Relax. This short ramble through some thoughts about staying or leaving is not a homage to the song by Jackson Browne. For the uninitiated (or just plain too young) he was – indeed, happily is – a West coast songwriter whose hey-day was in the early 70s. It didn’t hurt that after writing ‘Take it Easy’ for the Eagles he never needed to work again. But that’s a different story entirely and not one I’m qualified to tell. Cue sighs of relief all round.
So back to the main idea. Why do people stay, why do they leave, and what happens in between? Here are a few personal opinions on the topic. I will also confess that a lot of my thinking on this subject is informed by a look called ‘Love ’em or Lose ’em’ which was written in 1999 by Beverly Kaye and Sharon Jordan-Lewis and contains a lot of common sense on the topic. I guess as managers we like people to stay, we feel an element of rejection when they leave, but sometimes there are utterly valid reasons why it’s inevitable. Two reasons why I moved on at different times were a) I was bored and I couldn’t see any prospect of that changing and b) I just didn’t want to work for the same company all my life. So on both occasions I made what I saw as rational decisions. Happily both worked out reasonably well but the point is that once the decision was made, I was just waiting for the ‘right job’ to come along. I was ‘looking’, as the phrase goes.
There also was – an aside – the memorable time when someone who worked for me (and who simply wanted to go and live in London) tried in vain to convince me he was resigning for about 20 minutes before I went – ‘Oh God, you’re serious’. Hard to know who felt more stupid after that episode, but at least I learned from the experience that denial never works. And Ronan, in the unlikely event that you ever read this, feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn. I know it’s been a long time but I wonder what happened to you…
But more to the point, why do people go, and what helps them to stay? Personally I believe that (like me) once someone decides they want to move, it’s too late. From then on, it’s just a matter of time. We need to create a climate where people are engaged, stimulated, challenged, and connected to other people. I would put ‘sharing information’ on top of the list for keeping people. If we don’t share everything that we can – and I think most people appreciate everything can’t be shared – then we’re saying ‘I don’t trust you, you don’t deserve to know, and you in fact don’t need to know what’s going on’. Sound like a recipe for getting people to dust down their CV?
Climate is really important (and it also feeds off the sharing of information). It costs nothing to say hello, to be visible, to remember people’s names (tip – say ‘howya’ to compensate for blank moments), or to thank people for the work they do for us. Basic courtesy and respect for the individual. It’s ok to ask people to ‘go the extra mile’ but do thank them for it. And it’s ok to poke fun at yourself too. It does not make you weaker, it adds to your ‘brand’. And it all adds up to a better climate. Climate also helps connects people to others. The driver for the connection can be trivial, but if you actually enjoy the company of the people around you it’s definitely a wrench to walk out the door. Not only do networks help to enrich the workplace, they also enable people to explore internal career path options. Which again can lead to ‘a longer perspective’ and sticking around.
Another key retainer is the way we work. You know what the end product should look like but you don’t need to tell people how to get there, once the end product stands up to scrutiny. Part of the interest in work is the ability to figure out ways to do it better or invent some new method to deliver better or faster. If you remove initiative completely, get ready to have a gap to fill in the team. And finally? Just be honest and be realistic with people. Don’t promise stuff you can’t deliver. It will lead to disillusionment, disaffection and a damaged reputation (yours). Try to realistically address the expectation – whatever it may be – rather than a quick ‘holding fix’ that’s just postponing the end problem. Deep down you know it will end badly. If you have to go into a holding pattern, fix a timeframe for a comeback, because typically the issue won’t go away
It goes without saying that there’s an industry built around this (It’s called Recruitment). But I think that sticking to a few basic principles and employing a large dose of common sense can go a long way toward hanging onto your most valued resources. Do unto others as you would that they do unto you. Not a bad rule of thumb.