing harder than hiring a good salesperson is keeping one. So, given the fact that Manage Smarter has an audience of sales managers, we're going to talk a lot about that today. 

Audrey Strong: We are lucky to have Clint Pulver at our microphones. Good morning, Clint. I believe you're sitting in Utah. Is that correct? 

Clint Pulver: Yeah. I'm just freezing at my little [inaudible 00:01:21] here in Utah. It's so cold today. 

Audrey Strong: I know. Well, hopefully the discussion will heat you up and get you energized. So, for those of you who don't know Clint, he's amazing. I encourage you all to go to ClintPulver​.com. Some of your videos made me cry. I got all steamy and verklempt. 

Clint has spent his professional career traveling the world, helping organizations to diminish turnover and create customer loyalty that lasts. He's a leading authority on increasing employee retention work, with thousands of people at all levels of organizations. And launching in April of this year is your new book, I Love it Here — what a great title — based on years of research as The Undercover Millennial. Clint has been on America's Got Talent, in movies with actors, including Jack Black, Jon Heder, I love John Heder. And he also won an Emmy award in 2020 for his storytelling and film directing, flies helicopters in his spare time. You have spare time?

  1. Lee Smith: I was going to say.

Clint Pulver: Not anymore. Not when you're launching a book, all spare time just completely disappears. 

Audrey Strong: Love it. You say you enjoy long walks to the refrigerator. And so welcome to the show and it's great to have you.

Clint Pulver: It's an honor to be here. Thank you for having me on the show. 

Audrey Strong: So, you are a little kid in class and you were drumming on the desk and constantly being hauled down to the principal's office as disruptive. 

  1. Lee Smith: I can relate to that.

Audrey Strong: And once teacher recognized in you, yeah. He said, "I don't think there's anything wrong with you," and called you over to his desk and pulled you out to drumsticks and said, "I think you're a drummer." And that one moment and that one person is all that it takes, right?

Clint Pulver: Totally. Yeah. Mr. Jensen changed my life. He created and designed a moment that communicated my potential, my worth, that I wasn't a problem. I was an opportunity. I was a drummer, and gave me the drumsticks. There was a deal, there was a caveat with that deal. He said, "I want you to keep the drumstick and just promise me you'll keep them in your hands as much as you can." And that was 22 years ago, and so 22 years ago, honestly, I've tried my best to keep my end of that deal. I've traveled and toured and recorded and played drums professionally all over the world. And it just came from a moment of advocacy, not just a moment of development. I think it's an important management trait. It's a relationship trait. It's important in increasing connection.

Audrey Strong: So, how did you get from that moment to becoming an expert in increasing employee retention?

Clint Pulver: Yeah, that's great. Everyone's like, well, okay. So, professional drummer to now increasing employee retention expert, how did that happened? So, five years ago, I was on a mastermind group. We were in New York City, and we were meeting with lots of different CEOs, executives on different levels of how they're running their business, what's working, what's not working. And one of the CEOs owned a large sporting goods chain, and he was talking about how his business had to move and pivot to the new market, and they're on Amazon, and Instagram, and the old brick and mortar mentality of like, just have a business and advertise in the newspaper is dead. And he is like this rough, tough New Yorker, and I'll never forget, he looked at me and he said, "You've got to adapt or you're going to die." It was very — I was like, wow, it's intense. And I agreed with him. 

And then I asked, I said, "What about your management style? Have you had to change how you manage your people today versus how you managed 20 years ago?" And he fired back so quick and he said, no. He said, "The way I manage today is the same way I managed 20 years ago, and we get results." It was another pretty powerful statement. And I remember we were in his store and I looked around and all of his employees were my age or younger, all millennials, gen Z employees. And I just thought, I wonder if they would say the same thing? I wonder if they would have the same perception that this CEO has of his wonderful, great organization? 

