Phil Interviews Steve Browne on His New Book HR On Purpose!!

Phil Interviews Steve Browne on His New Book HR On Purpose!!

We are excited to introduce our community to Steve Browne and his great new book, HR On Purpose!! Those of you in the HR community may already know Steve (he’s kind of a big deal :)) But for many others you are in for a treat.

HR On Purpose is not just an HR book. Steve tells many stories (and it is full of great stories!) about being a good leader. Dare I say, an approachable leader!

This was our first video interview so apologies for any technical issues. And the two exclamation points aren’t a typo – Steve insists you use them. He’s a two exclamation point kind of guy!!

If you enjoy content like this let us know who else Phil should interview. Enjoy!

Follow Steve on Twitter @SBrowneHR

Buy HR On Purpose!! at Amazon.com

5 Performance Issues that Signal Your Teammate is About to Quit

5 Performance Issues that Signal Your Teammate is About to Quit

When Performance Starts to Slip

Jason’s one of those guys you can count on. Not flashy or a top performer. But reliable and consistent. He does his job and contributes to the stability of the ship.

Recently though, you’ve noticed Jason’s performance slip. It’s not so bad that you’re going to write him up or anything. But you have to double check his work – too many mistakes. What’s more, you now have to remind him to do things that used to be automatic. It’s annoying.

What’s going on with Jason? You know it may be nothing – it’s not the first time you’ve seen this. There was that time he was distracted because of an issue with one of his kids. Or the time he was having problems with Mike over the quality check process. Maybe it’s something like that.

Or maybe Jason is on his way out the door.

Gallup recently found that, on average, 51% of people are actively looking for work elsewhere. Which isn’t that surprising, given what Gallup has shown about employee engagement.

Drops in performance are one of the key indicators an employee is thinking about jumping ship.

Here are 5 Performance Issues that Signal Turnover Intention

Work Productivity Decreases

This is the easiest one to recognize because at some point, your employee’s decreased output creates more work for you. Like with Jason. His lack of focus means you spend more time double checking his work. Or reminding him about that deadline. Like you need something else on your to-do list. That’s not good for anyone.

I could advise you to jump in and have a performance discussion every time this happens. But let’s be realistic. You’re busy. Performance discussions take time you don’t have. They’re one of those “crucial” (uncomfortable) conversations that are easy to avoid. Soon this commitment will find itself on the “good intentions” pile. Or turn you into that micromanager we all know and love. (Not.)

Instead of committing to discuss every productivity drop, notice when you’ve started picking up the slack or getting annoyed. That’s your signal something’s up. It’s time for a quick chat. But don’t make this about you. Instead, start with one of the Approachable Leadership Coaching Questions (like, “Do you have what you need?”) You can bring up the productivity drop at some point if that seems helpful. But the most important thing is to figure out what’s happening. Is it a personal issue? An issue with a coworker? Or maybe your employee is slowly checking out. Regardless of the real reason behind the productivity drop it’s time to leader-up. Make some for a quick chat and dive in.

Doing the Minimum Amount of Work

Maybe you haven’t started picking up slack. But it is clear that your teammate isn’t pushing to improve. He’s getting comfortable with work that’s just “good enough.”

We all do work that’s just good enough sometimes. And that’s okay. Sometimes it’s necessary to cut yourself some slack. But when cutting yourself some slack becomes the “new normal” it’s no longer a sanity check. It’s a sign that you just don’t care as much as you used to.

When someone stops caring about their work quality it’s another signal. They are detaching their work from how they feel about themselves. They aren’t associating closely with the work or the company. Perhaps they’re thinking about a future somewhere else. And that is a great time to ask another Approachable Leadership Coaching Question: “What’s next?” Look for ways to help them connect their own personal growth back to their work and to the company.

Less Effort and Work Motivation

During your weekly huddle meeting to discuss top priority items, you notice someone who used to jump at opportunities to be involved has stopped volunteering. She avoids eye contact or hides out when you ask for ideas. It’s as if she’s afraid that if she has a good one, she might be asked to do something about it.

