Why your best employees leave you

Employee retention is tough and losing a great employee is a terrible thing.

It’s expensive, of course, to find and hire and train a good replacement.

More than that, sometimes fear and uncertainty set in with the folks who remain; often the team who worked with this person tends to slow down while they figure each other out.

Usually it means someone else carries the load for this role, until you find a replacement — that seldom means they get to give their best and it seldom means the organization receives the best.

Sure, sometimes there’s a good reason that really is out of your control for why good employees leave. Maybe there were personal reasons, career goals that couldn’t be met or something came along that was just too good to pass up.

But they’re not the ones I’m talking about. I’m talking about the times where good employees leave and you wonder if you could have done something more…

Keeping your best employees starts with understanding why people leave. Here are some of the top reasons:

You’ve got the wrong motivators

I’ve managed people most of my career and I’ve worked in teams all my life.

If you had asked me five years ago what motivates someone at work I probably would have told you, “having a good salary,” maybe, “having a spiffy title,” and of course, who doesn’t think a big bonus is motivating at the end of the year?

As a leader of people, I had learned about motivating with “carrots and sticks” but in my gut, I knew that it was too simplistic and my own experience of managing people started to disprove that theory.

Some of you may have read a book called Drive, The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us by Daniel Pink. The book talks about the evolution of motivation from survival instincts, to carrot and sticks, to its latest form, what the author calls Motivation 3.0, which replaces carrots and sticks with values and purpose.

What was most interesting for me was the proof that carrot and sticks don’t work, especially in work that is complex, or requires creativity or problem solving. Pink’s work demonstrates that the short-term financial motivators actually reduce creativity, and foster very short-term thinking at the expense of long term results.

In reality what he found was what really motivates people is:

  1. Autonomy
  2. Mastery
  3. Purpose

People want to be in control of their own lives, be continually improving, and to be working on something that matters.

Disconnected from the Big Picture

In other words, good employees leave when they find themselves not aligned with the company vision.

First of all, the company vision has to be more than profit-based to get folks excited about contributing. Assuming it is, it also has to be clearly shared with everyone. And, most importantly folks have to see how their role connects to and delivers on the vision. (i.e. Purpose, from Pink’s book).

According to the Gallup Q12 Employee Engagement Survey; which has been around nearly 20 years and has surveyed over 25 million people, one of the 12 essential needs identified by staff is a clear understanding of how one’s particular job contributes to the company’s “reason for being.”

This can be a powerful form of emotional compensation.

No Development or Poor Feedback

Coming back to Pink’s point about Mastery – people want to get good at what they’re doing and they need feedback to assure and to guide them.

We know different people have different needs, some will need more feedback than others but if you find yourself thinking, “She knows how much I appreciate her,” or, “He’s doing what’s required of his job, I don’t have to acknowledge that,” or worse, if you’re thinking you have a problem with an employee and hoping it will fix itself without you saying anything to them, you’re definitely not giving enough feedback and you’re probably at risk of losing good people.

The good ones need to know they’re appreciated and how their skills are contributing to a greater success. The strugglers need help to meet expectations.

And, perhaps less obvious – if someone continues to not meet expectations, you as leader must make the tough decisions. In part because good workers won’t stay where they see poor performers allowed to coast.

Their Career Path Isn’t Clear

Not everyone wants to climb the corporate ladder. Not everyone wants to manage people.

Taking time to learn from your staff what they want out of their career (and possibly coaching them to figure it out, if they don’t know) is the first step in a critical two-part process. Too often we assume we know what someone wants out of their career, or we don’t even think about it and leave it entirely to them.

The second step is then helping them see how they can achieve their aspirations in your organization.

Sure, everyone has to take responsibility for their own career, but if you don’t engage and take an interest, don’t be surprised if they feel they have to leave to advance their goals.

Co-workers are Making Them Crazy

As a reader of this blog and adept people-focused leader, you’re probably well aware of how different things motivate different people and hopefully you’ve been able to use that knowledge to adapt how you engage with different staff and colleagues.

But, have you helped your team to learn those skills? When people with different personality types and/or different behaviour types have to work well together, or simply have to work closely together, frustrations can erupt.

Helping your team to adapt to each other, to develop strong emotional intelligence and to learn about how different folks see the world, and how those differences can be helpful, is essential. When a strong and capable employee is struggling because they seemingly can’t get along with a colleague, you run the risk of losing good talent simply because they haven’t yet developed their relationship skills.