So, we thanked him for his time. We all kind of broke. He gave us 35 minutes to go buy swag in the store. He gave us like 60% off. I didn't want any swag, but I had time to kill. And so I went up, I literally just walked up to the first employee that I saw and I just said, "Hey, I'm just curious, what's it like to work here?" And it got kind of quiet, employee looked around. I felt like we're doing some illegal drug exchange. And the employee says, "Do you really want to know?" And I said, "Yeah, I do." He goes, "I can't stand it here. Like, I literally feel like I'm a cog in the wheel. I feel like I'm a number. Honestly, I don't even think management knows I'm here today." And I said, "Well, why do you work here? Why  not go work somewhere else?" And he said, "Oh, I've already applied to three other places." And I'm like, "Okay, well maybe the kid’s having a bad day." 

So I went and I asked another employee, and another, and another, and another. And out of 35 minutes, I had interviewed six of his employees. And at the end of those conversations, five out of those six said they would not be working for this guy and his store in less than three and a half months. And it dawned on me, that was the moment. That was the moment that started this whole research project and our company, the Center for Employee Retention, it was that moment in New York, because I thought, man, what if the manager could hear this? What if the CEO could actually hear the things that they were saying?

And the magic of it is I wasn't a manager. I wasn't somebody in the business. I had my backwards hat on, my Nikes, my joggers. I was literally a customer walking in off the streets, and they told me everything. Everything I got from them was real. It was authentic. And I think sometimes, business, we do company surveys. Let's do a management survey and see how we're doing better. I remember when I was in corporate America, I never answered honestly on those surveys because I was always worried what's on the other side of the survey. They say it's anonymous. I'm going to give a safe answer just in case. Or they do one-​on-​one management meetings.  And if I don't trust you, if I'm not doing okay with you as a manager, I'm probably not going to tell you face-​to-​face how I really feel, but I will go tell another millennial, they will talk to coworkers. 

And so that's what started the Undercover Millennial program. And for the last five years, I partnered with organizations, we've done over 181 companies, and I've interviewed over 10,000 employees undercover. And it's kind of like undercover boss without the makeup. I would go in as a millennial looking for a job and I would just simply ask them, what's it like to work here? 

Audrey Strong: This is so cool. 

Clint Pulver: That opens up the window into what we've researched and what we found.

  1. Lee Smith: Yeah. It's another important lesson for another reason is the fact that if you're trying to prospect for new business, a new clientele, the best way to research is to talk to the rank and file. And ideally too, salespeople, because we like to talk. So, you can talk to another salesperson, whatever, we'll definitely be happy to impress you with all of our knowledge and everything like that and tell you pretty much whatever you want to know. 

But anyway, you can spend a lot of money and you should on category research and what's happening, the trends in the industry and the projections and everything like that, and analysis, all that's very important. But if you really want to get to know the client, go beyond LinkedIn and actually just have some real conversations with real people doing real work.

Clint Pulver: Yeah. And that, I think, it was the power of it. It was the ability to make that connection, but also the magic of the research when I would go up to an employee and I would say, "What's it like to work here?" And an employee would answer with the response, "I love it here. I love my job. I love what I'm doing. I mean our company, what we're building, my manager Susie, you've got to meet Susie. Susie, come here. Hey, you got to take an application, apply." Those type of responses, when they would trend within an organization, that was the magic of everything. Because then we were able to look in and see what was going on, what were great managers, what were great leaders doing to create organizations that people never wanted to leave? And that was powerful. That was — yeah.

  1. Lee Smith: I'm thinking about your research. So, what's the number one reason that you found that people leave the company that they're at?  I'm guessing that Susie's not a part of that equation.

Clint Pulver: Yeah. So, well, here's the thing, management always is number one, right? We found 75% of all turnover can be traced back to management. You're the number one reason why people stay, and you're the number one reason why people leave. The interesting part is we found four different types of managers in every organization. And there's two variables that we would rate these types of managers off of. In every business, every company, you have standards, you have expectations, you have the job responsibilities that need to get done. You're running a business. But on the second side of that, call it soft skills, call it the intangibles, but it is the connection. And my perspective of what I give when I come in and train and work with organizations, is I'm not a leadership guru that's giving my self-​proclaimed leadership expertise or my experiences. What I'm doing is I'm giving you the perspective from your employees, who knew when their leaders were getting it right. And it's unique. It's different in that they talked about connection. They talked about intangibles. They talked about the soft skills that I think sometimes we forget or as management we go, "I'm not here to be people's friends. I give you a paycheck. Be glad you have a job, do your job." But to employees, that matter. So those are the two variables—standards and connection. 