Have you seen this before? I know I have. And unfortunately, sometimes I shrug it off. After all, your employee isn’t doing anything wrong. Nagging her about not stepping up could make her feel you’re calling her out. Then you risk an actual performance problem.

But this change in behavior is still a signal something’s not right. No, she hasn’t “done something wrong” but the change in motivation is worth a closer look. After all, it’s a good sign she’s not engaged. And some people’s “disengaged” work is still pretty darn good – right up until they give their notice. A good coaching question here is, “What would make work better?” Whether this is a temporary struggle or sign of a deeper issue, it’s up to you to find out. Especially if it’s someone you want to keep around.

Less Focus on Job Related Matters

And then you have the “I’d rather not talk about work” attitude. Which is quite the tell-tale sign. Especially when…you’re at work.

Really this is a symptom that an employee is just having a hard time caring. Which doesn’t necessarily mean she’s trying to hit the road. But it does mean she likely has other, more important things on her mind. Maybe these other things are your normal, temporary life issues. But it’s also possible she’s working out her next move. And as we discussed in our last retention article, there’s a lot for a person to consider when they’re thinking about quitting their job. It leaves little room for, or interest in, dealing with current work and workplace issues.

Expressed Dissatisfaction with their Current Job

I know I said a productivity drop is the easiest sign to recognize. But this one – when your teammate tells you they’re not happy or feel they’re missing something – that’s when you know for sure. Whether they say it or not, they’re considering leaving.

Of course, thinking and doing are two different things. But if this is someone you don’t want to lose, then it’s time for a sit-down. Diagnose the problem. Find out what you can do to help them. Is it the work that’s not engaging? Is their current schedule causing a problem? Perhaps a financial issue? Whatever it is, the first step is to find out if it’s something you can help with. And if it is? Then help.

On the flip side, maybe you know that what’s best for this person is to leave. You’re reading the same writing on the wall they’re reading. Your company may not have a role that’s right for their next move. That’s a great conversation to have.

Even if it looks like the best move for your teammate is outside the company you can still help them. And they will run through a wall for you in the meantime. Help you find a great replacement. Tell everyone they ever talk to what a great boss you are and how people should jump at the chance to work for you. Talent pipeline? Full, thank you.

Performance issues are just one slice of the pie.

Remember, turnover intention expresses itself in 3 ways:

  1. Performance Issues
  2. Relationship Struggles
  3. Lack of Belonging

Stay tuned for our next article where we’ll discuss 4 relationship struggles that signal an employee might be considering a move.

What’s been your experience with these 5 performance issues? How often do you notice them and do nothing? Do you think your lack of engagement with one of these problems has ever led the loss of an employee?

Retention: How to Tell if Your Employee is About to Jump Ship [Part 1]

Retention: How to Tell if Your Employee is About to Jump Ship [Part 1]

Retention. Retention. Retention.

It is your last interview for a big HR job. Your future boss and 2 other leaders finish their questions.You feel pretty good. Then your future boss finishes the interview with this question: “What questions do you have for us?”

What would you answer? A friend of mine recently faced this exact situation. He’s quick on his feet so he asked a great question: “What’s your top priority I can support?”

Each of his future leaders had the exact same answer? What do you think they said?

You guessed it: Retention.

Retention Is On Everyone’s Mind These Days

Fifty-three percent of respondents in Xerox HR Services’ 2017 Compensation Planning Survey report retention is their highest priority this year. Another 2017 study by Future Workplace and Kronos found 87% of employers said improving retention is their top priority.

Chances are good it is at the top of your HR priorities too. And no wonder. Voluntary turnover hit 25% of the workforce in 2016. The direct costs of turnover cost companies over $11 billion each year. And those are just the direct costs. If you lose an A player and replace them with a B or C player it could kill your company. Brad Smart’s great book Topgrading suggests the cost of mis-hiring a manager averages over $1.2 million.

But to do anything about retention you first have to understand why people quit. Most “experts” these days will tell you that the key to retention is employee engagement and managing employee happiness. Put a ping pong table in the break room. Grant unlimited vacation. Stop doing performance appraisals.

