People don't leave jobs – they leave managers. You've probably heard that line many times in your professional career. Yet many owners, executives and managers I've spoken to this year have been quick to offer convenient excuses for why their staff are quitting.
They've reasoned that, due to the pandemic, inflation, and a tight labour market, the behaviour, attitude and actions of their managers have nothing to do with what's going on around them.
Some of those excuses may have merit, but I can tell you the Great Resignation (or whatever we're calling it) results from one thing more than anything else: a bad manager.
With social media polling company Stickybeak, the employee experience consultancy SGEnz recently polled 570 New Zealand workers on what was most important to them in terms of staying with their current employer or leaving for another one.
It became clear that if you want to change your culture or how your people feel about what they do and who they do it for, start with focusing on your managers.
Getting things done
At work, we have plenty of managers – those people with titles who are tasked with getting things done.
To their credit, over the years, managers have become really good at getting things done, unfortunately often to the detriment of the employees who actually do the work.
When I think about management, I think about planning, organising, staffing, budgeting, safety and efficiency and ensuring processes and rules are followed. To be clear, I believe all these things are important, and your business will not be successful without them.
However, often the focus is placed on these things with little consideration being given to the impact on employees. Is it any wonder we have such low engagement and such a high turnover rate? Employees everywhere are letting us know that work is no longer just about getting things done; it requires a focus on them, too.
I believe leadership and management are two sides of the same coin. They need to go hand in hand. While management gets things done and is focused on work, leadership involves a focus on people.
Look to leadership
Both are important, but right now, as workers send a message with their resignations and quiet quitting, it is leadership that needs to be a priority if you are going to have a company culture that attracts, engages and keeps the right people.
The good news is that research and experience show us that when there is a focus on people, employee engagement and satisfaction go up and so, too, does just about every other important metric: productivity, customer satisfaction, employee tenure and profitability.
Leadership, for me, is about inspiring someone else to do something they may not want to do – such as turning up to work, or working harder – or, more importantly, getting them to perform at their best.
So, how do we get more and better leadership at work?
First, we must start embedding leadership skills in employees as quickly as possible, not waiting until they have a title or are promoted to a supervisor or manager role.
Investing in the communication, coaching and relationship skills of your staff will make sure you have leadership at all levels of the organisation.
As an owner or manager, you must be willing to share your insights on leadership and people skills with your team and focus on developing an expectation that people, regardless of their title or position, should help, respect, support and care for others.
I also recommend sharing articles, videos, and other media that talk about what leadership is and how it can make a difference; these are all readily available on the internet.
And when you really want to elevate leadership skills, invest in having people involved in third-party leadership training.
Next, we need to stop promoting people into management positions purely on their ability to get things done rather than on how they deal with people. The leadership training I've just described is a great way to ensure that someone’s people skills are an important consideration for a promotion into management, at least for those roles that have people responsibilities.
Split up the roles
Another idea is to possibly split up management and leadership responsibilities. For those good at tasks, they can become managers with a focus on getting work done.
For those with people responsibilities, we can refer to them as leaders of people. This is actually already happening as noted in this Harvard Business Review article highlighting Telstra’s investment in having two distinct roles in its organisation structure – "leaders of work" and "leaders of people".
And finally, we have to stop tolerating managers who don't take care of their people.
We sometimes put some staff into people-leadership roles that in some cases they never wanted, but we've allowed more to stay in roles they don't deserve.
Years of dysfunction
Having managers who don't care for, respect or support their people needs to be addressed.
You have to have a tough conversation or make an even tougher decision about their place within your business. You know who they are, but perhaps you’ve tolerated their attitude and behaviour because they're good at getting things done.
Well, if it hasn’t happened already, it will soon: the employees of those managers will just get up and leave.
Remember, putting off a few minutes of discomfort – having a tough conversation with your managers – can lead to months or years of dysfunction as they continue to ignore their people responsibilities.
At the end of the day, people are leaving not jobs or businesses but rather managers.
It doesn’t need to be that way if we invest in leadership skills, promote or hire managers correctly, and hold accountable those who don't treat people the right way.
And remember, let's celebrate those managers who not only get things done but treat their people right, too.