People join companies. They leave managers.
Vern Harnish, founder of Young Entrepreneurs’ Organisation, author of Scaling Up: How Few Companies Make it… and Most Don’t
Recently I listened to a former work colleague lament the steady stream of experienced long-term employees leaving. The managing director said it was because they did not like the new business owners: my former work colleague blamed poor management.
While both may be right, the evidence indicates that people tend to leave because their boss isn’t doing a good enough job of managing and leading. If you are losing employees, it’s time to ask some tough questions: are you, or are your managers, doing everything possible to keep your good people in the business?
Could you possibly do more?
Of course, some labour turnover is inevitable, and a certain level is actually healthy; it provides opportunity for new people, new energy, new ideas and new skills to come to the organisation. But such a modest level of turnover will happen all by itself. It’s when you have more good people leaving than you can easily explain that you need to ask the hard questions.
As managers of people, we need to be constantly conscious of how our behaviour and performance affect our people. In my working life, I know I never left a job because of the company; it was always because of my manager. Indeed, I got so heartily sick of working for bad managers that I eventually went into running my own business, just so that I could have more control over my working life. (Some might say I’m still working for an idiot. But at least I have no-one else to blame!)
Frustrations Of Working For Bad People Managers
As a young graduate, I was thrown into the role of personnel officer in a steelworks department. I’d been forced onto the mill superintendent because of his terrible record of industrial conflict and appalling workplace relationships. His very first words to me? “I don’t want you here, son. I could spend your salary in better ways.”
Perhaps you can imagine the atmosphere in the department. His managers, supervisors and staff hated him: he was rude, uncommunicative, moody and difficult. I witnessed him singlehandedly cause a labour strike by abusing staff. Funnily enough, nothing was ever his fault. He seemed to be surrounded by incompetence and backsliding wherever he went.
Another of my managers spent most of his time checking that his subordinates’ petty cash and phone bills were correct, to the last cent. This was, it seemed, more important than visiting customers, developing his managers or building the business.
The final straw came when the business was in the process of attempting to purchase a competitor. As always, he was too busy to discuss the negotiation strategy and, as a sign of complete incompetence, he did not even bring a pen to the final negotiations. Years later, he was dismissed. I, of course, had left the business long before that happy day, as had anyone with any ambition or self-respect.
Why Good People Leave
So, what causes good employees to quit? The problem, in a word, is managers, not always, but generally. It is seldom the employee, the quality of the workforce or even the nature of the work itself that cause employees to quit.
Do managers deliberately set out to be poor people managers? Of course not. Well, hardly ever.
The fact is, many managers have never been taught the art of developing people and being a leader. Often, they know no better – and, in many organisations, surviving means mimicking your old boss or their superiors.
In my experience there are three main reasons why you see good people leaving organisations. Surprisingly, salaries and conditions don’t make the list!
1. LACK OF RECOGNITION
If an employee’s contributions are not recognised, is it any wonder they feel under-appreciated and even used? As a manager, never underestimate the power of praise and recognising a job well done. While top performers are normally self-motivated, it’s a bad mistake to take their drive for granted.
Recently I was helping a business owner recruit a new sales person, who said one reason he’d left his previous employer was lack of recognition. Not money, not material reward, just lack of being noticed.
Any good salesperson thrives on stroking, as you’d expect of someone who spends most of their day getting told ‘No.’ Sales commission matters, of course, but the amount matters less than you’d expect. Most of its benefit comes from the sales person simply feeling appreciated.
2. LACK OF INTEREST
When a manager simply does not care about their subordinates, it’s obvious to everyone. Research shows that more than half of people who leave their jobs do so because of their relationship with their boss. If you don’t show an interest in your people, why would you expect them to care about doing well for the business, let alone for you?
3. FAILURE TO KEEP PROMISES
When managers don’t honour their commitments, their people are already working out how to leave. Honesty and integrity are vital to a business – after all, if you found one of your people lacking in either of these qualities, you’d be asking serious questions, wouldn’t you? So you need to say what you mean and mean what you say. If you say you’ll do something, then do it. Keeping your word tells your employee everything he or she needs to know about the type of person you are and if they can trust you.
Other Reasons For Good People Leaving
There are other reasons why people leave organisations, of course. If they feel they’re not growing nor being challenged, that’s often enough to get your employees looking up Seek. If they see others getting away with unacceptable behaviour, they tend to ask themselves why they’d go to the trouble of doing the right thing if that doesn’t seem to be what’s required. And if they have ambition, they’re likely to want to go where their quality is noticed and appreciated.
When you do finally get rid of someone who’s consistently underperforming and shows no signs of wanting to improve, you get two benefits: you lose the poor performer, and you improve morale for everyone else. (As soon as you’ve done it, as messy and unpleasant as it is, you’ll be kicking yourself for having taken so long.)
If all else fails, remember: as business advisor and motivational speaker Donn Carr says,
People work for people – they do not work for businesses.