Recently, there was a quote going around that stated plainly, “People don’t quit companies; they quit managers.” Even though this statement may ring true to most people, the funny part is that this assumes that the manager and the company are two totally distinct entities – completely out of touch with how they manage and deal with their employees. This is an interesting topic that is worth being explored, because losing talented employees is not only expensive, but it can impact morale and ultimately corporate culture as well. If this is due in part or in whole to poor management by particular individuals within the organization, then this seems like a preventable situation if dealt with directly.
First, it’s critical that any organization knows who it is. What is its mission? How will it achieve that mission? How does this strategy differ from its competitors? Often, we see this clearly spelled out from a business perspective, and even middle management would typically be able to reiterate the business mantra fairly accurately. But it should not be forgotten that this mission is being carried out through humans; and more specifically via the manager-employee relationship. This interaction, which will be replicated throughout the company over and over, comes with no such blueprint. Every manager brings his or her own management style to the table which is typically an aggregation of previous work experiences from other company’s’ environments and cultures. So training the management team (and then measuring results over time) in the type of manager-employee dynamic they seek to achieve, seems to be just as critical as having a firm understanding of the company’s overall strategic mission. To take this head-on, one could directly respond to some key questions:
- How far can an employee go in communicating to his manager what he or she does or does not want to work on? Is this encouraged and fostered in a direct way, or is there a tendency to avoid these types of dialogs because of the implications?
- Does the manager always dictate to the employee the “how” or is there room for the employee to utilize their own experience and creativity to find the ultimate solution?
- Is the manager encouraged to build real relation with the employee in a way that demonstrates empathy and value at the human level? Or do efficiency, cost-cutting, and the bottom-line always take front stage in both the review process and in hiring practices?
The first question has a direct impact on a company’s ability to promote the employee’s passion. Is the organization intentional about identifying (and then promoting) the employee’s professional interests? The second question hits squarely at the company’s organizational structure – does the company as a whole have anything to learn from the employee and if so, is there a formal upward channel provided to facilitate and integrate this feedback? And the last question seeks to understand if the organization truly attempts to embrace the human element, which is difficult and can be messy and time-consuming, or if they merely placate to the employee in an attempt to prevent good people from leaving.
Imagine if managers were not only in sync on the company’s mission, but also in responding to these types of human-based needs and desires in a consistent, cohesive manner? Imagine if a company built formal hiring processes (and even a performance review process) and also promoted internal employees based partly off of one’s ability to demonstrate an adherence to these social-cultural values? What would that look like in a fully evolved model? Have some companies (possibly the ones with the highest innovation and the lowest attrition?) discovered the secret recipe for addressing and planning for that always illusive “human element”?
So, do people quit companies or managers? At the end of the day, the manager IS the company, for all intents and purposes. An employee’s perception of the company is built almost entirely off their interaction and experience with their boss. So if the company is hiring and promoting without specifically addressing their desired manager-employee dynamic, losing top talent due to poor management may be an inescapable reality. To correct this, senior leadership should focus on how their organization will specifically address and integrate the human element into their mission from the very beginning with the goal of knowing how the manager-employee interaction will be modeled.
So maybe next time an employee leaves, they’re leaving because they aren’t a good fit for the company itself, and not due to poor management.