If you believe all the headlines on the evening news or in the Wall Street Journal, you’d have to conclude that the US economy is continuing to struggle. Unemployment remains stubbornly high. Employers seem to be reluctant to hire new people to their full-time payrolls, even as corporate cash levels are at record highs.
So, you would probably be surprised to know that more Americans are quitting their jobs today than at any point in the past 4 years. In March 2014, 2.475 million Americans quit their jobs. This has been steadily increasing recently from a low in late 2009 (just after the financial collapse finally bottomed out) from a monthly rate of 1.7 million quits a month. Why are almost 2.5 million Americans a month these days – or about 30 million a year – willing to quit their jobs?
People Quit Bosses, Not the Company
If you want to keep the most talented members of your team, it’s time you started looking in the mirror and realize the biggest reasons why people quit have to do with You.
1. Have you overloaded your best people with too many responsibilities? A lot of companies in America, there have been waves of layoffs over the past 6 years. In cut after cut, there’s a constant job staffing question: how do we get the same amount of stuff done with fewer employees to do it? The simple answer has been to get the remaining employees to do the jobs of 2 or 3 old employees, in addition to the regular job responsibilities they used to have. And then a lot of bosses never revisited staffing responsibilities 3 or 4 years later. It’s time to take a fresh look at who is doing what in your group and probably redistribute how work is getting done on the team. Your best people need to be doing higher level stuff, not just getting lower level stuff done. Your best people will quit if they’re just continuing to be asked to do the same boring stuff years later.
2. Are you a micro-manager? A lot of bosses get promoted because they’re perfectionists. They were able to get a lot of work done in their old jobs to get noticed. Now, in their new jobs, they keep wanting to make sure that whoever’s doing their old job is doing it just as well as them. Plus, they are into all their direct reports’ business as well. Having your fingers on the pulse of what’s going on (or not going on) in your group is good management. But, at some point, you cross the line into micro-managing. Your worst people are probably happy for you to tell them what to do constantly. But your best people will be driven up the wall by this tendency. They want to know you give them a task and then enough rope to let them do it rather than doing it for them.
3. You’re never around. The opposite of a micro-manager is a drive-by manager. This is the boss who’s perpetually never in the office. They’re not around. They don’t check in. They give you a job to do and then check back with you 3 months later on if it’s done yet. Lots of bosses protest that they have an “open door policy” for their people to come in and talk with them whenever they need to. But, if you’re never around or – when you are – you zip in to grab something off your desk and zip back out or get on a conference call for an hour and then take off to a meeting, that’s not going to invite a lot of your staff to come in and shoot the breeze with you.
4. You’re not in touch with how some of your hires or promotions are driving your best people nuts. It’s human nature to want to be around other people we like and trust. Why would we choose to be around – and hire – people we dislike and don’t trust? However, we usually like people who like us. Even though we think we’re good at spotting people sucking up to us, it’s awfully tough when you’ve got a direct report telling you how great you are. Big problems arise when we promote based on who we like instead of on merit. One promotion or hire like that is ok, but two or three can sabotage a team’s morale. If you’re out of touch with who’s really talented on your team and who you’re promoting or hiring, it’s a matter of time before your best people tender their resignation. Why stick around if the bozos get promoted?
5. You’ve never given your people a sense of where they can go in their careers. Nobody takes us aside out of college or even in business school and teaches us how to sit and talk with our direct reports about upward career progression. As a boss, most of us just want to make sure all our work gets done. But how much do you care about getting that next promotion? It turns out that your people care about it just as much. So take the time to talk to them individually. Ask them where they want to go in their careers – it turns out many won’t have a clue but will appreciate you showing an interest. Talk to them about how they can get there, including what kinds of experiences and successes by them would make them stand out to your bosses.
6. You run terrible meetings. Even one of the most successful CEOs in the world today, Google’s Larry Page, wasn’t born with a keen understanding or respect for being a good boss as this account describes. Page – a former doctoral student at Stanford, when he started Google – thought the ideal way to run meetings was to instigate a big argument among a team. Whoever had the best idea, he thought, would rise to the top. Instead, he created anarchy and a lot of hurt feelings. There are plenty of other way to run ineffective meetings including never calling them or letting them go on and on with no real action items coming out of them. All these approaches are tremendously morale-sapping.
7- You communicate that you care more about yourself than the team. As a leader, you’ve got to show your reports that you have done in the past or would be willing to do now anything that you’re going to ask them to do. If you seem above it, you’re likely going to turn their support away from you. You’re going to communicate to them that you care more about yourself than you do them. It’s tough to win back their support after that. So, show them that you care about their career progression more than your own. Show that you want the team to win more than you want you to win.
8- You’ve never given them the big picture vision of where your group is heading or you are constantly changing the big picture. Some bosses are great at strategy but they’ve got their head stuck in the clouds or like to change the group’s strategy every quarter. Some bosses are about as strategic as a banana. Either extreme is bad and debilitating for your staff. As a boss, you’ve got to tell the group where their North Star is, the direction they’re heading in and why. Then, you’ve got to give them everything they need to get there. Sometimes business conditions change and the strategy changes, but that should happen infrequently. If you worked for yourself as a direct report, what would you think of the strategic direction you’re setting?