“It’s not you, it’s me.”
This is what many managers hear when great talent walks out the door. The problem is, a lot of the time they are lying.
Jim had ten people leave his five-person team within three years.
It was easy to understand. Jim’s boss, Robert, prohibited the team’s staff from being full-time due to budget constraints, so they were all hired as contractors.
High performers, even moderate performers, were leaving the team on a regular basis for other, more promising work. With the staff turnover Jim was constantly training new staff and doing all of the “heavy lifting” while new staff got up to speed.
“Pissed” is a mild way to describe how Jim felt towards Robert since this was the sole reason why he couldn’t move forward on his objectives. At least that is how Jim saw things.
While all of Jim’s employees left for “better opportunities,” a deeper look revealed that other departments, with similar constraints, were not bleeding employees at the same rate.
No matter what the root cause, a high departure rate eventually will look bad on the manager. Gossip travels, it travels fast, and when employees jump like lemmings, the gossip is never positive for the manager.
Emily was fed up with her boss, Tony, and left an excellent organization where she had planned to stay for many more years.
Emily and Tony rarely saw eye-to-eye on initiatives. He would give her authority to make decisions, then change his mind. From time to time he was condescending towards her in large meetings.
That management style was not okay for Emily, a highly educated, seasoned professional. Emily was prepared to have an honest discussion with Tony, but in the exit interview Tony never asked her why she was leaving. He simply said, “I hope you like your new job,” assuming he knew why she was leaving.
No benefit to burning bridges
When employees leave, there is almost never a benefit for telling the truth about their departure. They need positive referrals and know it is best to leave on good terms, or at least without making them worse.
What drove them to really look for another job? You may never know the truth.
When an employee is leaving, ask them what they enjoyed and what could be done better on the team.
This shouldn’t be the first time you have this conversation. It should happen at every review period (at least twice a year), in addition to the exit interview.
Never assume you know the answer. Even if you think you know the answer, even if you are scared of the answer, even if you don’t care what the answer is, ask. You are more likely to discover the root case if you actively seek the answer.
Look at the facts
It is one thing if your company is going bankrupt and there is a mass exodus of employees company-wide. It is another story if it is just the people who work for you.
If you have employees leaving at a fast rate, faster than other departments in your organization, then it is about you – no matter what excuse you make.
Control the gossip
When people are jumping ship, you know there will be gossip. The gossip will be about you. Take your head out of the sand, get out into your networks and 1. find out what the gossip is, and 2. control its impact on your reputation.
You may need to grow your leadership skills or get rid of a bad apple that is spoiling the team experience.
Either way, you must OWN it. This is your team and all team issues are your responsibility.
Take a deep breath, look inside, and know that you can turn this around if you have the courage to face the truth.
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