The Top Manager Mistake that Causes Turnover

by Jason Evanish, CEO Get Lighthouse, Inc.

Being a top manager takes hard work and thoughtful action.  But it may be easier than you think.

Over and over we see that managers are missing out on one habit that is essential to both attracting talent, and keeping them for the long term.

The Top Manager Mistake Causing Turnover

The top mistake managers are making is not investing in the growth and advancement of their people. We see the data everywhere we look, yet little seems to be changing in the workplace.

We've seen in Mary Meeker's Internet Trends report that "Training & Development" is the #1 benefit people want, more even than healthcare or cash bonuses.

top managers talk about goals with their teams as Mary Meeker's research shows matters.

And when they're looking for a new job, PwC found that opportunities to learn and advance in their careers topped the list of priorities for people.

PwC data also shows a top manager will make their work appealing if they grow their people

And despite the focus on Millennials by many, it's not just them who want to grow and advance.

According to a study by Towers Watson, *every* age in the workforce highly values career advancement.

a top manager invest in growth as a way to attract and retain talent according to Towers Watson

Meanwhile, learning opportunities are key to attract both Gen Y and Gen X; the only drivers in attracting talent ahead of them are pay and job security, which are clearly table stakes for any company hiring.

A top manager will grow their people so they won't leave.

When people aren't growing, they leave.

It shouldn't be surprising, but given the lack of change in many organizations, growth is clearly still not a priority. Let's decode a few common reasons people say they leave a job:

  • Reason: "I got an opportunity I couldn't pass up."
  • Truth: "I got a growth opportunity that wasn't available (or I was unaware of) at my current job."
  • Reason: "I was bored and/or wanted to try something different."
  • Truth: "I've been doing the same thing for years, with no hope for change, so I found it somewhere else."
  • Reason: "I got a huge raise to go to this other company."
  • Truth: "Since I wasn't growing, and I wasn't adding skills valuable to both of us, the company rarely gave me a raise. This new job was willing to do both."

And research by Deloitte on Millennials backs this up. They found a key driver of retention was mentorship:

"Those intending to stay with their organization for more than five years are twice as likely to have a mentor (68 percent) than not (32 percent).”

And what else does a mentor discuss with someone other than ways they can grow, improve, and succeed?

Managers, it's up to you to grow your people.

If you don't have growth and development conversations with your team, who will? Ask yourself:

  • Who knows the strengths and weaknesses of your team better than you?
  • Who has more influence over assignment of work that could provide opportunities for growth?
  • Who is better suited to advocate for someone when they're ready for a new role or promotion?
  • Who is in charge of evaluating their performance, which is often a precursor to advancement?
  • Who has more chances to notices if they're getting bored in their current role?

It's up to you. This is what a top manager would do.

If you don't have these conversations with your people, it's unlikely anyone else will.

A costly mistake.

Failing to grow your people will cost you quite a bit of money and time.

Based on the Deloitte study above, if you have a team of 10, then over a 5 year period, you'll have to replace 3-4 more team members. With each team member costing as much as $65,000 to replace, that's over $260,000 in lost time, money, resources, and productivity.

why don't more managers do what a top manager does?

Why doesn't this happen?

If all these studies, and the actions of employees, show how important this is, why isn't everyone already doing it? It's a fair question, and one that every manager struggles with, even if you buy into the importance.

No Role Models

As the saying goes, "When in Rome, do as the Romans do." The strongest form of leadership is the example a leader sets. If a leader isn't investing in growth, it signals to others in the organization it's not important for them to do it either.

Even if you want to grow your team while others don't, you may struggle if you never had a boss help you grow. Having a model of what to do can provide much needed confidence and ideas of what to try.

Limited Promotions

Companies are getting flatter. As a study by CEB of HR leaders shows, most organizations won't be adding much hierarchy in the near future:

a top manager knows how to grow their people despite CEB showing fewer promotions available

The easiest career advancement to work with people on is a promotion; it's clear cut, easy to agree on next steps, and usually comes with a raise. Unfortunately, as the chart above shows, that option is going to be available less and less in coming years.  This forces many managers to get creative and find ways to grow people without a promotion.

Infinite Procrastination

You have the best of intentions. You imagine telling your team members, "I would love to talk to you about your career. Let's put some time on our calendars to do this next week." 

Unfortunately, scheduling time to talk like this rarely happens. Big projects fall behind, fires need fought, and a million other things quickly fill your calendar with other demands.

You never intended to miss talking about their growth for an entire review cycle, but it all too often happens. It's at that moment they realize they haven't made any progress. Then, they start looking for growth at another company.

a top manager knows the CEO is right not the CFO doubting investing in your people

How to help your people grow like a top manager

It's never been easier for employees to vote with their feet and leave a job. Whether they're an engineer getting 5-10 recruiter emails a day, or simply someone skilled in searching job boards online, a new job is never far from reach for many of your most valuable employees.  As a manager, this should scare you.

Turn that fear into motivation.  Here's how you can grow your people despite these many challenges.

andy grove knows what a top manager should do and a key is one on ones talking about growth

1) Use your one on ones to talk about their growth & development

Do you use your one on ones for status updates, or do you focus on what's important to your team members? The legendary leader of Intel, Andy Grove, knows that great one on ones are hugely motivating for your team.

There's a wide variety of topics you can cover in a one on one, and few are more important than growth conversations.

Since it's so hard to find a separate time to talk about their growth, the best thing you can do is work it into their one on ones with you.  It's much better to be talking about progress once a month, than once a year at review time. Even tiny investments can have a huge impact on their morale and motivation.

being a top manager means being like reid hoffman and creating growth plans for everyone on your team

2) Make a plan together

Talking about your team's career goals is good. Making a plan of how they can get there is a hundred times better. This is why Reid Hoffman is such a strong advocate for growth plans for everyone on your team.

In his book, The Alliance, he described how employees at Linkedin are given Tours of Duty that plan out from day 1 how they can use their current job to get ready for their next job. This social contract helps keep alignment between employee and company interests from the start.

Channel the passion, interest, energy, and enthusiasm of your people into actually achieving their goals. The best way to do that is to help plan out how they can get where they want to go. You may be surprised how much they'll then help you get where you and the team need to go as well.

a top manager will know to make incremental progress like Teresa Amabile discovered is key

3) Make progress regularly

Once you have a plan, stick to it! As researchers and PhDs Teresa Amabile and Steven Kramer found, nothing is more motivating than making progress on the things that are most meaningful to you.

What is more meaningful to your team members than their career advancement and growth?

When you lay out the plan for them, think about not only what can be done, but when it can be completed. The more incremental progress they make, the better they'll feel. Often, being ready for a new role, project, or promotion takes years, so you can use the Progress Principle to help them regularly feel they're always getting closer.

This is where one on ones become so powerful; checking in every few one on ones is the perfect cadence to make sure nothing slips.  A course correction after a few missed weeks is much better than a full year between discussions at review time.

Don't forget to do your part, too. Even simple things like buying them a book, giving them a helpful intro to a mentor, or coaching them in an area of interest for a few minutes can be very meaningful. The Progress Principle applies to both of you.


Further reading

Ready to start helping your team members grow? Here's a few links that can help:

Jason Evanish

Jason Evanish

As the founder and CEO of Get Lighthouse, Inc, Jason and the Lighthouse team have helped managers grow their leadership skills in dozens of countries around the world. They’ve worked with a variety of companies from non-profits to high growth startups, and government organizations to well known, publicly traded companies. Jason has also been featured in publications including NPR, the Wall Street Journal, and Fast Company.

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