But top talent is still jumping ship at alarming rates, and that problem is going to get worse as the labor market tightens over the next decade. That’s because happy employees are not the key to retention.

Are You Happy All the Time?

Think about yourself for a minute. Do you consider yourself engaged? If so, are you always happy or satisfied at work? Do you ever get frustrated or wish things could be better? Are you ever in over your head or stretched to the edge of your capability?

Now think about some of the A-team players who jumped ship recently. Did they leave for the chance to move up or take on a new challenge? If they were unhappy, what exactly was it that made them unhappy? Was it a perk or benefit that pushed them to switch jobs? Or was it that they felt stuck, unable to make progress? Or a poor relationship with their leader?

We get engagement backwards. Often our most frustrated teammates are actually our MOST engaged. The key is understanding what’s causing their frustration. Some feel stuck and want to develop. They see possibilities the company is missing. They’re pushed and stretched beyond their current skillset.

Avoiding the “Turnover Death Spiral”

These teammates are unhappy for the right reasons. Great leaders look for frustrations like these. They are great opportunities to help a teammate (and an organization) learn, develop, and grow. That’s how you attract and retain A-players.

However, if you ignore these concerns, or “solve” them over by putting an X-Box in the break room or buying some pizza, you’ll find yourself in the “turnover death spiral.” You lose A-players and only attract or retain C-players. And if your turnover rate is higher than your key competitors you start sinking in quicksand. Your company’s a dead man walking.

You avoid the “turnover death spiral” by spotting the signs a top player is considering jumping ship, then taking action to keep them on board. Sounds simple, right? But like most simple things it gets a little more complicated in the execution. This series of posts will help you break down the strategy into practical actions you can train leaders to keep A-players, reduce turnover, and take pressure off you and your organization.

Have You Ever Quit a Job?

Quitting a job is a BIG decision. If you think about it in terms of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, your work is right down there on the ground floor with things like a roof over your head and food to eat. After all, your job is how you pay for both of those things.

Think about the last time you decided to change jobs. Even if it was a job you hated, you still probably asked yourself questions like:

  • What if the new company is as bad (or worse) than this one?
  • Will my new boss be a jerk?
  • Can I trust the new place to live up to their promises? Will they disappoint me?
  • Will my [Spouse, Parent, or that know-it-all brother-in-law] say they told you so?
  • What if your new teammates hate you?

   Chances are you struggled with the decision. You probably asked friends, family, and perhaps even some very close co-workers, about what you should do. Weighed your options. Stressed about it. Lost sleep over it.

Once you made your decision you went to work making sure you had a “soft” landing. If you were lucky and had some time you started watching job listings, polished up your resume, and started interviewing. You lined up your next job, or at least thought hard about where you’d look.

One last question. In the weeks (or sometimes months) before you let everyone know your decision, how were things going at work? That’s what I thought.

The “Tells” an Employee is About to Jump Ship

It is very rare someone quits a job without planning for it. During the stressful months before leaving your job you were probably distracted at work. Staying focused at work is hard enough when you’re all in. It’s impossible when you’ve got a foot out the door.

You imagine your work and your teammates from the rear-view mirror. Then you devote less time to thinking about the work in front of you and more time day-dreaming about doing that work somewhere else. Your time-horizon shrinks. There are three main “tells” where this shows up at work:

  1. Work performance
  2. Motivation and organizational citizenship
  3. Work relationships

During this time a good leader will recognize something is up. Maybe you experienced this too. Your boss noticed something wasn’t right or something about you had changed. And if they noticed early enough they might have even convinced you that leaving wasn’t the best option.

There are tell-tale signs when an employee considers a move. I say considers a move because nothing is set in stone until the jump is made. As a leader, if you learn to pay close attention, you will catch these signs in time to determine for yourself: Do I want to try to keep them on board? Or am I okay losing this particular crew member?

Research-Backed “Tell-Tale Signs” of Turnover

What are these “tell tale signs” you ask? The bad news is there are hundreds of them. Everyone reacts to stressful situations in their own way. But the good news is that some signs – 13 of them to be exact – are way more important than others. And Professor Tim Gardner knows just which ones to look for.

