Why Good People Leave: Concerns Can Backfire on You

Here’s a description of why good people leave and the negative consequences that can follow.

The Situation:

Things Look Good So Far

photo of car backfiring illustrating why good people leave

You are a year into a stretch leadership role. You feel good about your focus, you’ve set the vision, set a high bar for your team, keep pushing them to improve and have more clarity about what they are doing. You are trying to break some old patterns of looking at the business in old ways and are helping others see how to do things differently. Those above you seem happy.  You’ve set aggressive targets, created profitability where there was none before and things are looking good. You feel comfortable.

Some Grumbling

Some of your folks are grumbling about not having the choice projects, some want more of your time, but you are so busy with getting the office on track that you know you’ll get to them later, and soon they will appreciate what you’ve done for them. You also heard before you got there that this office was filled with a bunch of complainers, so you don’t take it that seriously.

You are not crazy about all your inherited personalities, but you tell yourself that they are high producers. You’d just prefer not to spend that much time hearing them complaining or bragging. You spend more time with newer reports you think you can get the most growth out of…bringing them along and supporting them. Besides they are open to your feedback and seem to really want it. That feels good for a change. It also beats dealing with the stress of not knowing how the others will react when you try to raise their performance bar.

When office conflicts occur you turn them back over to those involved, saying they should work it out themselves. You feel that is the respectful, adult way to handle it. You lose a couple of key producers to competition, but that’s the way it always goes in your industry…

Trouble Starts Brewing

Suddenly a rash of your folks are having skip level meetings with your boss and your boss’s boss, saying you are not listening to them, and never available. They cite that you don’t care about them or respect their business acumen. They say you favor the few folks that you do spend a lot of time with, giving them the choice projects that are available. They say you are not contributing to their success or the success of the office.

Management gives you leeway, doesn’t take action, and says they know you can solve it. You have a few staff meetings with everyone and talk about wanting to listen and support them.  You know now things will be better. Six months goes by, and there is still grumbling and upset, but you know that eventually people will understand your focus and intentions.  It’s just not that comfortable for you to talk to people about their emotions and upsets, and you believe in time things will smooth out.

All (blank) Breaks Loose

You lose two more of your top producers, and your boss gets a new boss who visits your office to introduce himself and see what’s going on; three of your top producers sequester him in the conference room to complain about you. Your boss contacts soon afterward saying there is a problem.  She needs a plan from you to deal with it that she can send back to her new boss. You have a vacation planned, so you think you’ll use it to figure out your strategy.

Ten days later you return to find a meeting with your boss and the HR VP on your calendar.  You’ve lost another key player…you know what’s coming.  Yes, you do lose your job.

What You Can Learn From This Situation:

Listen and Learn Early on

Spending a lot of time listening and learning about each of your directs is a critical first step when moving into a new role. Find out what’s most important to them, what they feel they’ve done well and why, and what their needs and interests are. Learn how they make decisions and what concerns they’ve had in the past. Learn about the history of the team and where “the bodies have been buried”. Ask them about their goals, and past successes. Then try and meet them where they are and bridge their needs to helping your craft the strategy for their success.

When Complaints are Raised Stay Open

You may or may not be the cause of a problem, but not listening to other’s point of view on how strongly they feel about needing a solution can really be trouble later. The intensity they may be feeling may be exponentially greater than yours. Not learning about what is upsetting them, and helping them solve the problem from their point of view, not just yours, is a missed opportunity.

Work on Your Conflict Avoidance

Dealing with employees who are new to you, upset, or otherwise not in alignment with your views can be very stressful.  You never know for sure how they will react.  However, that goes with the territory of working with people.  Work first on clarifying on what you need from a situation.   Know your negotiable and non-negotiable positions.  Then practice initiating potentially difficult conversations and staying with them until the issues are resolved, regardless of how uncomfortable those conversations might become.  Your reward can be better understanding and trust.

Become More Visible, Not Less, When Folks are Unhappy

Though no one likes hanging out with unhappy people, staying more connected is crucial at these times. Cancel meetings or trips outside the office that are not critical and set up 1:1s with everyone to check in on how they are doing. Have staff meetings and let others site their concerns–remember you don’t have to agree with them, just listening to their point of view in front of others without being defensive goes a long way with people, it shows true courage and maturity. This process will enable you to come up with group supported decisions and turn the tide of an unhappy, discontented environment. You can really help folks learn that you are in their corner, and build the loyalty and the trust to take them into new terrain you know they need. Without that trust it’s only a matter of time…

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