Help them get there with our Golden Rule Program for teams.

You’re Making Them Crazy

There’s an often-quoted adage – “People quit their boss, not their job.”

I’m sure most of us, at some point, when losing an employee have wondered, “Was it something I said?” I haven’t scientifically polled that adage, but I know from working with a lot of leaders and from leading a lot of people in my own career, it’s true a lot of the time.

Maybe it’s because they feel overloaded by the work you assign them, or they feel micro-managed, or you’re absent and they don’t get the input they need. Or worse, they feel bullied or embarrassed. If it’s any of those things, now’s the time to work on it.

Grab a mentor, hire a coach, find someone on your team or among your colleagues who can be brutally honest with you and will point out challenges and help you with them.

Coach’s Questions

Which of the things we’ve talked about might be happening in your organization? And, what are you going to do, starting right now, to do something about it before you lose any more good people?

How to approach failure intelligently

Let’s all just get on board with failure, shall we?

We’ve talked about it before — as leaders, we often feel a pressure to be flawless. To get it right the first time and, if we do have flaws, to cover them as best we can.

However, that’s not only a nearly impossible ideal, it’s not serving our own development or our team’s.

Failure is GOOD. It means you’re trying new things, you’re testing, you’re optimizing and you’re growing.

We learn lessons. We try, we fail, we get up, we try again. We act, measure, evaluate, repeat. We iterate.

Whether is a new communication approach with your team, a new project or technology, or a new format for meetings – you can’t improve anything without trial and error.

Once we accept that failing is not only a part of our journey but IMPERATIVE to success, it might change our thinking, it might make us more courageous and, from what I’ve seen with some of our clients, it might lead to much greater success!  Oh, the irony.

In other words, the faster we fail, the faster we get back up and make something or do something even better.

So, if all that’s true how can we fail fast and fail intelligently to bounce back as fast and smart as possible?

Shift your perspective about failure

Instead of avoiding failure like the plague, shift the narrative in your mind.

When you try something new that doesn’t quite work out, instead of seeing it as a failed attempt, consider it, instead, an iteration.

“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
– Thomas A. Edison

An iteration is a point closer to success than the previous attempt. That is a very different than starting from scratch. A failure doesn’t mean you’re starting from scratch, a failure means you’re starting again with so much more knowledge now, than the last time.

Shift your perspective to embrace iterations.

Be transparent

Get your team, and your boss, on board with your attempts to improve. Let them know you’re trying something new and why. Share the lessons and be open with your rationale.

This not only sets you up for the next step to seek input but it also fosters a culture of openness and the lessons can be learned across your team.  You don’t want to be the only one learning from a failure.

Another way to ensure transparency is to build a step into your communications protocol that keeps people in the loop when tackling new projects. This ensure that others have access to the actions you’re taking and what’s working and what isn’t so that they can learn as you go.

Perhaps it’s as simple as a weekly project update that includes one win and one challenge from the project.

Seek Input

Providing transparency is an awesome first step to involving your team in intelligent failure but seeking input is equally as important. This may result in even faster, smarter lessons and iterations if you can leverage the experience and expertise on your team.  It’s the old adage, “two minds are better than one.”

Letting people know what you’re trying and what is working and what isn’t is one thing but seeking input may allow insight that you may not otherwise be able to tap into. Sometimes those with a little distance from a project may see things in a different way.

As well, input allows people to feel involved and invested. Win-win!

Measure your trials

One key to failing intelligently, is to make notes of what worked and what didn’t. Record the lesson(s) learned so they stick with you and can easily be shared. Make sure you have systems in place to capture all your hard work, to measure it, so that you can evaluate it objectively. You’ll make smarter iterations.

Try a one-page project summary document with the key goals, strategies, and actions and include space to reflect on what did or didn’t work and why.

Coach’s Questions:

What systems will you put in place to capture the lessons from your iteration? What have you been putting off because of a fear of failure?

Flexing your coaching muscle

Why your best advice isn’t working

Can we start by acknowledging something right away? You and I are well-trained, highly experienced advice-giving machines. Am I right?

You’re an encyclopedia of technical solutions, a fountain of solutions to assist others.  I’ll bet over your career you’ve been trained, encouraged and even rewarded for providing advice.

You know at one point in my career my job title was actually “Advisor” so, I know where you’re coming from. Quite likely throughout your career, having ideas, sharing them, and helping others implement them has been valued and important.