Vanderbilt University Business Professor Tim Gardner studies why people quit jobs. One interesting recent study narrowed down the “subtle but consistent behavioral changes people often make in the one to two months before they leave their job.” This study identified the 13 key behaviors that consistently predict when someone was looking to jump ship.

[Check out this study, plus all the other research on Approachable Leadership here.]

Using a data set of thousands of voluntary quits along with performance data and other observations Gardner and his team found these 13 items stood out as early warning signs that someone was about to leave for a new job. They show up 60 to 90 days before the actual quit.

Here’s the “baker’s dozen” of behaviors most likely to predict turnover:

  • Work productivity has decreased
  • Acting less like a team player
  • Doing the minimum amount of work
  • Less interested in pleasing their manager
  • Less willing to commit to long-term timelines
  • Negative change in attitude
  • Less effort and work motivation
  • Less focus on job related matters
  • Expressed dissatisfaction with their current job
  • Expressed dissatisfaction with their supervisor
  • Left early from work more frequently
  • Lost enthusiasm for the mission of the organization
  • Shown less interest in working with customers than usual

Gardner explained his research this way:

“It appears that a person’s attitude can create behaviors that are hard to disguise. As the grass starts to look greener on the other side of the fence to you, chances are that others will soon notice that you’ve lost your focus.”

In our next few posts we will focus on each of the three “tells” (decreases in productivity, motivation, and relationships) and the “baker’s dozen” behaviors associated with each of the “tells” Gardner identified.

What is your experience? Have you ever quit a job? If your boss had paid attention would they have noticed any of the “tells”? Did you have a leader who turned you around? Let us know in the comments.

3 Tips for Creating Trust in Organizational Leaders

3 Tips for Creating Trust in Organizational Leaders

People who trust their immediate managers are much more likely to trust organizational leaders.

Last week I was privileged to present the Approachable Leadership Workshop to our local ATD Chapter (that’s Association for Talent Development). It was a little stressful, since almost everyone in the room delivers training for a living. On a break one of the class came up to talk to me. She asked a great question: “How does approachability differ from trust?”

This is such a great question that it was asked in a dissertation on approachability. That study found that while approachability is tightly correlated with trust they are distinct from each other. If anything it appears that approachability is foundational to trust.

Approachability and trust are keys to how an employee feels about his or her immediate leader. But do feelings of trust go further than that? Can they impact how you feel about top leaders? Can trust “trickle up” to other leaders in the company? A 2017 study published in the Journal of Applied Psychology says yes. Ashley Fulmer, one of the authors summarizes this “trickle up” leadership theory in a recent HBR article.

The basic idea is that the key to creating trust in an organization is to focus on one-on-one relationship-building between leaders and those they lead. How a person feels about his immediate supervisor has a direct effect on how he feels about other aspects of the company. Including top management. And we want our team to trust top organizational leaders. Why? Because “trust in organizational leaders is linked to employees’ intention to stay, compliance with strategic decisions, and unit performance.”

How Trust Transfer Works

Trust transfer occurs “when individuals use their trust in a more familiar entity to gauge their trust in a less familiar entity.” In the workplace, the more familiar entity is the direct supervisor. And the less familiar entity is senior management. In their research, Fulmer and her partner, Cheri Ostroff, found that:

trust transferred up when frontline leaders exhibited behaviors that were perceived to show high procedural justice, such as making decisions in an unbiased manner and listening to followers’ concerns. In other words, when frontline leaders were perceived as being more fair, employees who trusted their frontline leaders had more trust in senior organizational leaders.

What Our Experience Shows

Our own employee surveys don’t always follow this “trickle up” pattern. While there is generally a correlation between trust in immediate leaders and organizational trust, it doesn’t always play out. You can trust your immediate leader but not trust top management. In fact, your loyalty to your leader can sometimes result in actions contrary to the organization’s goals. An “us against the world” mentality. One where the top managers are seen as an enemy (like the Nut Island Effect).

