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Employees don’t leave organisations, they leave Managers.

I have recently been coaching an exceptionally talented individual who believes that she wants a change of career. However, as our coaching sessions have progressed it has become clear that it may not necessarily be a career, but a change of line manager that she needs.

Line management responsibilities should come with a warning – employees leave managers not organisations, so treat your people well or face the consequences.  In most cases, employee turnover occurs, not due to individuals becoming disheartened by company policies and practices but because of the poor relationship with their line manager.  The lack of recognition, growth opportunities, feedback, concern for them as individuals – the list continues.

Unfortunately, individual experiences often lead to organisations being personified and labelled because of the inactions of a particular manager. When employees have exit interviews, they are often reluctant to disclose the real reason for leaving, citing better career prospects and pay, which means that offending managers remain in post contributing to the company’s turnover statistics.

In First Break all the Rules: what the world’s greatest managers do differently, Marcus Buckingham and Curt Coffman confirm that high salaries or great benefits are not enough to retain employees.  Instead it’s the relationship with the line manager that is key.

So what exactly makes a poor manager bad?  I think it’s a host of the small things that add up rather than being one domineering trait.  Good leadership is difficult to quantify but when it’s absent, all sorts of employee relations challenges emerge.  Organisations who fail to hold their managers accountable for retention do so at their peril.  If the emphasis is constantly on increasing revenue, increasing productivity or market share it should not come as surprise that retaining talented individuals is going to be the next challenge.

Employees have a choice every day in how they approach their work and whom they work for.  Getting your line managers to think more critically about how they create trusting relationships with their employees is crucial.

Therefore, the obvious solution therefore seems to keep valuable employees satisfied and productive by addressing issues before they contemplate leaving. If you are not yet to convinced then perhaps the next few pointers, from an employee’s perspective, may help your managers to succeed:

  • Help employees feel important (more than once a year). By agreeing and setting stretching but realistic annual objectives that are reviewed frequently throughout the year, individuals will start to understand how their contribution aids the overall performance of the organization.  Once employees understand this and feel appreciated and recognised, great things start to happen.   For starters, performance improves and discretionary effort doubles.
  • Engage and connect. Building lasting relationships takes time. Granted, in demanding operational environments few managers have the time to have coffee and donut meetings.  But by utilizing the skills and talents of team members and delegating tasks to provide opportunities for growth, it should free up some time for having the one to one discussions.
  • Help people grow. A 2011 study by Bersin & Associates showed that while 70% of organizations claim they coach their employees, only 11% of senior leaders actively participate in coaching. And more than that, companies with senior leaders who coach, develop, and hold others accountable for coaching and development are three times more effective at producing improved business and talent results. Find opportunities to provide stretching assignments or projects for the people in your team who are ready, and you will not be disappointed.
  • Watch their backs. When people feel that they are not getting the support they need or have the resources to succeed, alternative job offers become attractive.   Understanding, comprehensively, individual needs and ensuring people have the right tools for their job, will ensure that individuals have a sense of meaning and professional worth.
  • Create camaraderie. When managers see individuals as complete, in other words, understanding that they have families, hobbies and passions outside of work, they start to build camaraderie within their team.  These foundations lead to a friendly working environment that is both welcoming and inclusive and people feel energized.  As a consequence, people start to bring all their skills and talents to work and readily help to accomplish team objectives.
  • Keep talking. Genuine two-way communication is important.  It influences the employee’s perception of the manager’s credibility and their entire experience of the workplace.  By taking the time to ensure employees have the information they need to succeed and understand business decisions (even if they do not agree with them) they will start to feel a sense of fairness and your credibility as a manager will be enhanced.

The journey of retaining people starts with your line managers – they are key to keeping valuable and talented employees.   If you are unsure where to focus your attention, start by doing things differently – perhaps consider asking your line managers what support they need from you and the leadership team and then take it from there.

In parting, this quote by Jim Goodnight, CEO of SAS, summarises what I believe all managers and leaders should focus on – “ninety five percent of my assets drive out the front gate every evening.  It’s my job to bring them back”.