And I’m not suggesting you completely stop that, particularly when you’re managing expectations and information for those senior to you. But, putting all that effort into developing our mental muscles around giving advice has caused us to overlook our other muscles, especially when it comes to helping colleagues and staff.

Back in the day, when I used to frequent the gym (which I acknowledge was far too long ago), I would see a lot of young guys who worked out their chest and arms excessively, proudly building up that hulk-like upper body (and yes, it was usually guys, women at the gym were much wiser about their approach).

In so many cases, these young guys ignored their legs and ended up looking like a popsicle — a big upper body on two little stick legs. Our advice giving is a bit like that, and I’ll explain how in a moment.

So why is giving lots of advice bad for us?

Well, first, think of all the advice you’ve been given over your lifetime. How much of it was not that helpful? Perhaps you knew it was good advice but you couldn’t seem to implement it? Or it was advice that, at one time had helped the advice-giver, but wasn’t helping you? Maybe your situation was just a little bit different. Or, maybe your comfort level is different from theirs and that advice isn’t going to work for you? You can start to see a bit of the problem with giving advice.

Hurting Ourselves

By defaulting to advice-giving with our colleagues and staff we are spending a lot of our work time solving others’ problems. That probably leads to overwhelm from time to time as you try to accomplish your own responsibilities while carrying theirs too. Also, your team is learning to rely on you to contribute solutions.

As well, the more we get used to giving advice, the less we tend to ask for it. You may be isolating yourself and limiting the input you receive when you make decisions. Perhaps on top of it all, we’re feeding an unhealthy need to feel important or needed. Where might you be able to better focus that energy?

Hurting Others

At the same time that we’re not doing ourselves any favours, we’re also extracting a cost from the people we give advice to. We’re not helping them build a comfort level with their own problem solving skills which builds a cycle of doubt and reliance. That means they’re not only dependent on you and not fulfilling their own potential, but it probably also means you’re becoming a bottleneck in decision-making processes.

And, if you have become isolated, your advice might not be as worldly and wise as you think it is — and these other folks are relying on it.

So that’s all rather disheartening isn’t it? What’s the alternative? What are some of those leg muscles we’ve been overlooking? (See I told you that metaphor would make sense in a moment).

One of the best ideas as we seek to move away from giving advice to others is to start using a coach-approach with them.

A Coach Approach

A coach-approach is based on using open-ended, curiosity based, thoughtful questions to help others draw out their own solutions.

You likely know that our team at Padraig are Certified Executive Coaches. Coaching is based on a neuroscience approach of engaging the mind to find new pathways.

Using neuroimaging, doctors and researchers have shown that when someone is given advice, very little changes in their brain activity. But, when you ask a good open-ended question, their brain activity actually changes. Being asked a question forces our brain to digest the inquiry and to begin working on an answer.

Taking that idea and building it into your role as manager, leader or colleague could look like this:

When an employee, or colleague, or client comes to you with a question, enter the conversation with something like — How can I help? Simple, open ended.

Continue that approach to peel back layers. For example, if they say, “you could help me solve this” try something like “what would the ideal solution look like to you?”

Or, “How would things be better if we solve this — can you describe to me what has changed, and what it would look like?”

It may feel odd at first but moving toward open-ended questions and being really truly genuinely curious about their answers yields incredible results.

Tip: Try to avoid leading questions that head toward the advice you want to give. What might happen if you did it this way?” is indeed an open-ended question, but it’s leading them to your solution.

Think of yourself as peeling back layers of the issue or the problem for them, helping them to figure out what’s at the core. It’s there that they’ll quite likely have an ah-ha moment and find their solution.

A coach approach is one tool in the toolbox for a good leader. You won’t use it in every situation.  For example, when you have a clear project goal that must be delivered by a specific date by Jane, then it’s best to be clear and directive in assigning the task to Jane — that’s not coaching and the situation didn’t call for it.

BUT, if Jane then comes to ask your assistance in how to deliver the goal on time — perhaps that’s an opportunity for a coach approach.

The Coach’s Questions

Take a moment to think about who on your team is struggling with a project or goal. How are you going to use a coach approach with them, today or tomorrow, to advance their success?

Who have you given advice to in the last week who might benefit from exploring alternatives? What can you do to help them with that?

If you’re interested in how a coach approach can help leaders throughout your organization achieve more great things with their teams, give me a call. We have a fantastic, short, program that helps build a coach approach into the leadership toolkit for everyone on your leadership team.