On the other hand, you can also have a situation where you trust top management but don’t trust your immediate boss. You see that your boss is the problem and not behaving consistently with the culture. However, over time you may lose trust in the organization for tolerating the behavior of your bad leader.

The best situation is where there is high trust with both the company and the supervisor. Because…

“trust in frontline leaders may only affect employee behaviors that are related to or observable by the frontline leaders. In contrast, trust in senior organizational leaders can prompt employees to internalize organizational goals, which influence a wider range of employee behaviors, including those that are not directly related to frontline leaders.”

When you’ve created a culture of trust across the board, the effect is self-reinforcing.

Where do you start?

One great first step is to train leaders to be more approachable. Approachability is a little easier and more concrete to train than trust. Not only that, but trainees are more open to learning about being easier to approach than being easier to trust. Think about it. People react badly to the message “you’re not trustworthy.” We generally believe we can be trusted. How can we expect our leaders to want to work on developing something that they don’t believe they’re missing?

On the other hand, explaining how just being in a position of power can create distance helps drop defenses. Leaders are open to learning tools to help them reduce this power-distance gap. They are excited to learn tools that makes their team more comfortable and more likely to approach.

Here are 3 Ways Approachable Leaders Grow Trust

  1. They reduce power distance. The more you’re worried about someone’s power over you (what they can do to you or take away from you), the more you trigger the limbic part of your brain. This is where your fear center resides. And when it’s triggered, it hijacks your whole system. And makes it impossible to trust someone. By reducing power distance in relationships with your team, the “control” you have over them (livelihood, well-being, sense of value) stops being a focal point. This opens up opportunity for trust to develop.
  2. They are more vulnerable. Trust isn’t just granted to you. It’s something you earn. You earn it by being trustworthy and by trusting others. These are two different things. But they both require vulnerability. When I share something that I feel is a weakness of mine to you, you feel more comfortable sharing and being vulnerable with me. Trust develops. Our Approachability Window tool teaches more about how to incorporate this type of development with your team.
  3. We’re members of the same tribe. I trust people who I feel like I belong with. I think this is true for most people. We also have a tendency to distrust people that we feel like we’re different from. Approachable Leaders create a sense of unity with their team members by focusing on the Progress Principle. By asking questions like: What’s going on with you? What’re you working on? What’s your next step? How can I help you? You make people feel like you’re in whatever it is together. This grows trust by emphasizing things you have in common.

What’s been your experience trusting organizational leaders? Can you think of one leader in your life that you trusted more than others? What was different about your relationship with him or her? What can you take from that and apply to how you lead your team today?

5 Books on Doing Great Work

5 Books on Doing Great Work

The Backstory

Michael Bungay Stainer (author of the great book The Coaching Habit) recently asked me to list my Five Essential Books for Being a More Approachable Leader. He featured them on his blog Box of Crayons a couple of weeks ago. Everyone who follows our AL blog knows how much I geek out on Approachable Leadership. So of course I was honored and happy to oblige. You’ll have to go visit his post to get the low-down on those 5 books. But I think you’ll be glad you did. You might even be surprised by a couple that made the cut.

Making that list was really fun for me. I enjoyed thinking back on some of the books I’ve read and looking for connections between them. That’s what led me to write this post.

Many of my favorite bloggers/podcasters regularly feature book recommendations and books they’ve read. I especially pay attention to recommendations from folks like Michael Bungay Stanier (who I mentioned above), Brett McCay at Art of Manliness, Ryan Holiday, Tyler Cowen over at Marginal Revolution, Tim Ferris (and his many podcast guests), the team at Farnham Street, and Eric Barker over at Barking up the Wrong Tree (who has a new book out himself). These are my favorite posts to read. I discover lots of books this way (plus a few I can scratch off my list).

I’ve been on a bit of a reading tear. I read a lot when I fly, and I’ve been doing too much of that. But to make lemonade out of my travel schedule, I’ve decided to share my own reading list for the year. You can find the full list here. But today – inspired by Mr. Stanier whose brilliant podcast is about doing great work – I’d like to focus on 5 books I’ve read this year on doing great work.

