Why People Come to Your Company For The Mission–And Leave For The Manager

by Jan 18, 2019Leadership

And there is an easy way to figure out which manager.

Turnover of any kind inside a company can be problematic – especially these days when everyone is engaged in a war for talent. But that’s especially true when it comes to your star employees – the A-players – who can be tough to replace no matter what the economy is doing.

But figuring out why those key people are leaving can sometimes be a mystery. It can be difficult to understand what’s causing them to leave. Over my years of experience both as a leader and a coach, I’ve come to the conclusion that people come for the mission – and they leave for the manager.

What do I mean by this?

People come to work for your organization because they believe in what you stand for and for what you do – as well as what kind of work they get to do. That’s why this is a critical aspect of hiring A-players or whenever you’re hiring for critical positions. As I discuss in my book, Great CEOs Are Lazy, it can often be the CEOs’ job to take on the role of Chief Talent Officer to help share the inspiring vision and mission for the organization to get A players excited about joining the organization.

So why do people leave the organization? It’s not because of the mission: that didn’t change. Unlike conventional wisdom, most people also don’t leave because they’re searching for more money. Of course, if you are underpaying your people relative to the market, you might risk a higher turnover rate. If you intentionally pay the median salaries for the market, however, most workers will consider that to be fair compensation. And when people feel they are paid fairly, they often see no reason to look for another job.

Back to the question at hand then: why do people leave? The answer, I’ve learned, is because of their manager. People leave jobs because they don’t like their manager personally or because they don’t feel like their manager treats them with respect.

Of course, any manager could see one or two of their employees quit at different times. It’s when you notice clusters of employee exits – three or more start to mark a trend – that should be sending red alerts around the organization because they can inevitably be tied back to a single manager. With just a bit of work to connect the dots, you can zero in on where the problem truly lies. When you know who the problem is, then you need to take action.

I remember a time when a company I was running started to lose good engineers at a startling rate. It soon became clear that the common root of the problem was the engineering director – someone who didn’t report directly to me. What I did, however, was go to that director’s boss and make it known that there needed to be changes or someone was going to lose their job. I was trying to make the point that people were leaving because of their manager – and I would fire the manager before I could afford to lose any more engineers.

The point is that people aren’t leaving because they’ve lost faith in the mission and direction of the business. They’re not even leaving because of their compensation. They’re leaving because of a disconnect with their manager. And if that’s not something you can remedy, you need to make a change because no organization can afford a drain on their A players and quality employees.

So watch for clusters of departures or even transfers into other departments and trace them back to their leaders, if there is a cluster connected to a single manager, you need to take action.