Why Do Great Employees Leave Great Companies?

By Gary Magenta
Senior Vice President,
Root

Throughout the business world, managers rely on their employees to deliver results. Managers know that there is a never-ending war for top talent, even in troubled economic times. They count on their HR partners to do their very best to bring them candidates who are qualified and, in the best-case scenario, passionate about their organization or brand. In partnership with HR, managers screen the brightest and hire the best with the promise of tapping into that passion they bring with them. New employees look forward to putting their passions to work and developing new skills and capabilities. For the new hires, Day 1 is full of possibilities and opportunities for a bright future. Add a manager who is eager to bring on a much-needed and talented team member to a new employee who is anxious to contribute, and you have a recipe for success. Right?

Well, for some new employees, this eagerness doesn’t last long. They lose that initial passion and, within their first 90 days, they leave! Why? Did HR select the wrong candidate? Did the manager overlook something in the interview process? HR and managers are left wondering what went wrong and trying to figure out how they can hire the “right candidate” next time.

Our experience tells us that the right candidate was hired. But often, new employees leave because of their managers. Why? Are they just plain bad managers? In most cases, the answer is no! Managers are constantly trying to do the right thing – just like their employee counterparts. They arrive at their job committed, with passion and excitement. They want to be great managers who engage their employees and connect them to the business, but they are finding that this just isn’t possible in the environment they have become part of.

For managers to engage and connect with their employees in a way that maintains and heightens their passion and garners the greatest contribution, they must have the tools and the time. And our clients tell us that, as a rule, their managers just don’t have either. So managers are often forced to thrust their new employees directly into the work, partially or completely bypassing onboarding, training, and ongoing coaching, yet they have the same expectations for greatness.

Without taking the time to invest in their employees’ development, managers often find themselves having to micro-manage their employees. When managers don’t have the time or resources, they can become jaded and are no longer thinking about the development of their employees, but just getting through the day. As a result, managers ask their employees to take on tasks instead of projects or initiatives, and employees find that their ideas for how they can best contribute to the organization fall on deaf ears. They are left wondering what happened to their dreams, passions, and excitement.

Our experience tells us that the first 90 days of an employee’s tenure are the most critical. If a company can retain an employee for the first 90 days, that is a leading indicator that they will be around for at least the next several years. Keeping people engaged, passionate, and contributing over that period of time is crucial. Managers don’t want high turnover, but they seem helpless to change that trajectory.

So managers come to expect the loss of the best and brightest to competitors. They often feel as if they are, or are labeled as, “bad managers.” In many instances, it’s not their fault. They lack the resources to support their success.

On a recent trip to Zappos’ headquarters in Nevada, I learned how their managers were engaging their employees and winning with their customers. They believe that, to drive the best business results (measured by customer satisfaction and repeat business), they need to invest in their people. Onboarding and an “incubation” period can last up to six months before job-specific training ever starts. Ongoing coaching and mentoring follows, resulting in exceptionally low turnover and a nine-month wait list just to get an in-person interview!

A 2011 study by Bersin & Associates showed that while 70% of organizations claim they coach their employees, only 11% of senior leaders actively participate in coaching. And more than that, companies with senior leaders who coach, develop, and hold others accountable for coaching and development are three times more effective at producing improved business and talent results.

So if leaders aren’t investing in their own reports, why would anyone else? The result is managers who haven’t been invested in, which leads to employees who are unsupported and, therefore, get disillusioned.

If that’s the problem, we need to look at partnerships between managers and leaders of the business. Even the best managers need time to spend training and coaching their employees. They need the investment outside of their regular job to build the skills to engage a team. Managers need the tools to onboard and continuously develop their teams and managers. They need to know what to say so they are consistently involving their teams in relevant topics across the business. The responsibility for these deliverables falls largely on the leadership team, including HR partners.

So…do great employees leave great companies that have bad managers?

Or do great employees leave companies that fail their managers?

What is your company doing to support your managers in engaging their employees? We want to know. Email us at greatmanagers@rootinc.com.