10 Ways to Lose a Great Employee
If you’re a good (or even just halfway decent) manager or leader then you probably already know most of this, but it is worthwhile to remind ourselves of them now and again. Enough with the preliminaries; here’s my list – what would you add or remove to this?
1. Be dishonest.
Yes, #1 on the list is dishonesty. I don’t need a scientific study or a survey to tell me this so you will not see one cited by me, though I suspect it is out there somewhere. Integrity matters. Most good employees – and all great ones – have integrity. So, lying to them, to their coworkers, or to customers / suppliers is sure to turn them off. Over-billing a client, ripping off a supplier, bending the rules, cooking the books, and even just “little white lies” are all sure to catch the private ire of those employees who can best help you and your organization succeed. Don’t think they don’t notice; they DO.
2. Don’t say “Thank you.”
It’s a small thing, but it really does make a difference. Even small gestures of appreciation, complements on good work, acknowledging that someone stayed late / came in early / went the extra mile help keep talented people motivated and engaged. A small gift card, permission to leave early for the day or work from home the day before a holiday (if work is getting completed), a kind word, an email, all of these things cost very little but go a long way. I suggest making a point of doing them. People care if someone notices when they are doing a good job. I occasionally cook a special hot lunch, personally, for my team when the team has achieved something significant or completed an important project; other folks around the office are jealous and my team seems to love it. They have even started asking what they will get for lunch when they finish an important team goal. (My team: If you read this, feel free to comment on this point especially.)
3. Forget the values that made your organization a success.
I’ve been part of organizations that truly lived their core values (and even years later can recite them by heart, because they were so prominent). We all knew what they were.We all agreed they were important, or at least accepted them as such. The leadership talked about them, and everything we did as a company HAD to align to them. I left an organization once after it forgot its values and stopped talking about them because it wasn’t long before the entity had lost its way. I have also been in companies that barely even mention their values – and really, what that says is, “Our core value is to make more money for our owners, whatever it takes.” Not exactly compelling, but that’s what is being conveyed.If that’s what you’re really all about, you may as well admit it, there is nothing wrong with making money. When I build a team, I am very explicit about my expectations and the team culture, and then we review the key elements of that together from time to time.
4. Don’t take time to listen (to their concerns).
Good people almost always actually want what is best for the organization. They may have differing opinions on what that is, but they can be passionate, even fiery about it.If you’re dismissive of their concerns, when raised, you’re headed down the road to losing top performing people. Even if you can’t change a policy or a decision, you may be able to adjust how it is implemented to optimize the situation based on the concerns that your talented people raise. Just what kind of weak, arrogant, incompetent, narcissistic leader doesn’t want to hear this, anyhow?
5. Ignore their personal and professional development.
Note that there are two dimensions to this – professional development (technical skills, industry knowledge, expertise, professional certifications, formal training, etc.) and personal development. I would include leadership skills, street-smarts, maturity, self-awareness, EQ, general health and well being all as part of this.Leaders only follow stronger leaders, so if you want to keep current or future leaders, be sure you are mentoring them. Let them learn from your own life experience; telling good stories from your experience can be a great way to do this. Help them become better professionals – and better people. They will appreciate this beyond measure. Additionally, don’t delude yourself into thinking that their career growth is their problem. It isn’t; it is your problem so make a point of investing in it and top notch people will likely repay you for this with good work.
6. Don’t be selective who you hire in the first place.
We all know that hiring people who really fit and are highly talented is tough. We know that the repercussions of a bad hire are awful for everyone. Make sure people really will fit into your organization. I have found that the recruiting process is often commensurate with the organization and role. The better (and more prestigious) the entity and higher profile the role, the tougher the recruiting process often seems – and it should be. Let’s face it, a half hour “get to know you”, or even an hour isn’t really enough to get to know a prospective employee well enough to make a truly informed decision. I am privileged to be part of a company that does a very thorough job of screening people before they get in the door, and it shows. Talented people often don’t mind a tough (within reason) selection process because they are usually competitive people who thrive on challenge. Invest the time needed to really explore what makes a person tick before you hire them. Oh, and by the way, talented people want to be around other talented people.
Do I really need to go here? Yes, unfortunately. Though we all know better than this, don’t we? Sadly, I’ve seen way too much of it. It’s not just classical micromanagement either. I’ve seen truly exceptional people who excelled in their role end up with their jobs “dumbed-down” to cater to the lowest common denominator, and to the point they were no longer challenged or motivated. Needless to say, it wasn’t long before they were looking for an opportunity somewhere else.
8. Set the bar low.
Great people will get discouraged and either leave or adapt to mediocrity if that is what they perceive is deemed acceptable. I’ve seen mediocrity accepted, rewarded, applauded, and even promoted! The impact of this on team morale (and on the highest performing team members) was palpable. Set the bar high and then become a cheerleader – even if people don’t make it over the high bar, point out how high the bar was set and how high people did get, and celebrate the success they did have at the right level. They may just make it over that high bar the next time.
9. Be cold and uncaring (to them and to their coworkers).
People are human. Why do we seem to forget this so often? They have personal struggles, ambitions, families, crises, etc. One of my favorite bosses from the past was a gentleman who knew my wife’s name, my son’s name, my dog’s name, and more. I met both of his kids and I had met his wife before started working for him (they took my family out for dinner and I still remember the place). He didn’t go beyond appropriate boundaries, but I really knew he cared about me as an employee and as a person (note #5, above).He was personable and when I needed a friend, a true mentor, someone I could go to with a problem, a “dad” type figure. I knew I could talk to him and he’d help me out however he could. He got a lot of loyalty from me in return. I should also point out that talented people watch how you treat other people, not just themselves, and they take note of it.
10. The “usual” things (under-pay them, intrude into their personal lives, harassment, etc.)
Yes, the “usual” things will usually get a good person out of your organization as fast as they can possibly find an opportunity elsewhere. Incredibly, I’ve seen organizations under-pay very good people. One executive even said to me, in private, “Well, just what are they going to do? Leave? They have no place to go. The (job) market is poor.” This was his way of rationalizing, those many years ago, reduced bonuses for a group of people who really had earned them – and who were contractually entitled. (I had this happened to me one time, too, many years ago.) This was disappointing to say the least, and I lost a lot of sleep over it at the time, even though my own bonus was good that year. Plus, it wasn’t long before people actually did have someplace else to go, and go they did.