The Questions Leaders Ask When Great Talent Leaves

Employee Turnover is a major problem in the majority of organizations, and it’s going to get worse. The economy might not continue to be as strong in the near future as it has been, but it doesn’t look to be any major downturn as well. Plus, demographics are playing into the job seekers favor with so many people retiring.

I’ve never been too concerned with low performers leaving my organization. I do have an issue with hiring managers telling me a performer is average or above, then when they leave the ‘new’ story comes out about how that person was a piece of garbage and now we are ‘better’ off that they left. Wait? What? You said this person was solid, but now they’re awful?

This happens all the time, especially in organizations that segment and track turnover by performance and hold managers accountable to this metric.

For me, I think the best organizations at controlling turnover are the ones where the leadership asks certain questions when they see their best talent leave. The ones that really dig into the reasons and not allow a middle-level manager make up a reason. The ones that have a documented ‘save’ strategy in place.

Here are some of the questions I ask myself when great talent leaves:

  1. Is there anything I could have done to keep this person with our organization? Why wasn’t that done?
  2. Was there anything the employee asked for to stay but we couldn’t deliver?
  3. What would have had to take place to keep this employee with us?
  4. Can we get this employee to return to us in the future?
  5. What was the ‘real’ reason this employee left?
  6. Did we ask this employee what it would take to keep them with us? What was the answer?

I’m a firm believer that you can talk anyone into staying with your organization. I’m also a firm believer that the ‘studies’ that tell you people who accept a counter offer will leave in 18 months anyway are completely wrong and out of date!

What I’ve found in all my years of doing this is that for about 50% of people who tell you they’re leaving, small things can keep them and ultimately they actually want to stay, but someone else showed them some love, and that feels so good to be wanted by another! The other 50% probably have a larger issue that is harder to solve, but if you work really hard it can get done.

One issue organizations with high turnover face is they let each other off the hook with turnover by giving each other excuses. “Yeah, Tim used to be good, but lately, he’s been awful.” “Well, it’ll hurt losing Mary, but we weren’t going to keep her happy for long.” “George is our best sales person, but he was holding other back that can be great as well.”

To control turnover leadership needs to change this narrative and stop the excuses for every single turn. The one caveat I allow is documented bottom performers that are on a plan. That’s good turnover, but it better be documented, or it’s bad turnover. Leadership owns this and it starts with tough questions about their own behavior that led to the turn.

If you get to this place, turnover will stop being a problem, and start being an opportunity.

4 thoughts on “The Questions Leaders Ask When Great Talent Leaves

  1. Great article! Timing also plays a factor into undesired turnover. Organizations often wait until an employee tenders his/her resignation to ask the poignant questions. By then, it is too late to recover the employee as they are psychologically and emotionally invested in the offer they negotiated with the next employer. The time to ask the poignant questions are throughout the employee’s tenure. It takes a rephrase of the questions cleverly sent out to employees and managers. Identify the segments that do not fall within the desired spectrum and actually create meaningful action plans to address appropriately and EXECUTE. I believe the aforementioned activity can abate undesired turnover, tremendously.

  2. Why do less than successful employees get hired.

    If we fix our executives, then our managers will be successsful.

    If we have successful managers, then our employees will not need to be fixed.

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