People Don’t Leave Companies, They Leave Managers

by | June 8, 2011

Our guest blog post comes from Julia Robinson, Managing Partner of Steller Solutions, a Seattle-area consultancy that helps clients implement changes that produce rapid bottom line results, allowing their business to beat out the competition while using fewer resources.

“People don’t leave companies, they leave managers,” a colleague and mentor recently shared with me. The more I thought about that, the more I realized how true that is. Oftentimes those exiting employees can point to the specific conversation that triggered their decision to leave their companies. Here are just a few that have been shared with me. “No, you may not participate in that activity that would provide development for you and visibility for the company. You are paid to be available.” This individual was driven and independent. What he heard was, “we don’t value your development or see potential for you to have increased responsibility or advancement here.” This individual promptly developed his plan for going out on his own and left the company shortly thereafter. Management’s shortsightedness, of only seeing his current value to the company and ignoring his potential future value, cost them a valuable member of their team. Here’s another one, “You’re closer to being fired then promoted.” If this was meant to spur the employee on to increased performance, it backfired. The employee was shocked to not be recognized for the gains that had been made, and found the one sided criticism to be unfounded when lined up with the facts. The employee at the receiving end of that comment immediately started a job search and shortly after left the company for a significantly better job, much to the great surprise of the manager. This one is a bit trickier… “That’s great that you successfully completed that project that saved the company millions. If we would have hired an outside firm to help us with that, we would have had a six figure bill.” The employee’s internal response was, “I’m underpaid and undervalued by my company for the contribution I bring. Maybe I should be out on my own doing this, and get paid what I’m worth.” He valued monetary advancement and saw his manager’s comment as an indication that his current situation wouldn’t provide that. And that comment may cost the company a valuable and talented employee. So to help you managers out there, I’ve provided a few tips to help you avoid some common pitfalls that cause good employees to leave. Have clarity on the direction you’re driving your organization. Make sure every employee is aware what results they are accountable for and how it supports the company’s overall objectives. Organizations that are getting things done are fun to work in. Be a resource for your people. Ask yourself, “What does this employee need from me to do her/his job better?” If an employee needs support or development to better do their job, providing that opportunity can pay off big in your employees’ productivity and your company’s bottom line. Say what you mean and mean what you say – always. Give thought ahead of time to what you will say in one-on-one mentoring and team meetings. Managers that “shoot from the hip” often say things that come out wrong, are misunderstood, or are just plain not helpful. And when you say something stupid (it happens)… apologize. Don’t worry; they already know you’re not perfect and they’ll respect you for being authentic. Then, clarify and say what you should have said. Know your people – what makes them tick, what drives them, what inspires them, what will turn them off. Talent assessments are an easy and powerful way to have insights on the strengths of your people, effective ways to manage them, and pitfalls to avoid in managing them. Look for ways to match up their job with their passions and strengths. Think “Sandwich”, when providing helpful criticism. Good – Bad – Good… Tell your employee what you see that they are doing right. Follow that with what you would like them to work on and perhaps do some brainstorming with the employee on ways to improve or have them come up with an action plan. End with affirmation on their value to the organization and your commitment to their development and success. Managers play a critical role and can be the make it or break it factor in keeping your best people. Having managers that are skilled at motivating, communicating and tapping into the individual strengths of their employees are critical to keep your best employees. Otherwise your best employees will be walking out the door… or worse, walking across the street to work for your competitor.