5 Books on Doing Great Work

The War of Art by Steven Pressfield

This one has been on my “to-read” list for a long time. I wish I had read it before. While on its face this is a book for artists like writers or painters, the substance can be applied to any professional. The big takeaway is that once you “go pro” in whatever you do, you have to do it every day (otherwise you’re being an amateur). The enemy of professionals is “the resistance.” Or all the things that distract you from your art or work. Pressfield’s story is inspiring but also sobering… going pro means a lot of work and there are no shortcuts. I really enjoyed this book but definitely left it feeling that I have a lot of work to do against “the resistance” in my own work.

Make It Stick by Peter Brown, Henry Rodiger, Mark McDaniel

This book blows up a bunch of myths about adult learning and offers a number of practical suggestions on the research-backed way to train and teach adults. It destroys myths like you should teach based on different “learning styles.” And that “cramming” is an effective way to learn. Instead you must adopt spaced, interleaved and varied practice. Forced retrieval and reconsolidation of prior learning. It also recommends using reflection and elaboration. As a teacher and training designer, I’ve been aware of these principles for years. But having everything laid out (especially with all the research about why it all works) was really valuable. This is a must read for those of you who teach or design training.

The Lean Startup by Eric Ries

So far the best book I’ve read this year. I should have read it years ago when it was first recommended to me. It is terrific. As soon as I finished, I made a bunch of Flashcards to study and cement the lessons taught (this was before I read Make it Stick, which recommends the same process 🙂 ) The core idea is that a business has one purpose: to find – as quickly as possible – something a customer will buy to solve a problem. It does this by running fast experiments to test hypotheses about how to solve the customer problem. The process of designing and testing those hypotheses is the magic of the model. It is a business strategy book, management book, and leadership book all rolled up into one. But how does it relate to great work? This whole model is about figuring out what solves a problem as efficiently as possible. Too much time and effort gets wasted on things that ultimately have no value – and that’s not great work. If you want to wring every ounce of value out of your work effort, this book is a must-read.

Draw to Win by Dan Roam

I heard about this one during an interview Michael Bungay Stanier did with Dan. When you start seeing some bad stick figure illustrations from me you can thank this book. I really enjoyed it. I actually spent the night after I finished it drawing for the first time in… let’s just say decades. Which was pretty enjoyable as I’m a somewhat visual person, especially in presentations. (I was an early adopter of Prezi, and love to “think” on a whiteboard.) Roam suggests that 2/3 of our brain is designed to process visual information. The big takeaway is that the person who draws the best picture wins. I plan to add more drawing to my toolkit after reading this. And after reading this next book, chances are good you’ll get to see some of them 🙂

Show Your Work by Austin Kleon

This one has also been on the list a while, and seemed like a natural follow up to Dan Roam’s book. The big takeaway here is that in today’s world we should always be showing our work. Not just the finished product. All of the work. By curating the things we are working on day to day, we get feedback all along the creative process. And it also helps keep us honest about doing our great work. Versus giving into the “resistance” – hate to have to tweet that you spent the last 3 hours on social media! You may have noticed that I’ve been posting pictures of my work with the hashtag #showyourwork. You can thank this book 😉

How to use these books to start doing your own great work

Most of us try to avoid bad work. But if you’re like me you can easily get sucked into doing not-great work. And this can kill your motivation and make you feel like you are spinning your wheels. These 5 books look at different ways you can ignite passion in your work, think a little more like an artist, and bring more of yourself to your work. And the more you fight the resistance, get efficient and targeted about your work, and apply your whole brain to your effort, the more great work you’ll produce. Let me know what you think about these books and share with me what you’re up to in the comments (and show your work!)

So get to reading and do more great work!

5 Turnover Excuses That Signal Your Managers Are The Problem

5 Turnover Excuses That Signal Your Managers Are The Problem

Have you ever quit your boss?

You wouldn’t be weird if you did. In fact, you’d be right in the middle of the bell curve. Because in a recent Gallup study of 7,272 U.S. adults a whopping 50 percent of employees said they left a job “to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career.”

I want to point out one phrase again: “to improve their overall life.”

