People don't leave companies, they leave bad managers.
As I've spoken to managers and employees, it's amazing how often I hear about managers who ignore their people, stifle their team's efforts, and are totally unaware of the unhappiness of their employees. Unfortunately, this candor on their frustration is with me, not their employer.
Some of these issues can come up in 1 on 1s, if you have them often enough and you ask (many are afraid to volunteer such issues, especially introverts). If you miss those opportunities and they're now leaving, you can do exit interviews to learn what went wrong, but that's too late to help them. You are also unlikely to get straight answers in an exit interview; if an employee desires to leave on good terms, they have incentive to sugar coat things and find the most diplomatic reason to say they're leaving.
Bad managers affect everyone.
Good employees work hard to produce, but they resent their manager if they're not appreciated and treated well. When it happens to mediocre and bad employees, they will just shut down and under produce, creating dead weight on teams. Your good team members will eventually decide they've had enough and look elsewhere. In a competitive market, this will happen sooner than later.
If your employee suddenly has a different schedule or an unexpected missed day or two, they might be interviewing. If you wait until they have the offer it will be too late.
If you confront them directly to see if they're interviewing, you're missing the point. The fact that they're interviewing is a symptom of a deeper problem with you, their manager, or the company. If you want to save it, you need to dig into the emotions that led them to look around.
Work is Emotional.
Humans are emotional creatures. We make many decisions, like interviewing for other jobs, based on feelings. Then when we get the job, it's time to rationalize why the new opportunity is better. Unfortunately, as an employer, you're much more likely to get the rationalized answer than the emotional one, even though the latter is the one you need to do something about.
It's the moments of strong negative emotions that leads to them taking that recruiter call. It's the moment when their friend says, "You gotta come work here. We don't do that." and they finally say yes to interviewing there. It's those Hired ads retargeting them everywhere they go that they finally click one and submit their profile to start interviewing.
And what causes those emotions? Their Manager.
Frustration. Anger. Resentment. Shock. Embarrassment. Depression. These are all the emotions managers can make their teams feel. Feel them often enough and no paycheck, office perks, convenience to your home, or job title, will be worth the perceived greater happiness somewhere else.
It's not all doom and gloom, though. Managers also have the power for good. A great manager can make people feel the opposite emotions: joy, deep satisfaction, happiness, connection to something greater than themselves, pride, and gratitude. These emotions are created by a manager that takes the time to listen to their team, recognize their good work, and build real rapport with them. It takes effort and is often a thankless job.
Why don't we reward good managers?
Managers aren't rewarded for being good at management. They're given the title and promoted on effectiveness and productivity of their teams, which is not the same thing. You can be a brutal dictator, burn out people relentlessly, and if you drive hard towards the right goals and hire well, you can hide all kinds of misery on your teams.
Eventually, these problems will reveal themselves, but when you have 30% of a team quit in a matter of a few months, it's a painful lagging indicator of a major problem. And now you have to pay for it at a cost of over $60,000 per employee (if they make $100k annually).
Meanwhile, word will quietly spread that your company is a bad place to work. Your departed staff don't even have to say anything; the sudden influx of resumes from your team to recruiters and companies combined with the Linkedin headline updates will signal all people need to know. Recruiters will smell the blood in the water and target more of your staff that may be on the fence about staying, while candidates will start asking around and pass on interviewing and job offers at your company.
There has to be a better way. It shouldn't have to come to all of this before you recognize management issues.
You manage what you measure.
You would never dream of not measuring your sales pipeline. You'd never pass on measuring your monthly revenue or your marketing spend. And yet, most teams have little measure of how their managers are really performing. How can you ever hope to improve something you don't measure?
Waiting to measure by retention is painful. It also hides all the potential lost productivity during months of unhappy teams and can be masked by the impact of bonuses, earn outs, equity vesting and other factors that will make people stay in unhappy situations. You have to start measuring before a major exodus.
Many companies try 360 Reviews, but given those are usually annually, and many people hate the whole HR review process, it's unlikely to reveal the results you need in a timely and effective fashion.
Instead, you should look to a classic marketing tool: The Net Promoter Score.
For those unfamiliar, the Net Promoter Score is used to tell how much people like your product or service. You ask people,
"On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend our product to a friend or colleague?"
Nines and Tens are considered promoters, Sevens and Eights are neutral, and One to Six are detractors. You subtract the percentage of detractors from the percentage of promoters to get your final score, hoping that you have many enthusiastic customers to outshine your disappointed ones.
Measure your managers with the Employee Promoter Score.
If an employee enjoys their job, they will definitely tell their friends. Given how many employees are disengaged, it's bound to get the attention of others and help you with recruiting. And on the flip side, an unhappy employee is unlikely to refer their friends to join you in their misery. That's why measuring by recommendation becomes a great indicator of employee satisfaction.
Break it into 2 questions to learn more.
A number of companies like Hubspot survey their employees asking this question:
"On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend working here to a friend or colleague?"
This is great and super powerful. You can learn a lot in taking the temperature of your organization. However, to make it more valuable, you can add a second question:
"On a scale of 1 to 10, how likely are you to recommend working on your team to a friend or colleague?"
By asking specifically about the team, you have the potential to see the split between different departments, managers, and the company as a whole. If the team question has a higher score than the company, you likely have a great manager. If the team score is lower than the general company score, then you just got an early warning sign of a management issue. If you want to get even more insight, you can add a comment box asking,
"Why did you choose the two numbers you did?"
Those answers will be priceless as they will reveal all kinds of questions, concerns, and key positives.
Maintaining anonymity is important, so anyone who manages less than 3 people may need excused from the scoring, but as you look at larger organizations, mapping the Employee Promoter Score against the org chart can be a powerful way to identify issues among all the layers of management.
How do you reward good managers?
Adding measurement to tell if someone may be a good manager is a great start, but it's not the end game. Until managers are specifically rewarded for being good managers, there will be very few of them and many more unhappy, disengaged employees.
As long as managers are only measured on business results (sales numbers, features shipped on time, lead generation results, etc) without care for the core resource in the business (its people), you will continue to see good employees leave and team members under perform.
A great manager attracts talent, gets the most out of their people, and makes work something people look forward to. Showing you value good managers is a key step in building a successful organization.
Are you measuring and rewarding your good managers?
Interested in running an Employee Promoter Score for your company or department? Email me here for help finding out what your team really thinks of your managers.