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Sure fire ways of losing your talent and how to avoid the pitfalls

Greg Smith

Leaders who consistently ignore the subtle and explicit signals of unhappy employees are almost certain to face talent retention issues. Research shows that leaders have the biggest impact on whether their employees stay or leave. Contributor Greg Smith Co-Founder – deliberatepractice.

A study by TINYpulse, ‘The 2019 Employee Engagement Report: The End of Employee Loyalty’ found evidence of a direct relationship between employee happiness and employee/manager relationships especially when it came to an employee’s comfort in providing upward feedback. Research by economists from Warwick University also indicated happier workers were more productive. So it’s clear, that happy employees are great for business, contributing to strong organisational culture! Positive cultures have long been known to be a key driver of retention and poor cultures result in high employee turnover with leadership at the core. 

Over promising when recruiting
Taking a closer look at leadership behaviours that drive employees (particularly talented ones) away, often into the arms of competitors, can start at the very beginning of the employee experience. Overzealous hiring managers who exaggerate aspects of the company such as culture, technology, resources and career opportunities to attract talent in the recruitment phases set the employee relationship up for failure. It doesn’t take too long at all for newly appointed employees to recognise undeliverable promises made in the hiring process. This breaks trust and torpedoes the relationship early on, often to a point where it can’t be recovered leaving both parties nowhere to go but separation. 

Competitors spotting your unhappy talent before you do
When employees feel their company lacks direction, often resulting from an unclear or poorly communicated company vision and strategy, engagement diminishes which can lead them to consider external opportunities. Competitors seem to have an uncanny knack of knowing when talented employees are disenchanted and swoop to exploit their dissatisfaction to lure them across to their organisation.

Another sure fire way of raising the ire of talented employees is for leaders to tolerate poor performance in other employees. Leaders who fail to act on serious performance deficits run the risk of losing credibility and the respect of especially high performers who will consider leaving if this condition persists. A lack of career opportunities, personal growth and development also rate highly in research about why employees leave as does ignoring their feedback and not listening to concerns. 

Over-controlling managers are also toxic for productive relationships and organisational cultures and will drive employees out. At worst, over-controlling managers believe that control is the only way to make things work out and their stereotypical behaviours intensify when they are overloaded as work pressures mount.  Connect to avoid risking talent
Surprise resignations can count among a leader’s worst nightmares. It can come as a shock and leave an organisation reeling. Not to mention the potential damage to client relationships if the departing employee is in a sales role and overall company reputation. It can also be a catalyst for surrounding employees to question if the grass is greener elsewhere and have a ‘domino effect’. 

Leaders can spot employee relationship difficulties or if an employee is close to departing by being alert to following behaviours: Signs of withdrawing from their leader or even their colleagues. Tidying up their desk and removing personal photos and effects; Revising their resume Surfing online job boards; Implicit and explicit posts on social media suggesting change may be in the wind. Employees complaining about their remuneration (often a sign the employee has already withdrawn from the relationship possibly due to a violation of reciprocal commitment).

One of the best ways of avoiding surprise resignations and driving positive workplace relationships is for leaders to truly connect with their employees and take a proactive role in their development. Leaders need to really listen to their employees using deep listening techniques, understanding their individual needs and importantly how these change over time. Holding effective career conversations is a great place to start. Satisfying careers are important to most and leaders have an exceptional opportunity to support and assist their career growth by talking one on one when employees may need their help the most. Fortunately these skills are highly trainable!

Talk to your employeesFostering a positive and productive work place culture is a leader’s best defence to avoid risking losing talented employees. It starts with a clear and well communicated vison and strategy and authentic, effective leadership. At the most fundamental level, it’s about leaders talking to their employees’ one on one and prioritising this in their leadership hierarchy and building this capability into their everyday leadership skill set. This sounds simple and it is, but simple doesn’t mean easy – it takes commitment and practice combined with the belief that this will deliver results.  

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