The work we do is directly related to our quality of life. If you’ve ever made the decision to quit a job you know how gut-wrenching it can be. Thus, as leaders who oversee the work-lives of our team, we have a responsibility to them. To “meet their needs as valued employees and human beings.”

But here’s the problem. When someone quits a job they rarely say, “I’d stay, except I hate my boss.” Occasionally you’ll hear something like that in an exit interview, but people don’t want to burn bridges. After all, there are no guarantees in life. Why not keep your options open? So instead of coming clean about how miserable their boss makes them they’ll point out a host of other reasons and tell you how hard it is to leave. And they’ll work real hard to say it with a straight face.

When You Should Dig a Little Deeper Into Turnover

That’s why if you’re a leader of leaders and you notice people departing from a work area (especially if those people are strong performers) you need to dig a little deeper than the exit interview. While you could conduct a bunch of “stay interviews” with the teammates who stay behind (I’m not a big fan of these and I’ll explain why in a future post) I think there is a more important person to interview: the leader who was just abandoned.

When someone quits a team it should have a big impact on the leader. This is a critical teammate who they’ve invested in and developed. They got the job done and cared for customers. Their departure stresses out the rest of the team while a new person is developed. Even in the most positive situation, where an employee grows and develops to the point where they can’t move up inside the company, it is still a big blow to the leader. They can be excited that their teammate has “graduated,” but still concerned about who’s stepping up next.

Other times the situation is more gray. The leader may not be sure exactly why the employee left. They might look behind the stated reasons to see if something else might be going on. That’s an OK reaction too. A leader who looks in the mirror and sees this as an opportunity to reflect and grow themselves is on the right track.

Turnover Excuses: The 5 Tell-Tale Signs Your Leader May Be the Problem

But some leaders, especially the ones who employees ARE leaving, will have a very different reaction. They’ll have a lot of excuses for why people leave. if you’re a leader of leaders you can learn a lot (and identify a much bigger organizational problem than losing one star contributor) by listening carefully to the turnover excuses you hear.

If you have a manager with a turnover issue dig a little deeper. Ask them why they think people are leaving their department or work area. Then listen very carefully to their answer. If you notice any of these 5 turnover excuses you might have a bigger problem on your hands.

One: Looking everywhere (but in the mirror).

Does your leader say things like:

  • Our orientation process stinks;
  • We need to stop getting people from want ads;
  • Anyone who’s worth a darn is already working;
  • Nobody wants to work hard any more;
  • Our pay and benefits aren’t competitive, etc.

If your manager offers no thoughts about their own relationship with the employees who are leaving or how they may have contributed you want to dig a little deeper. Pay close attention. Are all the excuses outside of the manager’s influence? Do they focus on how little control they have over the situation? That’s a tell-tale sign.

It’s not that these outside factors have no impact on whether someone stays or leaves. Each of them could contribute. But if the focus is only on outside factors you should seriously test the idea that these are the culprit. Correlation isn’t causation. Ask yourself: Do people stay in other departments that share these external factors? Then it’s likely the problem isn’t these external factors. Let’s dive into a few of these excuses a little further.

Two: We don’t pay enough.

This is the easiest cop-out. Don’t get me wrong – people do leave jobs to make more money. Money’s important.

But here’s the thing. Money isn’t everything. Especially for today’s workforce, people have a need for jobs to be about more than money. They’re looking for things like a “good work-life balance and sustainable business practices.”

Furthermore, people who love their jobs (as in, they enjoy the work they do and the people they do it with and for) have a hard time quitting. Even when a better (financial) offer comes on the table. People who exit often say it’s because they are getting a raise. That’s considered a low-risk way to exit. But many people will stay in a job that’s not at the top of the scale because they love their boss.

I’m not suggesting that you pay below market and make up for it with strong leaders. But top talent won’t jump for money if it means working for a jerk (and they’ll boomerang right back if they do). If you are consistently losing people to a competitor who offers superior pay and benefits (and offers similar or better work environment and leadership) you have a structural problem. That problem could be isolated to a specific department (some high-skilled jobs are notorious for this behavior). But often where you see only isolated pockets of this problem you are looking at a leadership issue, not pay.