The first manager we saw was what was called the removed manager. They were low on standards. They were low on connection. They were disengaged from the job. They were in the job, but not into the job. So this created disengagement with their employees. The second manager we found was the buddy manager. This is the sales manager that just wants to be everybody's friend. They want to be tight with everybody. They don't want to ruffle feathers. They're afraid to have hard conversations. So they're high on connection, but they're low on standards in development. What did this create? Entitlement, where employees were like, "Oh, come on, Chad. You know I'm late, but we're tight. We're homies. Let's play Xbox on the weekend." We would almost see where — even in the sales world, a sales professional or a sales rep would become more of the sales manager than the sales manager would because they could. And then the third one was the most common, unfortunately, and it's what we call the controller. This is the controlling manager, the old command and control style. I'm not here to be your friend. We're here to sell. We're here to grow. We're here to make quotas. I'm not here to be your buddy. And so they were high on standards, but they were low on connection And what did this create? Rebellion. Rebellion, pushback. These are the managers that kept trying to go toe-​to-​toe with everybody instead of shoulder-​to-​shoulder. But the fourth one, man, you guys, this was the magic. Then this was — every time, just so inspiring. And I will never forget the incredible, what we call mentor managers that we found. And it was the difference between mentorship versus management. So, we call that fourth one, the mentor manager, they were equally high on their ability to connect as they were on their standards. And so what did this create in the workforce? Respect. It was powerful. And there was a reason why we called it mentorship, because it was earned. It was not a title. When an employee hated their job, they hated the manager. But when they loved their job, they loved the mentor, because of who the mentor was. If you look at any great story, right? Luke Skywalker had Obi-​Wan. Frodo, Frodo had Gandalf. Katniss Everdeen, Hunger Games, she had Haymitch. The Genie, Genie and Aladdin. Simba had Mufasa. Rocky.

  1. Lee Smith: Harry Potter. 

Clint Pulver: Yeah. Right. Harry Potter, Rocky had Mick. All of these great mentors that come in and they make the story better. It's because of who the mentor was that the person said, "I like who I am best because I'm with you. And because of who you are, you connect me to my dreams."

Audrey Strong: So, is this something you declare, in a declarative, like, "I'm going to be your mentor"? You say to the employee, "Let's set it up this way and try together" or does it just naturally develop because the leader is saying, I'm going to create the relationship with that framework and let's just see what happens?

  1. Lee Smith: You got to start in the mindset first, you know. The leader's mindset has got to be of mentor, not as manager.

Clint Pulver: Yeah. So, there's five characteristics, that if anybody became that role — because remember, it's not a position that's given. It's not a position that's even declared. It's a position that is earned. And so there's five characteristics. A mentor must have confidence, number one. That's the mindset, confidence. You believe in yourself. You believe in what you're talking about. You believe in your ability to sell a product. It's a mindset. It creates trust. Confidence is number one. The second C is credibility. I want to know what your background is. I want to know what your history is. Have you sold before? What's your history? Have you been in sales for a long time? Credibility matters. The third C is competence. You might know everything about sales, you've read every sales book, but can you actually do it? And have you actually done it? You might know everything about the game of basketball, but can you get out and actually shoot a hoop? Can you do it? Can you do the thing that you're talking about? And then the fourth one is candor, the ability to have honest conversations. Great mentor managers built relationships so strong that they had the ability to bear the weight of truth. So powerful. I want to mentor with somebody who's going to be honest with me. Someone who's not going to blow smoke, right? They're going to tell you what they need to tell you so that you can become better. And then the last one, number five, these are the five Cs of mentorship, is caring. The ability to truly care, to advocate, not just develop. Because everyone of your employees, as a manager, is asking you the question, let me know when it gets to the part about me. And it's not some people listening and they go, "Those entitled little shining stars in my life. 'Let me know when it gets to the part about me.'" And listen, and it's not about entitlement as much as it is about just good business. It's bringing humanity back into the workplace. And we need that, that ability to care. I think the moment we stop caring in management is the moment we fail. 

