When Employees Quit, Take a Good Look in the Mirror

Guest post from Jeff

hard to say goodbye. But understanding why people leave your company is a
crucial part of developing a best-in-class workforce. Regardless of whether the
individual is an underperformer or a Rockstar, departures frequently point to
broader organizational issues that need to be addressed.

often react emotionally when an employee gives notice. If the person is an
up-and-comer who has been given promotions and raises, the manager likely feels
angry and betrayed. If the person failed to meet expectations, the manager may
feel relieved. Either way, there are lessons to be learned. And in either case,
the manager may worry about the optics of the departure – both internally &
outside the organization.

important to recognize that attracting and retaining Rockstar performers is
vital for organizations to grow, innovate, and outperform the competition. That’s
not just my view. A 2016 Conference Board survey revealed that attracting and retaining
talent is the number one concern amongst CEOs, regardless of their company size
or industry.

Wasserman, professor of clinical entrepreneurship at the University of Southern
California, estimates that
of growth companies
fail because of people problems. They either hire the
wrong people, put people in the wrong roles, or fail to create an environment
that inspires people and enables them to work together harmoniously.

unemployment at the lowest levels in years and a growing shortage of highly
skilled workers in many job disciplines, getting the people equation right is
particularly critical. From top to bottom, employees have more options than
ever before. So, companies that excel at hiring & retaining top performers
have a huge advantage.

the Wrong Person

a poorly performing employee leaves, it’s an opportune moment to examine the
decision-making process that led you to hire the person in the first place and
to create a new process that will prevent you from repeating the same type of

are the common mistakes that organizations make in hiring:

too much on experiences and competencies, and overlooking the match between the
company’s culture and the employee. For example, a person who prefers to work
in teams may make a poor fit for a sales organization that fosters competition
between sales people.

on the interview.  Some people,
particularly in sales, give great interview performances. They can read your
body language and tell you exactly what you want to hear. Once in the job,
however, these same people may talk a much better game than they actually

bias. We tend to prefer hiring people like ourselves and we often
subconsciously make up our mind about somebody within the first few minutes of
the interview. To counter that tendency, develop a standardized list of
interview questions, gather information on each candidate without bias, and
fairly weight all the candidates against objective criteria for the position.

of clarity about the needs of the position. If you don’t know what you’re
looking for, you won’t find it. You should develop a very precise description
of the skills, experiences, and qualities that are necessary to succeed in the
position. I (literally) keep a Scorecard that allows me to meticulously track
how well a candidate meets the job requirements and then use the Scorecards to
compare candidates against each other.

titles and companies. It’s natural to be impressed by a senior executive from a
Fortune 500 company, particularly if you’re running much smaller organization.
While the person may bring a wealth of valuable experiences to your company,
you should take care to determine exactly why the person left or wants to leave
that Fortune 500 position, how their specific skills translate to the job
you’re seeking to fill, and whether the person will thrive in your organizational
culture – often one with less resources and formality.

are given short shrift. Many organizations do not check references until after
they’ve decided on a candidate. In those cases, negative or lukewarm comments
from references are often ignored. It’s best to talk to references early in the
evaluation process and give them due consideration.

a Rockstar Leaves

an organizational leader, one of your most important jobs is to keep your
A-players engaged. Take the time to get to know your top performers. Uncover
the challenges and opportunities that will make them thrive and ensure they are
rewarded fairly.

a Rockstar leaves, the loss can be demoralizing to the rest of the team. If
people perceive that the departure was motivated by something negative within
the organization, you need to work hard to correct the problem and to make sure
other A players are inspired, challenged, and happy in their work.

insist upon conducting exit interviews myself with A-level employees. I want to
find out exactly why they left and to leave the door open for them to return to
the organization. There’s no sense in burning bridges with departing employees,
particularly those who have contributed so much.

an axiom that people don’t quit their jobs; they quit their managers. For
example, if you’ve recruited a Rockstar director of marketing and that person
works under a B-level vice president of marketing, the new hire will likely
become frustrated and disengaged.

indicate that an employee’s relationship with their manager accounts for about
half of their job satisfaction. Lousy managers are toxic to organizations. Get
rid of them.

know a CEO who makes it a point to meet 1:1 with every manager in the
organization. Afterwards, he asks himself: “Would I want to work for this
person?” If the answer is No, he finds a way to discharge the person or remove
their managerial responsibilities.

suffering under a bad boss, Rockstars leave for other reasons:

definition, Rockstars are ambitious. If you don’t provide them with growth
experiences, challenges, and a career path, they may be enticed by the Siren
call of a recruiter offering a higher-level position and greater

do not want to work in a dysfunctional organization that lacks effective
leadership and is filled with “C” level players. Winners want to work with
other winners.

Work/Life Balance. Rockstars will invest the extra hours to go above and beyond
their duties to achieve the organization’s goals. In return, they expect some
degree of flexibility in integrating their personal life with their work life.
If you don’t offer that flexibility, another organization will.

Grass Isn’t Always Greener

a Rockstar decides to leave, I wish them every success and thank them for their
contributions to the organization. I also tell them that if the opportunity
doesn’t work out as planned, I would be happy to talk to them about coming back
to our organization. I then reach out to them in a few weeks later to ask how
things are going. If they say, “I’ve made a mistake,” I welcome them back with
open arms.

an employee recruiting & retention perspective, a Rockstar who returns is a
great event. It signals to the team (and prospective hires) that the grass isn’t
always greener and that you have a terrific organization.

is bestselling author of Recruit Rockstars,
Professor at Kellogg School of Management, host of the 5-star-rated Strong Suit
Podcast, and Chief Talent Scout at Strong Suit Executive Search.