How to chase away your top performers.

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I was browsing Upstate Magnet yesterday (a small local business publication), and came up on this great little one-page article written by Jack Smalley (SPHR with Express Personnel).

Having seen top performers leave organizations time and time again, Jack's points seemed sadly familiar. I have encountered them all myself, and I have to admit that each one of these can consitute a good reason for even the most talented, hard-working employee or manager to go seek greener pastures. Combine any two or three - or all five - and you can expect to spend a whole lot of your HR department's time searching and hiring top talent to replace the folks you weren't savvy enough to hold on to in the first place.

Here are six things your company may be doing to chase away top talent:

1. There is no link between pay and performance.
High performers expect to be rewarded for their effort. They also expect to be rewarded regardless of where they stand in the "pay scale" for their position. These people expect to be better compensated than someone who is not performing at their level. If you want average, stagnant performers, give them average, stagnant compensation. If you want to retain high performers, find ways to make them feel that they aren't wasting their time providing you with superior work.

Several years ago, a friend found out that a co-worker whose job was exactly the same as hers was making significantly more than she was. This co-worker spent most of his day checking his stocks, surfing the web and talking to his friends on the phone. While her work exceeded expectations, his lagged - but their boss liked him better. Her decision to go work for someone else was triggered by the realization that there was no correlation between pay and performance.

2. They don't perceive advancement opportunities.
Top performers are usually looking over the horizon. They may be well compensated, have great benefits and like what they do, but if they ever come to the conclusion that there is nothing to strive for, or that management is holding them back (either for selfish department reasons or personal resentment) they will seek and find the opportunity they desire... elsewhere.

I have seen the personal resentment factor ruin many an organization, and I can't help but shake my head at this kind of nonsense every time. If I had a dollar for every manager who purposely held back top talent because they felt threatened by their success, I could... well, I could probably fill up my gas tank. Advancement ceilings - whatever their reasons may be - are never a good situation if you plan on holding on to top people.

3. Their contributions are not recognized.
Some of the greatest rewards are those that don't involve money. Recognition among co-workers and industry peers is a super motivational tool for performers who exceed expectations.

How difficult is it to say thank you, give someone an ataboy and brag someone up from time to time? I mean really. Is it so hard? These things are all simple, easy, painless and free.

4. Management has unclear or unrealistic expectations.
The best performers want to know what they are supposed to do, how they are supposed to do it, and most importantly, WHY they are supposed to do it that way. When any of these conditions becomes unclear, the best of the best will want clarity and accountability. If management is not a resource for the top performers, they will start to lose respect for management. Once this happens, good luck trying to hold on to that great employee much longer.

This is probably the biggest killer of good will within companies. If I can't respect my own boss, chances are that I am not going to feel super motivated to jump through hoops for him/her. Respect, trust and admiration are essential to any boss/employee relationship from the battlefield to the corporate world. Period. Once a manager loses the respect of their employees, you might as well draw the curtain and stop the clock, because the play is over.

Clarity is also super important. A leader who isn't able to communicate to his or her people exactly what they want needs to learn how to do so. Quickly.

5. They will no longer tolerate abusive managers.
Recent studies have shown that an employee's opinion of the company he/she works for is a direct reflection of their opinion of their immediate supervisor. If a top performer does not respect his or her supervisor, they will have a corresponding lack of respect for their company.

Nobody likes a bully. I've seen top talent walk away from jobs they otherwise loved simply because their bosses were abusive. Nothing sours a job faster than a jerk taking his frustrations or insecurities out on his staff.

As an aside -
Typical traits of lousy managers:

- Excessive demands & personal sacrifices.
- Placing their department in a continual state of crisis.
- A demand for employees to be available at all hours.
- Setting unreasonable deadlines.
- Pony Express management style (Ride 'em till they drop), causing burnout, stress and depression in their people.
- Risk-aversion.
- Abusive treatment of employees.
- Being too busy to make themselves helpful.
- Acting annoyed at requests for help, advice or insight.
- Nepotism.
- Making last-minute unilateral decisions that make absolutely no sense.
- "Big Stick" management. (Screw up, and I will hit you over the head with the big stick.)
- A complete lack of trustworthiness
Okay. Here is the last one from Jack's list:

6. Constant reorganization of management.
If you want to keep your best performers, don't let them become part of the flood waters of reorganization. While reorganization or a sale of a business is just part of life for most people these days, top performers are still looking at things in the long term. If they are convinced that a reorganization is a good thing for their career AND management communicates well, top performers can become some of a company's greatest advocates. If management fails to help top performers negotiate these changes in a way that will fall in line with their long term expectations, and they will walk.

Uncertainty sucks. Top performers love challenges, but if thry feel that their work or careers are likely to suffer as a result of an unstable professional environment, they will jump ship faster than you can learn to spell "denial". It's that simple.

One of the conclusions from the article was as simple as it was astute, and it is this:

Most employees don't quit their jobs. They quit their managers.

That's pretty powerful... and absolutely correct.

I know it's pretty obvious for many of you, but it is well worth bringing up from time to time.

Have a great Tuesday, everyone. :)

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