Many managers blame the loss of a top employee on things other than themselves, when in reality, people quit on people not on their companies. Over the past 20 years we have asked thousands of job seekers why they are speaking to a recruiter about finding a new job.  The reason sited most often is poor leadership.  A good leader can cover the sins of a bad organization, and a bad leader causes turnover in even the best of companies.

According to the US Department of Labor, average tenure is only 1.5 years. Let’s examine 5 reasons good employees quit.

The Leader:

  1. Doesn’t recognize contributions – Overlooks me!
  2. Shows no care in developing me – No future!
  3. Hires, fires, and promotes the wrong people – Bad judgement!
  4. Micro manages me – Controls me and stifles creativity!
  5. Doesn’t support me – Makes my job more difficult!

So, what is a leader to do?

1. Recognition is easy and cheap.

A good leader is constantly on the look-out for people doing something right and running that behavior up a flag pole for everyone to see. Today’s leaders are all busy, but never too busy to make their team members look good.  A quick group email or chat message recognizing an individual, her accomplishment, and what it means to the team is money in the bank when it comes to retention.

2. Developing people is a leader’s responsibility, not the company’s.

Even if your company doesn’t sponsor formal training and development, this can be done one on one. Leaders must have regular one on one sessions with each key team member. This is where personal development happens.  Ask the person to identify his goal and the skills needed to achieve it.  Outline a plan to march forward.  Challenge the person to step out of their comfort zone between each one on one meeting.  Make it clear that you will revisit their progress next session.

3. Hiring and building your team is perhaps a leader’s biggest challenge.

Hiring is a science.  Engage all of your resources, and a good recruiter, to bring you the best talent on the market. Building a team into a cohesive and productive unit is an art. The best leaders find a way to listen to their teams and engage them in the hiring and promotion process.  Even discipline can become a group effort. Stop trying to have all the answers.  Ask your team for their advice. Find a way for them to take ownership of the process. This way everyone has a stake in the outcome.

4. Micro management is a fine line.

Good leaders provide direction, sometimes in a very detailed way. Avoiding micro management is a matter of trust. Give them direction, then get out of the way and let them go to work. The leader’s job is to provide direction and inspiration, delegate the day to day activities to the team, and regularly check in on the progress.  Try assigning a team leader to help with the details.  Find someone on the floor who works well with the rest of the team to drive the details. Details should bubble from the bottom up. When attention to detail becomes a best practice on your team, you will only have to ‘drop in’ to check that things are getting done. You gave them a job, now let them do it.

5. Support is a matter of perception.

An effective leader makes sure her people are cared for.  Constantly thank your team members.  Gratitude is the essence of support.  Always be asking, “What can I do to help?” Show interest in their personal life, let them know you care.

Retaining top performers is largely in the leader’s control.


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