And so those five C's. You have those five C's, you're well on your way to becoming that. And if you are a CEO or you're an executive and you're listening to this, or maybe you're the head of sales, showcase those five C's of your management to your people. So, if I'm on the sales force and I'm the entry level sales position, and I'm a CEO of a company, first thing I would do is showcase all of my leaders and tell those frontline employees why my team of management are mentors, why they are incredible– 

Audrey Strong: That's a great idea.

Clint Pulver: –why they are competent, why they care about you, they are here to have honest conversations, because that gives the people a reason to listen. It gives them a reason to go, "Okay, you're going to connect me to my dreams. You're worth listening to, and it matters."

  1. Lee Smith: In management, we talk a lot about another C word, which is coaching. How is being a mentor different than being a coach? 

Clint Pulver: Yeah, that's a great question. I think that, again, coaching comes with a title, like you're the coach, you've been given the position of a coach. Mentor, it's not a position. It was just always earned. It was earned through a natural relationship, where people were put together and those five C's naturally were almost needed to be proven, right? They needed to be earned. And a coach, you have really bad coaches, like really bad coaches. They have the title of a coach. You're the basketball coach, but I hate you. I do not like you. I do not respect you. You are the command and control coach. But to really earn the right for someone to call you a mentor, a mentor, you are my mentor, that takes a different level of time and trust. And it carried a different level of power and loyalty. There was a lot of businesses that were like, we have coaches, we have coaches, and they would even call their managers coaches, but they were not mentors. They had had to earn that. That was the difference. That's the biggest difference.

  1. Lee Smith: That one percentage of the people that you've interviewed work for mentor managers as opposed to the other three types? 

Clint Pulver: Yeah. I would say only about 20% in the workforce out of the 10,000 employees that we interviewed, only about 20%. And it was always cool because it stood out, like 100% stood out from what they did. And I look at what they did that was so special, and they were so good at creating moments. Mentor managers were beautiful at designing moments for their people. And it's cool because I know that because employees talked about moments, they didn't talk about days. That's what we remember in life. We remember moments, we don't remember days. And when mentor managers became so good at communicating worth of people, so they would recognize. Everybody wants to be seen, heard and understood. They were able to look at somebody and say, "Okay, this is your worth. I see it and let's recognize that." 

And then second, they had the ability to communicate people's potential, the ability to grow, right? If they can't grow in your company, they will go and grow somewhere else, especially the younger employees. They were beautiful at creating growth development plans, conducting what we call status interviews, the ability to help people to see what they could become in the organization. And then they took all on the role of the mentor to help them get there. Man, it's powerful. 

  1. Lee Smith: Have you done any correlation with the mentor managers and overall productivity at the people you've interviewed? 

Clint Pulver: Yes. So, empowered workforces always create higher productivity, always. And retention rates, I didn't really look at as far as productivity, we focused more on retention. How long have people stayed in this business because you were their manager and because you had attributes of the mentor manager. That was always the most powerful, when you find employees that have been here for 20 years.

  1. Lee Smith: Can you quantify that yet? 

Clint Pulver: We haven't been able to quantify it. I think it would be really cool to do that. I don't have like an actual, like, this is the quantified stat of that. But of the 20% that when we found the mentor managers, the highest percentage of productivity and retention was found within that 20%. There's not a direct correlation like 70% of retention increase because you were a mentor manager. It's just out of all of the employees that we've interviewed, that 20% had the highest retention rates.

Audrey Strong: Our company has several people. And Lee will tell you, they've been here over 20 years, and it's a 31 year old company, something like that. So Lee is definitely a mentor manager work style. How do you recommend that organizations that implement your program, make sure that the wheels don't fly off one, two years from now, and they go back to the old horrible habits?

