The Simplest Way to Keep Your Best Talent

by | Jun 20, 2022 | Assessment, Employee Engagement and Retention, Leadership

“I wish she would get a flat tire on the way to work,” he said about his former boss. “I don’t generally wish people harm, but in this case I do.” He was that angry at her for how she had treated him.

He was one of the rare tech leaders I’ve worked with who had exceptional people skills in addition to stellar technical know-how. He had worked in the tech industry for over a decade and had risen to a director level position. He took his dream job when he started working at this company. The company’s mission was specific to doing good in the world and he was ecstatic to be a part of doing something good in his new role.

But things quickly went downhill after he got the new boss. He’s a very positive person and not someone who gives up easily. He stuck it out for as long as he could. He didn’t tell me exactly what she did to make him not only angry enough to quit but to wish her harm, but it must have been bad. He said that three other people who worked for her quit the same day.

Imagine the hit it would take on productivity of losing four highly talented leaders at your company in one day. You would lose the work of those four leaders, morale would go down for four different teams, and executive leaders would have to take time away from their other responsibilities to find new leaders to fill those positions. And you might lose more people in the process. After all, who would want to work for the bad boss?

Now, imagine the bump in productivity from firing one bad leader instead. The four leaders who were so dissatisfied would flourish, the teams would work productively, and your executive team would only have to find one new person. Perhaps you could even promote one of the good leaders from within the company and minimize disruption.

Research shows the number one reason people quit their jobs is because they are dissatisfied with their boss. Thus, the moral of this story is that the simplest way to keep your best talent is to have good managers—at all levels of the organization. This means selecting qualified leaders, developing them, and managing their performance.

One of the things I hear all too often from executives is that they keep bad managers around because they are too valuable to the organization for other reasons. For some reason they are key players. They may be friends with an influential leader, be a founding member of the company, or have exceptional knowledge or skill. No matter how valuable they may seem, however, in my experience, the cost of their negative impact on the organization outweighs their positive contributions.

Some such leaders can be coached and turn their behavior around. Others have no interest in changing and would be better positioned in a non-leadership role or separated from the company. In either case, it is important to assess managers across the organization and hold them accountable to high standards of leadership and team satisfaction—and take action if they are falling short.