“Can I just book a few minutes with you? It’s important.” Some leaders dread these words. A little attrition is good for an organization, but key people (and any people if the company is small enough) leaving a company can cause inefficiency, disruption, decreased morale, quality issues…not to mention the majority of the work getting delegated back to the boss while they simultaneously do their regular job and hire and train the replacement.
You can’t stop everyone from leaving, nor do you want to. One of the challenges of managing people comes when the company has evolved, and the person who was once a linchpin in the organization is no longer a good fit. But whether gently helping someone out of the organization, trying to retain them, or managing the timeline of their inevitable departure, the key to making the process as positive and productive as possible is structured communication. What can you do?
Formalize regular communication. We hear you, we know…one-on-ones take time. You’re right. But in the absence of regular one on one meetings, staff can be left feeling unnoticed and unappreciated. It’s tough to pick a day for the quarterly corporate update when everyone will be in the office – but missing one or two people is better than leaving everyone in the dark on what’s happening in the company. And whether strategic or tactical (and they should be split into different sessions), management team meetings make it far more likely that company goals will be met. Recently, a client shared that every time a person asks “Hey, can I book a couple of minutes with you?” his stomach drops. But imagine how unhappy his employees must be to only get his attention when they reach a breaking point. Keeping the regular communication rhythm alive will lower everyone’s stress levels and ensure information is circulating as and when it should.
Seek first to understand. Covey’s first habit is the hardest to keep, but also one of the most rewarding – the ability to really listen to the employee and put yourself in their shoes. It is disheartening when we have people answer ‘strongly disagree’ in an employee survey that states, “In the last six months, someone has talked to me about my career and progression.” Sometimes managers are reluctant to talk to staff about their progression because they can’t figure out what the career path would be. Don’t hide. The employee is also confused, but pretending the problem doesn’t exist is a recipe for disenfranchisement far earlier than necessary. The only thing worse than a disengaged employee is a vocal disengaged employee. This is messaging you want to be aware of and help to shape.
Set clear expectations. Another employee survey question that often yields surprising results is when employees strongly disagree with the statement, “I get feedback on my performance at least once a week.” The best way to get staff to do what you want them to do is to be clear about what you want. Expectations are ideally communicated with tools like job descriptions, key metrics on a dashboard, procedures and process flows, one on one meetings, regular check-ins, and casual interactions. At the end of the day, when an employee goes home to their family and says, “That was a great day!” you want their definition of great to be aligned with the company’s. In the absence of feedback the odds of that alignment decrease.
Be open. “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” This might be good advice for the school yard, but it is terrible advice in the business world. Hiding the business’s challenges handicaps your team’s ability to help you solve them. It is also highly unlikely you are hiding as much as you think you are. More often than not, they know. Acknowledge challenges. Explain your weaknesses. Be authentic. Great leaders require great followers and those will only come if they can trust and respect.
It is when fear is highest that we close off as much as possible to protect ourselves from the onslaught. But that is exactly the wrong thing to do. It is human nature to assume the worst and if the employees sense you are hiding something, they will come up with all sorts of reasons why that may be – and their assumptions are often far worse than the reality. If you are worried about staff turnover, it is time to face the fear, offer the best information you can and try to understand your employees’ points of view. It won’t necessarily stop them from leaving, but it makes a surprise departure far less likely and can reduce your stress levels immensely.