Clint Pulver: Yeah. It takes consistency. One thing that we found is great mentors, were always being mentored. We can go back to coaching. Do you have a coach? Do you have a mentor? I think we should do whatever it takes to associate with astonishing people doing great things and good businesses that invest in personal development, whether it's reading books, whether it's providing training, coaching, coursework, specific — even a mentorship program within your sales organization, something to keep the main thing, the main thing. How do we maintain the consistency? Growing up, my dad always said I love to wrestle, and every Friday night he would take me out to the wrestling meets. And I was like, "Man, it's Friday night, that's like date night. That's hang out with friends night. Dad, why are we going to watch the wrestles?" And I'll never forget when he said, "Clint, if you want to be great at wrestling, you got to hang out by the mat." And it's the same thing with basketball, right? You want to be good at basketball? Hang out by the hoop. And I think in mentorship, in management, we should do the same thing. So, any great mentor manager we found, they were always being mentored by another great mentor manager. They had somebody else that was helping them along the way. Very few mentor managers, the real truly significant ones, just I don't know any that just became that on their own. It's always a combination of other powerful mentors behind every great mentor, always. 

  1. Lee Smith: I've heard you say that every employee possesses secret powers within them. What are they?

Clint Pulver: Well, here's the thing, at first off, I would say that the quicker and the faster we can get away from the generational stereotypes, the better we are as managers. 

  1. Lee Smith: Yeah. Millennials take the brunt of that one, don't they? 

Clint Pulver: They do. And it drives me crazy. I am a millennial but now you're starting to see it with gen Z. Now everybody's coming out with, oh, here's a new Forbes article on why gen Z is going to disrupt the world, and why gen Z, you got to watch out. They're sketchy. It just it kills me. And then what happens is unfortunately, some managers buy into it. Some companies buy into it and they go, no, because you were born during this time in life, you are going to be this way. And we're going to treat you this way, because I've read in three different books and articles that because of how old you are, I need to treat you this way. It kills me, and it destroys an organization. We're looking at people as a generation instead of looking at people as people. Now, are there millennials that are entitled and lackluster and not the greatest employees? Yes, yes, there are. But are there millennials that are rock stars and amazing employees and dedicated and loyal? You bet. 

  1. Lee Smith: We have a few here. I've seen it firsthand. 

Audrey Strong: Yeah.

Clint Pulver: Yeah. And crazy to me, I will meet with managers and leaders, and all I constantly hear is, "I'll never hire millennials. I'll never hire millennials. I can't stand millennials." I get it, they've been burnt a few times. They've had some bad apples. But in their mind, they look at everybody as a generation. And so that would be my first thing is start looking at them as people and ask them, every person is an individual, and they've all come from a different background. They have a different perspective, a life philosophy, whatever you want to call it. And it's your job to recognize that, to see that, and to grow that potential individually. There's like that mantra of "If you feed a man a fish, then you feed him for a day. But if you can teach a man to fish, then you feed him for a lifetime." Every time I hear that, I go, who said the guy wanted a fish? 

  1. Lee Smith: Maybe he wants a burger.

Audrey Strong: I've never asked that question. 

Clint Pulver: He might not want a fish. I'm not a fish guy. I don't know. The point is, ask them, talk to them, create those relationships, where you're catering to an individual not a generation. I think it's important. 

Audrey Strong: We're pretty much out of time. I know this episode is scheduled for April, and your book comes out in April. So, call to action, everybody, what's in the book and go get it. And by the way, it's clintpulver​.com.

Clint Pulver: Yeah. Thank you. The book is titled, I Love it Here: How Great Leaders Create Organizations Their People Never Want to Leave. And it is the combination of the four years of research as The Undercover Millennial, all put into a book. It's been the hardest thing I've ever done in my life. I will never write another book ever again but we are so darn proud of it. And I'm excited to see the good that it will do.

Audrey Strong: Well, congratulations on it. And this has been very informative, and I personally feel very lucky that I have a mentor-​leader now, even more appreciative. So, even when he makes it — when you're hard on me, Lee, so it's good. 

Clint Pulver: You never forget the good ones. That's what's cool about it, you don't forget the Mr. Jensens. It's a powerful thing. 

Audrey Strong: Thanks, Clint. This has been great. 

Clint Pulver: You're welcome, you guys. I appreciate it.


Thanks for listening. If you enjoyed the show, please rate and recommend on iTunes, Overcast or wherever you get your podcast. You can also get more great information at SalesFuel​.com.

This podcast on increasing employee retention is a part of the C‑Suite Radio Network. For more top business podcasts, visit c‑