HAVE YOU ever worked at a company
and noticed that a particular unit seemed to have high turnover compared with other units? I certainly have, and have had many conversations about it throughout my career.
High turnover can be caused by a variety of issues. I’ve known some units to be great places to begin a career, but with few opportunities for upward mobility.
Perhaps a company hires inexperienced candidates and trains them so well they get recruited by other firms. Or maybe offering competitive pay becomes a challenge, especially once people are experienced. Universities in Florida are known to say that they “pay in sunshine.” I might go to work there because of the sunshine and location, but realize I cannot afford to live the lifestyle I prefer based on the salary I am earning.
In both the public and private sector, information technology and computer science jobs are difficult to fill with qualified candidates, so some firms are growing their own. But if there’s little career progression or perhaps it will take years to be promoted, people will look elsewhere. And the salary increases they can command are impressive.
But if the unit has higher-than-expected turnover and Human Resources has ruled out pay and promotion issues, you have to ask what else might be going on.
A common reason someone leaves a job is because of their boss. In fact, research indicates people leave bosses, not companies. I could be incredibly happy to do my job every day, and I might love my salary and benefits, but if my supervisor makes my life uncomfortable and I have the option to leave, I will do so. No one wants to work for a bad boss.
But do organizations recognize they might have a bad boss, and if they do, are they willing to do anything to address the situation? This is where we see many businesses fail.
I know a company that hired a new vice president, Joe, from another firm. Within two years, about one-third of the staff in Joe’s unit had departed. Employees were offered an exit interview by the folks in Human Resources, but few were willing to talk about why they were leaving. The few that did, however, blamed Joe. They gave example after example of his lack of clear expectations. So people did what they thought was expected and then were the brunt of Joe’s temper when he didn’t get what he thought he had asked for. At some point, it became apparent Joe was the problem.
Instead of firing Joe, however, the company hired an executive coach to train him.
Here’s what I know about working with a coach: Joe has to be coachable. Coaches can only work miracles, or even make progress, when the person being coached is willing to listen and work to improve.
After a couple months, it was apparent to Joe’s supervisor and the head of Human Resources that Joe was not making appreciable progress. So the coach was dismissed, but Joe was retained. And the turnover in Joe’s unit continued, earning a well-deserved reputation for being a place few wanted to work. Recruiting became a problem. When you have problems recruiting new employees, you’re in real trouble.
I was not Joe’s coach but had I been, I would have challenged Human Resources and Joe’s boss to explain why Joe was retained when it was obvious that Joe was the problem.
Sometimes, people in companies seem untouchable. It doesn’t matter what they do, they keep their jobs. Unfortunately, that has a long-term, negative impact on firms. Those who won’t make the hard decisions probably won’t be around to reap the horrible results. Too bad.
Lynne Richardson is the dean of the College of Business at the University of Mary Washington