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Monday, August 22, 2016

Quitters for a Reason

One of the more difficult and often painful challenges of management is employee turnover. It is an expensive problem in terms of both time and resources. Doing multiple job interviews, paperwork, perhaps paying search firms, etc., all take away from the process of moving forward.

It’s particularly painful when the person leaving is a more valued employee. Certainly no one is irreplaceable and we must assume a value for every individual. But some are more difficult to replace than others. When the fit seemed so good, why does this happen?

Over my career, I’ve left several jobs and had a few leave me. Most often, my next move came because of a new opportunity that presented itself. In a couple of cases where I chose to move on, greater effort by an employer to keep me “engaged” might have made a difference.

When in a management role, I’ve faced the frustration of good team members moving on. Discounting the “this job wasn’t the right fit” departures, pursuing new or better opportunities were usually the reason. Let’s face it…good talent in any position is likely to draw other interested parties. And better opportunities.

All that being said, I blogged last week about the remarkable “engagement” of people involved both at Willow Creek Church and the Willow Creek Association. This readily surfaced during interviews I conducted with team members while covering the recent Global Leadership Summit. These people love their work…and the organization that employs them.

Employee turnover through lack of engagement should cause any serious employer pause to consider solutions. How big is the problem? Studies have shown that around 70% of U.S. workers regret facing a new workday. Worldwide it’s calculated at 87%. These are primarily the people not engaged in what they do.

Repeating this important definition: “Employee engagement is the emotional commitment the employee has to the organization and its goals. This emotional commitment means engaged employees actually care about their work and their company.”

The attention I would focus on today is losing employees who WANT to be engaged and that leave unnecessarily. The ones who really cost a company. And what to do about it.

A recent Linked In blog gives some good input on this. Titled, “Before They Quit, They Quit,” it’s written by Ryan Houmand, cofounder of Querke and the author of A Passion for Monday (

Houmand self assesses his effectiveness at keeping his employees engaged pretty highly. He provided evidence of 20 years in a large corporation with terrific team results. And there was something else: people tended to gravitate to his teams. As he says, “I have a talent to help people reach their potential.”

Now a consultant, Ryan Houmand shares the story of a talented employee who recently left a firm he advises. This person had been struggling at work and, apparently, had been giving signs. The employee started doing only the minimum. There were diminished results. He became…disengaged. Before he quit…he quit. Perhaps, unnecessarily so.

According to Houmand, “studies of employee engagement tell us…that as much as 70% of the variance in employee engagement is attributable to the employees’ direct manager.” His followup to this statistic is most troublesome in observing that most managers don’t know what engagement is and neither do most organizations!

For companies and managers who do focus on employee engagement, Ryan claims “productivity, profitability, client satisfaction, safety, and quality are positively impacted.” You’d think that’s enough to grab some white collars and call attention to this!

So what to do? Houmand offers two starting points. The first is for managers to rearrange their time commitments. He’s found most managers spend a majority of their work time on projects versus people. How about reversing that? And moving more toward coaching people and less time on projects.

His second recommendation is to “discover your employees’ talents and put them to use every day.” The use of assessment tools such as the Clifton StrengthsFinder was one idea. There are plenty of those kind of resources available.

While I like Houmand’s strategies to move forward, I would add a few thoughts to his. The reason many managers focus more on projects stems from company demands and comfort zones. A lot of management people are not that interested or effective at coaching. Plus, the demands put on them might require this attention.

A second critical aspect is how a company and management truly view people. Are employees only a means to an end? Or are they valuable souls whose worth and meaning on this earth are prized a lot? High turnover rates may send a strong warning signal that should be evaluated.

Do we “push people forward” just to reach company goals? Or are we helping people reach their potential in a way that is meaningful to them? Employees detect when there is no real sense of “organizational love.” And it’s often costly.

Using more modern language, Eugene Peterson paraphrases Jesus’ words to people about their value this way: “What’s the price of a pet canary? Some loose change, right? And God cares what happens to it even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail—even numbering the hairs on your head! So don’t be intimidated by all this bully talk. You’re worth more than a million canaries.” (Matthew 10:29-31, MSG)

People love feeling valued and appreciated. When they truly sense it in their work, they engage.

It’s a beautiful thing.

That’s The Way WE Work. Click on the link to the right to connect via Facebook.

Let’s Talk with Mark Elfstrand can be heard weekdays from 4-6 PM Central. To listen outside the Chicago area, tune to for live streaming or podcasts, or download the AM1160 app. 

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