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Where’s the Line Going to Be?


What’s the line your best employees will cross before they leave? And are you prepared to stop them from reaching that line?

Broken bridges

A flurry of social-media sharing has been going on, regarding this LinkedIn article on good employees leaving, Including my own FB page. Not too surprising that it would resonate with me, since I’ve blogged on the subject myself, once or thrice.

I’ve advised that would-be successful employer and managerial types should go above and beyond to recognize if/when folks on their team were running low on morale. Excessive demands of the job, insufficient resources to meet them, poor compensation for doing so, even just a rising tide of daily hassles. Individuals sufficiently thus besieged are in danger, if not quitting outright, then at least mentally taking a big step back and performing at a fraction of their capability, a.k.a. ROAD (Retired on Active Duty).

As time has moved on and I’ve experienced more, both firsthand and vicariously, I’ve come to regard such eleventh-hour managerial surveillance as a losing strategy. Reactive, rather than proactive. Borrowing from Sun Tzu, it’s like waiting to act until opposing armies are marching toward a battlefield: You might have every confidence that you can avert open conflict, or that your side will win a fight, but it would have been far better to never get so close to the precipice in the first place.

I’m now of the mind that the potential location of any given team-member’s quitting-line should be known long before it gets drawn, let alone approached. Then, few if any steps can be taken in its general direction.

This can (and should) happen before someone joins the team in the first place. Alongside the usual recruitment and interview stuff (responsibilities, compensation, etc.), there should be a frank discussion of expectations and hopes for the future-as a two-way street. As uncomfortable and thorny a chat as that might be.

Related article: 5 Elements of Employee Engagement

A rad who knows that he wants more out of a position than to be a worker-bee film-reader for the next 30 years, for instance, should be encouraged to say that he’s really only going to be satisfied if he experiences some movement up the hierarchy in due course. If he doesn’t say so, he has nobody to blame but himself when the years go by and he sees no promotion. Alternatively, if he expresses this, and the employer honestly says, sorry, there is no expected upward path and the rad takes the position anyway, again, he has nobody to blame but himself when he is ultimately dissatisfied with his post.

On the other hand, if he does speak up, and receives assurance that, yes, there’s a realistic chance of moving up the chain of command after he performs well, but years of behavior as a “good citizen” of the group show no sign of that actually happening-such broken promises virtually became the paint with which his line is drawn. The interviewer might as well have fired a track-pistol and told the rad “On your mark, get set, GO!” since he’d be heading for that line as of day one.

There are plenty of other subjects that should be discussed but aren’t. Perhaps because they can be contentious, and folks worry that bringing them up might scuttle an interview (either the applicant or the recruiter, depending on what the job market is up to). I also think that some are short-sightedly of the mind that, if you don’t specifically discuss something, the answer remains in flux-and potentially in your favor, whereas if you had discussed it and the response was unfavorable, that closed the door permanently.

So, for instance, if a recruit hears that ahe’ll be expected to work every sixth Saturday, and doesn’t make a point of nailing down this frequency, some employers might consider it fair play to subsequently nudge that to every fifth Saturday, then every fourth. Or tossing in Sundays. As smug and clever as such an employer might feel in doing this, that employer fails to appreciate (or willfully ignores) that such machinations will inevitably move the employee towards her own quitting-line.

This isn’t to imply that everything impacting a satisfying work-environment is going to remain etched in stone from the interview through the end of days. Things change, many of them beyond the foresight or control of anybody in the interview-room or indeed the group as a whole. Attitudes do, also-for instance, a rad who thought he’d be fine reading out scans for the rest of his career might realize, five years down the line, that he actually does want more of an executive role.

For that reason, it’s a good idea to have the frank exchange of hopes and expectations something that occurs repeatedly, not just at interview-time or when someone builds up enough of a head of steam to request a meeting for the purpose. By the time such motivation has developed for him to say he needs a meeting, he’s probably gotten a lot closer to his line than needed to be the case.

I’d suggest that such “where are you in relation to your line” chats occur on a regular basis-maybe even more than once a year. If everybody’s hunky-dory, these meetups don’t have to be prolonged affairs; a mutual confirmation of satisfaction needn’t be drawn out. But everybody involved needs to understand the purpose of the session: Speak now, or hold your peace till the next time around.

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