Preventing the Loss of High Performers at Work

By Cheryl Stein

Monster Business Coach

Lately I have been noticing a trend with my clients that is both disturbing and alarming at the same time: a great number of people have come to see me because they need to leave companies for which they have been working for many years.

These clients have had very successful track records, doing extremely well for their organizations. They typically do very good work, try very hard, and are objectively exactly what any company would look for in a great employee.

Yet despite this great level of productivity, loyalty, and possibility, these people are running for the hills all because they have either been placed in the wrong role, or have been placed under the wrong person. Worst of all, is that these companies, who understand the value of retaining key employees, don’t have a mechanism for noticing or preventing this costly loss.

David (not his real name) came to me this fall with a typical story.

He had been working for over twenty years for the same company. He had risen up the ranks, creating incredible opportunities for the organization. Creative, energetic and highly motivated, he was one of those people that most places would be dying to have working for them. Then he transferred.

Working under a difficult boss who hogged glory and connections, David was relegated to mostly administrative work. When he complained, he was told that he wasn’t a team player, although throughout his career every other team he had worked with had found him to be a great asset. De-motivated, David’s performance began to suffer and he began to see himself as a failure. Instead of realizing that they weren’t capitalizing on a great asset, the company chose to let him go.

Deborah (not her real name) had a very similar story.

A rising star in her company, she was considered to be on the fast track for a V.P. position. Deborah was a brilliant woman who could cut through multiple organizational layers to solve problems quickly and efficiently. She loved her job, was devoted to the company, and planned on continuing to do her best every day. Then she was transferred.

Asked to manage a huge project outside her department, Deborah was cast adrift in an organizational no mans land as the scope of the project kept changing. Reporting to no one, with no objectives to reach, Deborah lost motivation, lost connection and was let go in a head count reduction.

There are multiple issues that add to the complexity of this type of problem. When people transfer to another job within a company, they have a tendency to feel that they should stick with their decision, even if they know it has been the wrong one. They feel that they will look bad it they don’t try to make it work.

They are right to feel this way. Most companies will have a tendency to blame the individual for not being adaptable rather than understanding that some business relationships, just like social relationships, are not always a love match. They put pressure on the employee to make it work, even if the situation is unworkable.

Lastly, companies with over stretched HR departments typically lack the feedback mechanism to sound the alarm bell when someone who has been great starts to falter. It simply takes less time to assume that the reasons lie in the motivation or ability of the employee.

The true cost is ignored.

It costs money to fire someone and it costs lots of money to hire a new employee. It costs less money to properly evaluate the situation and to move someone to a department or team that is a better fit.

A New Job is Like Dating before Marrying

In our Canadian society, we understand the value of getting to know someone before deciding to share our lives with them. We try to be careful about those kinds of decisions yet still acknowledge that over fifty percent of marriages end in divorce.

Work relationships are marriages. We may even be spending more time with the people at the office than we are with our spouse or significant other. It is time for organizations to realize that not all work relationships are healthy and more needs to be done to support a trial period in which employees test their decisions. People should not be made to feel like they are stuck in unhappy work relationships.

Trial and Error at Work

Sometimes we think we are going to like something we have never done before only to find out that we were wrong. Although our species is able to imagine the future, we lack the ability to actually know how we are going to feel in any untested situation. When we strive for different opportunities, we often think that we know how we will experience them.

Organizationally, we tend to ignore this fact. Not everyone is cut out for every job.

New challenges are not always the right challenges for people and employees should not be penalized for experiencing a different outcome than was expected.

Jekyll and Hyde at the Office

People generally don’t have drastic changes in personality; they have drastic changes in reaction. When someone’s performance plummets, we tend to try and find the easiest and quickest answer as to why they aren’t doing what we expect of them. We usually blame them instead of getting to the bottom of the problem and finding solutions.

Organizations need to move away from this kind of culture because they are taking assets and turning them into liabilities. When people stop doing as well as they should, especially after changing roles, it could just be the fit, which is more than worth checking into.

Save yourselves the heavy expense of hiring and training someone new by implementing evaluation procedures for employees whose performances have changed drastically. If they have demonstrated great work habits in the past, it is likely that the problem is the fit and not the individual.