Localization Business School: Why good people leave

Bosses do not like to hear it, but most people do not leave their jobs, they leave their managers. That is not to suggest that most managers are not sincere or that they do not care. They just often act in ways that they mistakenly think is best for the company. In their focus on company key performance indicators (KPIs) they neglect to build unique development strategies around their team members’ individual, innate talents. 

Ignorance and arrogance are no excuses, though. Bosses, like every company employee, have a moral obligation to break down company strategies into actionable chunks for their teams and then allow each member to sculpt the assignment to their natural way of working.

Instead, most managers want to get things done their way or follow a certain procedure. And while there are business cases where this is necessary, in best practice it is often not practical.

Death by performance management

When, for example, I ask how many of the senior managers in my workshops have ever taken a time management course, about 80% raise their hands. When I then ask who is using what they learned, almost all hands go down. I find it interesting that the same bosses who do not implement their own learning, performance manage their teams to death (literally, actually) and formally require them to implement what is not working for them.

Your answer lies right here. If you want to know why people leave, understand that salaries aren’t the reason. Yes, money is always a hot-button issue. It’s essential, it’s important, it matters. It is also true that money is rarely a motivator for staying. Salary does not even make it to the top ten of many lists of reasons why people leave. Instead you will find issues such as work/life imbalance, mismatch with the job, feeling undervalued, too little coaching and feedback, management lacking people skills, loss of faith and confidence in corporate leaders.

A Gallup study of 7,272 US adults revealed that one in two had left their job to get away from their manager to improve their overall life at some point in their career. Yet I hear a rash of excuses from business owners and managers alike. For example: we cannot pay the salaries, it’s Brexit, it’s Trump, it’s the economy or — the dumbest excuse of all — millennials are not getting it, they are too lazy, too naïve, to self-absorbed, too …. You fill in the blank. They point at everything but themselves.

The stress crisis

Notwithstanding intermittent evidence of incompetence, it’s not enough to simply label a manager and business owner “bad” or “good.”  Conflict, strain and tension between an employee and a manager can have one or all of these three reasons:

 Conflict: A classic example would be that focusing on one task gets difficult for the employee because the manager often interrupts him or her.

 Strain: The employee believes their job requires a different set of talents than they bring to the table. Employees want to enjoy their jobs. They want to be engaged, excited and challenged to contribute, create and perform. When their job does not let them use their natural strengths, they feel strain. We all know the feeling when we know we should be doing a job differently, but struggle to follow through on that promise to ourselves.

 Tension: The supervisor requires a different set of strengths than those of the job holder. As a result, bosses do not communicate with their team members in a way that they can act upon. For example, the team member asks questions to confirm a particular thing, and the manager responds with options.

Bosses have one job and one job only: to give their team information in a way that it can act upon. Whether it be through directing, coaching, encouragement or supporting, the best-fit management style is doomed when managers cannot direct. Many bosses, of course, know that. They have just been asked to use the wrong tools or conditioned themselves for failure with limiting beliefs (salaries, Brexit, Trump, economy, millennials and so on).

Using personality assessments and psychometric profiling, such as Myers-Briggs or DiSC, will not help to hire and retain the best people. While these instruments are helpful in gaining an understanding of a person’s style and intelligence, they are not applicable in the real world.

I have never met anyone who, in a charged conversation, thought along the lines of “I am an ENTJ, and I am dealing with an INTF, and therefore I now need to change the way I act or speak.” DiSC profiles cannot compare candidates with each other or with people in general. Cognitive ability tests, such as Revelian, assess verbal, numerical and abstract reasoning, but will not reliably predict how a person will take action in a job under tight deadlines, under stress, or in situations where stakes are high.

If it’s not fast and easy, it won’t work

In my work with the Behavioral Science Unit at the FBI, I learned that all tools and techniques need to work fast and under severe pressure, or else it all falls apart. When we’re under stress, we all revert to our instincts.

A project manager who heavily relies on facts will always want to review a lot of data before strategizing. In contrast, a colleague with a high tolerance for risk will instead brainstorm possible courses of action and review data later. Both are very valid approaches. But the two should never collaborate on solving a problem. They are better off working side by side and compare results later.

The smartest and nicest candidates who are naturally good at finding shortcuts should not be hired for a team that needs to follow protocol and procedure. That’s true even if they have gained the experience in previous jobs. Our instincts do not define what we can or cannot do. Just like anyone can learn how to play the piano even with little musical talent, anyone with some intelligence and great attitude can learn how to do a job, any job. It will just take longer to get results and their performance will never be as good as from someone who is gifted. Eventually they will leave the piano or the manager.

Teams that hire people with the best-fit natural strengths profile thrive better. Their hires perform faster and tend to stay on the team longer. With the right manager/employee bond, no one leaves because of salaries, Brexit, Trump or the economy. To the contrary, the whole organization would step up and take the bull by its horns.

If you want to learn what your instinctive strengths are, you might start with a Kolbe A Index assessment. I am using these assessments for workshops at LocWorld. They have also helped my clients and partners to improve their client-facing communication. Have you ever seen a difficult client relationship turn around in an instant just by changing the localization project manager? What if you could assign the best-fit team member ahead of the relationship? How would that improve team success, satisfaction and retention? Don’t put it off. Do it now.