Three: The work itself stinks.

Okay, some work does stink. And it’s easy to blame high turnover rates on that. But these jobs are actually few and far between. That’s because job quality is relative. These positions are often low-skilled or entry-level jobs. Many times these roles attract teammates who are happy for the opportunity.

Is this a “foot in the door” role? Can people develop into better quality roles? Before blaming turnover on job quality again consider all the facts. Has turnover always been bad in this role? Who has been successful in the past? Are there locations where these jobs don’t turn over? It’s important not to be too quick to blame the work itself, even for some of these “crappy” jobs.

Four: They weren’t right for the position in the first place.

This may be a legitimate complaint. If your hiring process is pumping out C players who are expected to perform like A players you’ll have a revolving door. Finding the right person for the right position is one of the most important and most challenging aspects of any business. And honestly, as leaders, we get it wrong a lot. One HBR study actually found that “as much as 80 percent of employee turnover is due to bad hiring decisions.”

But this problem has a leadership component too. No doubt that the hiring process must serve with the talent needs of the organization. However, one reason for all these bad hiring decisions is turnover. The more holes you have to fill, the harder it will be to take the time and effort to find the right person. The business is breathing down your neck to fill the hole in the lineup. So you settle for the C player because you can’t wait for the A player.

Another option is to redirect struggling talent to other roles. An involved, approachable leader should also recognize when the work isn’t suited to the employee (or visa versa). So long as that employee appears to be a keeper (they’re intelligent, kind, hard-working, etc.), your best course of action is to switch them to a more suitable position. If that’s not an option at the time, keep it open. No need for you to burn bridges either. Who knows when they might be an A player somewhere else in your company. To dive deeper into why discussions like that are so important, check out this article.

Five: We’re better off. They weren’t motivated.

Is this a person with poor internal motivation? Or is it a person whose motivation was drained by a bad boss? Again, looking at the trends will tell you a lot. A bad boss will blame the hiring process. A leader will double down on their skills and habits to motivate their team.

Sometimes the loss of an employee IS for the best. So long as it’s handled right (as in, you replace them with the right person). But here’s the thing. Are you the kind of leader who tries to figure out why someone isn’t motivated? More often than not, you can turn it around. All it takes is a little investment on your part.

Is their lack of motivation work-related or personal? If it’s work-related, focus on progress. (For more on how to put the Progress Principle to work for your team click here). If it’s personal, simply taking the time to recognize their struggle and expressing concern will work wonders. They’ll immediately feel more connected to you and the company. Not only is that good for your turnover rates, it’s good for that member of your team. To feel important. To feel valued. And to feel like this organization, this team, supports them.

The Takeaways

There are many reasons people leave jobs. As the labor market tightens, turnover and retention will get worse. But the worst thing you can do is hire a great person only to see them walk out the door. That’s shooting yourself in the foot. That’s why you must diagnose when managers are causing turnover. Here are 5 turnover excuses that signal your managers are the problem:

  1. Did they blame everything but themselves? Are your leaders looking in the mirror when a teammate jumps ship? Or do they blame everyone else? Do your managers take responsibility when the chips are down?
  2. We don’t pay enough. Money is important. But it isn’t everything. Most people leave for other reasons (their leader and other factors their leader directly impacts).
  3. The work itself stinks. Job quality is relative. What “stinks” for one person may be a perfect fit for another. Blaming turnover on the nature of the work basically means this manager isn’t interested or willing to discover bigger issues.
  4. They weren’t right for the position in the first place. How much of this is caused by stress on your hiring process due to high turnover? That’s a hidden cost of turnover. And what do you do to save someone who might be an A player somewhere else in your company?
  5. We’re better off. They weren’t motivated. Motivation doesn’t fall 100 percent on the employee. Leaders play a very important role in keeping their team engaged. What are your leaders doing to manage progress and development? Are your leaders creating organizational citizens or organizational vandals?

Ever heard any of these turnover excuses before? Were they a signal to you of a bigger problem? What’s made the biggest difference in turning around your turnover issues? I love hearing personal experiences from our readers!