“When the well is dry, we find out the price of water” (Anon)

Do not let your most loyal and best people quit to find out how valuable they are – recognise, incent and reward them now before they look elsewhere for employment opportunities. The logic of this statement seems to be intact, but as unemployment remains stubbornly high, many leaders easily seem to conclude that their subordinates are just lucky enough to have a job. Interestingly, even in difficult financial times, according to Forbes, it is estimated that 30 million North Americans are willing to quit their jobs annually, mostly on account of poor or uncaring leadership – as the saying goes: “People quit their bosses, not their jobs”.

Leadership introspection is necessary here – being honest about any defective leadership styles and rectifying them. Managers need reform on the following eight bad practises if they want to retain their best talent:

  1. Overloading top talent irresponsibly – partly on account of financial pressure and subsequent lay-offs and partly on account of endless shareholder pressure, companies are reluctant to refill posts, expecting remaining staff to pick up the extra workload. Overloading your best people with extra responsibilities causes frustration and a lack of their best focus on more important things.
  2. Micro-managing top performers – some people like to be told what to do, but performers like to be able to decide for themselves how to get a project done and the speed they need to go to meet deadlines. Micro-managing drives performers to resent interference.
  3. Leadership absence – the captain should not be “off the ship” all the time, no matter how busy he/she is. Going from meeting to meeting without really engaging with your people will result in a team that feels like a group of orphans.
  4. Promoting emotionally – all promotions should be fair and based on transparent merit criteria, not on who you like. Employees will leave if they feel that the environment has been poisoned by nepotism, bias or preferential treatment. “The best way to demotivate and lose top performers is to reward mediocrity in an attempt to maintain status quo” (Jameson St Claire).
  5. Career opportunities are not clear – very few employees want to study, get qualified and then stay in the same position for the rest of their respective lives. Transparent individual discussions need to take place with all employees to illustrate career possibilities.
  6. Ineffective administration skills – conducting poor meetings with no action as a result, not keeping promises when you said that you would get something done, not replying to requests for information, not adhering to deadlines or jumping from activity to activity with no sense of priority structure. These behaviours frustrate and confuse employees.
  7. Self-interest rather than caring for all team members – a desire to ‘win’ should not supersede your care of your people. Develop a passion for them to win and succeed more than you want the same for yourself. This breeds loyalty and commitment.
  8. A lack of “big picture” information – strategic direction and other important action plans should not be withheld, but communicated freely to all who report in to you. Secrecy or partial information can easily poison the environment.

Most people quit their bosses and not their jobs. Good leadership skills are required by managers to retain top performers. Top performers need to know that they are valued, trusted to accomplish strategic imperatives and are given the freedom and resources to realise the same.